Alex Baker was struggling.
He just suffered a traumatic injury to his right leg that happened on the last play of Carl Junction’s final football scrimmage at the Bentonville (Ark.) team camp two summers ago. A trip by ambulance to a local hospital followed.
It was later revealed that Baker broke his ankle and had fractures in both his tibia and fibula that ended his 2019 season before it even started.
So instead of helping Doug Buckmaster’s Bulldogs win games in the Central Ozark Conference from the quarterback position, Baker saw his friends and teammates find success on the field while he was forced to sit, cheer and watch from afar.
That’s when the darkness crept in.
“I had to learn how to deal with pain,” Baker said. “Physical pain, emotional pain, I got depressed there for a while.”
Baker had to find something to fill the void that was missing in his life without football.
At that moment, he came across videos on YouTube on how to play the guitar. One thing led to another, and his pastor at First Baptist Webb City said he needed someone to play for the church’s worship band.
“I was really nervous at first because I still wasn’t very good, but I went ahead and played that next Sunday and I have been playing every Sunday since,” Baker said. “It made me feel a part of a team again and instead of playing sports I was playing music. It helped me get out of that slump for a while.”
Before his junior season, there were high hopes for Baker. He suited up with the varsity team as a freshman and then started five games as a sophomore, throwing for 776 yards and six touchdowns.
Baker’s road to recovering was long and windy. He spent months in a boot, on a knee scooter and in crutches. But once he got out of the boot, he started to rehab two to three times a week at Mercy Hospital in Carthage.
“I tried to build that muscle back and build that calf back and my leg muscle,” Baker said. “I ended up missing all of football and about half of basketball. Toward the end of basketball, I started to play a little more. It was a long process. It was my first big injury. I never really realized how much it affected someone.”
What Baker is sure of is that going through that injury recovery process made him stronger, physically and mentally. So much stronger that Baker more than made up for lost time in his senior campaign for Carl Junction. He threw for 2,882 yards and finished with a whopping 28 touchdown passes.
“I feel like I’m a pretty humble guy and I don’t like to brag about myself much, but I definitely felt like I had a pretty good season this year, especially missing all of last year,” Baker said. “Almost getting 3,000 yards is a big accomplishment for me. Just finishing out my high school career on a high note and actually getting to play this year due to COVID — it was a big blessing just to get one game in this year.
“It was kind of one game at a time like ‘Are we going to get to play?’ We ended up getting 12 games in. It was a really good blessing this year.”
Combine that with his strong arm and 6-foot-3, 210 pound frame has Division I and Division II programs heavily recruiting him as a quarterback. Baker said the school that has shown the most interest is Missouri Southern, but he is still debating on whether he wants to play football or baseball in college.
He also plans on hitting the weight room more to get “bigger, stronger and faster” this offseason.
“Alex brings another dimension at quarterback with his ability to throw the ball down the field,” Buckmaster said. “He’s an intelligent player and he’s a competitor. He has a lot of boxes you’re looking for at quarterback. Most of the boxes you’d check are checked off. He’s blessed with a lot of natural talent and ability.
“There’s people taking a peak at him. And there will be more of them come along before too long once all the recruiting becomes active. It’s been really slow this year because of the COVID stuff. But it will take off here before too long.”
But Baker hopes by being open with what he went through with injuries and off-the-field adversity, others that go through something similar could discover new passions to help them “fill a void.”
“I hope people can learn that you can overcome anything if you have the right mindset,” Baker said. “As many of my coaches have said, the only things you can control are your attitude and your effort. If you have those things and just believe in yourself — then you can overcome anything.”