As the clock wound down on the eleventh Academic Athletic Association title game win for Lincoln High School this November at Kezar Stadium, one voice could be heard above the rest on the sideline.
Jovon Baker — long since pulled from a 53-0 win over Mission — was crowing, hopping up and down with anticipation. His teammates joked that he’d had too much candy before the game, but the pure joy was evident. After breaking his thumb in just his second start the season before, he was headed to a state title game.
Baker, the San Francisco Examiner’s Offensive Player of the Year, didn’t even play quarterback until his junior season, and even then, only started two games. This season, he started wire-to-wire, and earned the AAA’s Player of the Year Award, but he cares little for personal accomplishments.
“Jovon’s an unreal guy,” said head coach Phil Ferrigno. “He’s just so humble and so gracious. You don’t find that a lot in athletes today.”
As he silently embraced his mother on the field of the City College of San Francisco two weeks later after winning the Mustangs’ first ever state title, Baker’s teammates roundly praised his unselfishness. He was all about his teammates and his family, they said.
“Love him. He’s like my brother,” said linebacker Julian Aguirre.
The youngest of three siblings, Baker was raised by his mother Laura and brother Joe, 17 years his senior. Laura worked multiple jobs, including night security, but always managed to find time to come to each and every one of Jovon’s football games since he was six-years old.
“My mom works every single day, works her ass off,” Baker said. “So, I go out and bust my ass too, for her.”
When Laura was working during the summer, it was Joe who made Jovon and middle brother Gio, now 19, read and write before he took them out to a park to run stairs and do push-ups.
“My older brother Joe, he’s raised me,” Baker said after winning the state title, with tears in his eyes. “That man right there, he’s raised me since I was four. He taught me how to be a man. He taught me to keep my head in the books, and keep going to school.”
Now, he has a chance to not only play at the next level, but to get an education. He’s hoping to walk on as a defensive back at San Jose State, and other schools have been in contact.
Baker had only ever been a defensive back by the time he made varsity as a sophomore. En route to his first AAA title, he racked up 49 tackles on defense — fourth on the team — adding a sack and an interception.
Trying his hand at quarterback, Baker said, started as a joke. Ferrigno didn’t see anything funny about it.
“We brought up Jovon for defense when he was a sophomore, and he’s so great on that side of the ball, we saw an athletic ability,” Ferrigno said.
Baker was put into the mix to start at quarterback as a junior, but in his first start, the Mustangs were blasted, 52-0, by Carlmont. He got another crack at starting against eventual state champ Galileo, but in his second offensive series, suffered a hairline fracture in his thumb, and sat out the rest of the season.
Baker had learned the value of track workouts from former running back Jacquez Williams, and continued those workouts after his shortened junior season. He also picked up some moves from fellow All-City selection DeSean Crawford, particularly the running back’s spin move.
This past spring, the Lincoln track team added a new sprints coach, Craig Cox. Baker, working on his speed, learned a lot from Cox, and improved his explosiveness thanks to grueling, punishing workouts.
“It helped me level up my game. His workouts were just brutal,” Baker said. “They made me a lot more explosive, they helped me keep my speed up, they helped my endurance and everything. That really played a big role in me playing so many snaps.”
With his added speed, Baker piled up 1,017 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and threw for 542 yards and seven more scores. He added two catches for 37 yards.
“He was in the mix with Rocky [Marania], and we were trading off and on, and he hurt his thumb. That kind of put him back a little on offense,” Ferrigno said. “When we started getting to it [this spring], his skills, once he started competing on the field and doing things he needed to do, he took the job. It was a no-brainer. Plus, Rocky was able to be an outside linebacker and do a great job for us. It helped us in a bunch of spots.”
On defense, he picked off a team-high four passes and returned them for 100 yards, while racking up 59 yards, fourth on the team.
“Jovon’s our heart,” said linebacker Rocky Marania, who competed with Baker for the starting quarterback job in 2017 and 2018. “Jovon’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s our quarterback, he’s our leader, he’s one of the biggest reasons we’re state champs.”
“You saw it on film, you saw him playing,” Ferrigno said. “He’s an unbelievable player, and just an even better guy.”
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