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"His brother Gary was in school here by then," Gill recalls, "and that was an influence. Terry had always been a believer in our basketball program, since he'd been coming to games here for three years. He wanted engineering, and that was available here. I think he was impressed, too, with our approach. When I told him I couldn't promise him a starting spot, that he'd have to come out and earn it, Terry said, 'You know the trouble with you, coach? You're too honest.'
"I remember saying then, before I ever knew he'd make it in college athletics, that he was the most personable high school senior I had ever met."
Coach Prothro and the Oregon State football department weren't too impressed with Baker as a prospect, however. "I wasn't too sure he liked contact," Prothro has since explained, "although I had to change my mind after watching Terry play in a high school all-star game the summer before he entered college." In those days Prothro taught the head-banging single-wing football he had learned as an assistant to Red Sanders at Vanderbilt and UCLA, and what he wanted was rough, tough blockers and runners rather than deft and artful T quarterbacks. "Terry had never run with the ball before he came here," Prothro observes as he looks back on the situation. "Everyone told him he couldn't play single wing—everyone but us, that is. We told him he could. At first he didn't believe us, and he didn't play freshman football."
Instead, Baker decided to concentrate on basketball in his freshman year. He was the team's high scorer with an average of 17.8 points per game. That spring he went out for baseball. "It was the worst spring we ever had," Baker remembers. "It rained all the time and we couldn't get a game in. About halfway through the season, spring football practice began, so I decided to give it a try."
"After the first three days that Terry was out for football that spring," Slats Gill recalls, "I asked the coaches about him. They said no he wouldn't make it. Three days later they said yes."
During Baker's sophomore year, when he alternated with a well-proven senior at the unfamiliar position of single-wing tailback, he set a new Oregon State record for total offense—about half of it running and half passing—and finished sixth among major college players throughout the entire U.S. It was then that Coach Prothro decided to convert to T-formation football to take full advantage of Baker's unusual talents.
The conversion was not an instant success. Baker's statistical table ceased to escalate as Oregon State plodded and stumbled through a humdrum 5-5 season. "We had no other quarterback," says Prothro, "so we couldn't risk letting Terry run with the ball as much as we would have liked. Without the threat of the option, he wasn't as effective as he could have been." Nonetheless. Baker's total offensive yardage of 1,230 placed him 11th in the national rankings.
The basketball season was a partial palliative. With a 7-foot sophomore named Mel Counts to dip the ball into the basket, Oregon State became one of the best teams in the Far West, and Baker was the spark that urged it on. "It's his passing, his maneuverability and the way he directs our offense that are his strong points," says John Eggars. "We call him our quarterback. Counts clears the ball off the backboards, passes it right to Baker, and Terry takes it down the court. He's not a good outside shot, but he's a great playmaker, and he drives in under the basket very well. He's the kind of player who can make a college team go, and he always comes up with the big play when you need it."
One of Baker's most remarkable attributes is the speed with which he can adapt from football to basketball, a process that generally takes an athlete as long as three weeks because of the completely different set of leg muscles that are required for the game. Baker, as he proved after the Liberty Bowl game, can make the switch in a week or less.
Still, it is football that Baker plays best. During this past season, when he passed for a total of 1,738 yards and ran for another 538, his total offensive record beat the runner-up, Eldon Fortie of Brigham Young, by the length of more than three football fields.