In an era of specialization, when few college undergraduates have time or energy to devote themselves to more than one campus activity, Terry Baker, a gaunt 20-year-old who plays quarterback for Oregon State University is that rare thing—the all-round man. Last year Baker, as a sophomore, was selected by both the Associated Press and UPI as a first-team All-Coast back after setting an Oregon State total offense record of 1,473 yards. He is one of the best basketball players in the college, having averaged 17.8 points a game during his freshman year. Moreover, before he reached college. Baker pitched the Jefferson High School baseball team of Portland to the state championship. He is majoring in mechanical engineering, one of the toughest courses at Oregon State, and he has a scholastic average just under Phi Beta Kappa level. Although only in his junior year, Baker is the president of his Phi Delta Theta fraternity, an honor always previously reserved for seniors. In recent years probably only Army's Pete Dawkins, whom Baker resembles, was a finer athlete, scholar and leader.
"Terry is certainly a remarkable boy," says his football coach, Tommy Prothro.
"Yes, Terry is a remarkable boy," echoes his basketball coach, Slats Gill, who signed up Baker for Oregon State.
Terry Baker is so remarkable, in fact, that this year Coach Prothro redesigned the Oregon State football offense to accommodate Baker's unusual gifts as a loping but elusive runner and a coolly accurate left-handed passer. Until this year Coach Prothro was conspicuous as one of a handful of major college football coaches who still taught the hairy, old-fashioned, single-wing type of football. He finally switched to the T formation because Baker's talents are uniquely suited to the position of T quarterback.
At first glance it may seem a paradox to find a young man of Terry Baker's singular quality starring on the football team at Oregon State. In recent years the college has acquired a somewhat unsavory reputation on the West Coast as a football factory, largely because it recruited California athletes who couldn't meet the entrance requirements at places like Stanford and the University of California. On the other hand. Baker's high school grades were such that he even attracted the attention of alumni from Harvard and Yale, where athletes must have achieved certain academic merit to receive scholarships.
The fact that Baker chose to go to Oregon State had little to do with football, however. "I wanted to take an engineering course, "he has since explained, "and I wanted to stay in the state. The trouble with places like Harvard and Yale and Stanford, I thought, was that I didn't have any money. I realize now it probably isn't that way but that's how I felt at the time."
The stereotype of the college football star as a bull-necked, monosyllabic mercenary is so widely accepted that it comes as a distinct surprise to meet Terry Baker for the first time. He is tall (6 feet 3) and seemingly thin (195 pounds), with broad, unsloping shoulders, long arms and legs and a neck that obviously separates his head from his shoulders. If you ask Baker to explain his purposes in college, you will get this kind of answer: "I'm taking a mechanical engineering course largely for the background it provides. It's my theory that you get the best education by taking courses that are hard. If you get used to working hard, you find that you do your best work. That's one reason I like to take part in as many sports as possible."
The youngest of three brothers, Baker grew up in a broken home in what he describes as a "lower-middle-class" section of Portland. His 46-year-old mother, who is now employed as a checking clerk in the receiving department of the Sears warehouse in Portland, has had to earn all the money to support her three sons. "We were always in poor financial shape," Baker says, without the least self-consciousness or apology, "and as long as I can remember my mother did nothing but work, work, work to take care of us. Even so, she always wanted us to keep up our athletics."
Both of Baker's older brothers preceded him at Jefferson High and Oregon State. Richard, who is now 27, was, as Baker puts it, "the scholar of the family." Because he was always skipping grades in school, Richard found himself among older boys and never had a chance to develop as an athlete. He became a physicist at college and afterwards took a job as a civilian employee of the Navy department at Pearl Harbor, working on a phase of the electrical system in the new nuclear-powered submarines.
Gary Baker, the middle brother, is only two years older than Terry, and the two of them were extremely close during their boyhoods. Gary loved baseball above all else, and he contributed to Terry's athletic precocity by including him in the games with the older boys that were played at the public park near the Bakers' home. The only baseball glove in the family belonged to Gary, a right-hander, so Terry, who is a natural left-hander, had to learn to throw a baseball with his right arm, which he still does.