Matt Ryan, the quarterback the Falcons selected third in April’s NFL draft has been the talk of the team’s rookie class But Sam Baker, the team’s other first-round draft choice, could see the field first. As part of a series introducing the Falcons rookies, Baker, a three-time All-American offensive tackle from USC, spoke with Times sports editor Brent Holloway recently about his thoughts during the draft, the wealth of talent at his high school in California and the pickup truck with more dents and scratches than a lineman’s helmet that he drove in college.
Question: What were you thinking during the draft when all the offensive linemen started flying off the board in the first round?
Answer: I didn’t know what was going to happen. I anticipated maybe coming (to the Falcons) because they had shown the most interest, but I wasn’t really sure. That whole thing is so hard to predict, so I was just watching just like everybody else.
Q: What was the first thing you did after your name was called?
A: (My family and I) went to Don Jose’s. It’s a little Mexican restaurant in Tustin, (Calif.), where I’m from, and we all went and celebrated.
Q: What have you learned so far since you’ve been with the Falcons?
A: Just that it’s a whole new game. You’ve got to learn and follow the older guys. Luckily for me, there’s a lot of older guys here who have been in the league, and it’s easy to learn from them.
Q: What can you tell me about your hometown?
A: A lot of people don’t know, but my high school has six guys in the pros right now.
Q: Who are they?
A: DeShaun Foster, who used to play at Carolina and now he’s with San Francisco; Chris Chester, he’s the starting center for the Ravens now; Frostee Rucker, who plays for the Bengals; Matt McCoy, who plays for the Bucs now; and Beau Bell, who just got drafted this year by Cleveland.
Q: How many of those guys did you actually play high school ball with?
A: I played with all of them except DeShaun. He was a little bit before me.
Q: So what was it like playing with so many talented guys at that level?
A: Everybody thought we were a pro team because we were so big.
Q: Did you win state?
A: No. We don’t have state out there. California has so many schools that we just played in the southern section and no, we didn’t win our division either. We should’ve, but you know...
Q: Did the team that beat y’all have anybody we might know?
A: Nope. They didn’t even have anybody that went to college.
Q: Obviously, there was a lot of recruiting attention around you coming out of high school, but at what point did you figure out that football might be something that you could make a career out of?
A: Probably not until my redshirt freshman year of college after we won the national championship. I still had some time left in school and I thought, ‘You know, maybe one day I can make it to that next level.’
Q: What was it that made you say that?
A: The one guy I remember was a defensive end for Oklahoma (Dan Cody). He was ranked like the No. 1 guy in his class. He was really good, and I remember thinking if I could block that guy, I might be able to make it.
Q: So what do you like to do outside of football?
A: I like to lay in bed and watch T.V.
Q: How much of that are you getting to do these days?
A: Not much. (My fiancee and I) are just getting settled in our new place, so it’s busy.
Q: So do you still have the old, beat-up Ford F-150 that you’ve been seen showing off on YouTube?
A: Nah, my fiancee totaled it while I was at the hotel for the Rose Bowl. They told me it was going to get out of the shop, but it got totaled.
Q: Were you sad to see it go? It looked like you had spent a lot of time with that truck.
A: Yeah, it was my brother’s before it was mine and it got me a lot of places. I probably wore that thing out more than anybody’s ever wore a truck out before.
Q: What are you driving these days?
A: We rented a Jeep — that’s all we’ve got right now. Hopefully, I’ll get a big truck again soon.