Encouragement over advice

Caption
(Jeff Krage – For the Northwest Herald)
Cary-Grove quarterback Quinn Baker is chased by Chicago St. Patrick's Mike Warner during their Class 6A second-round playoff game Nov. 3 in Cary. C-G will visit Lake Forest on Saturday in the semifinals.

CARY – When his younger brother leads Cary-Grove into Saturday’s Class 6A football state semifinal, Hayden Baker will follow his customary game day routine by sending a single text message.

He will offer Trojans quarterback Quinn Baker good luck and wish him well. But outside of that, the elder Baker will leave his sibling alone, allowing Quinn to focus as he prepares for what – until now – will be the biggest game of his high school football career.

By now, Hayden – a sophomore at Northwestern, where he is the Wildcats’ backup center – has doled out all of the advice he can, leaving the rest to the senior who grew up idolizing his older brother and who has now blossomed into a confident young leader.

This year, Hayden has seen his brother play through a broken hand that forced him to miss three weeks of the season. From a distance, he has watched Quinn bring the Trojans to within one win of their second state championship appearance since 2009. At times, Hayden wishes he could be there more for his brother, but deep down, he’s excited to see Quinn – who was brought up to varsity as a freshman for the title run – enjoy C-G’s playoff run on his own.

“Our relationship is at that point where he’s happy to be doing it on his own and where he doesn’t need my help as much,” Hayden said Wednesday. “But it makes you

feel good as a big brother – I feel like I set a good example, and he and the rest of his teammates took it upon themselves to try and repeat what we did back in 2009.”

Quinn Baker has made sure that’s been the case. In his first full season as C-G’s starting quarterback, Baker has matured into the Trojans’ offensive leader, taking charge of a complicated triple-option offense. He has mastered the scheme by blending intelligence and toughness, knowing that every time he sells himself as the ball carrier, that a big hit is coming.

But regardless how often or how hard he’s been hit, the results have always been the same – especially in last week’s 7-0 quarterfinal win over Crystal Lake Central.

“Time and time again, he was getting hammered,” C-G coach Brad Seaburg said. “But he just kept getting up.”

Quinn Baker has absorbed the hits – partly because he’s the quarterback, but mostly, because of a sense of duty to his teammates and to his community – not wanting to let either down. Meeting expectations has meant managing the stress of being the leader of the offense, growing into the kind of role model who has found a way of putting the Trojans in line to play for a state championship Nov. 24 in Champaign.

It’s then when he thinks back to 2009 when he watched Hayden and his teammates celebrate C-G’s state championship.

“Seeing that gave us the sense that this is real and that (we) could do it, too if we worked as hard as they did,” Quinn said. “It gave you an idea of what you had to do to be there. And to be in the semifinals myself is really an accomplishment, and I’m really happy to be where I am.”

The fact he has reached this point is something Quinn credits partly to Hayden, who exhibited a work ethic that Quinn has tried to emulate ever since. As much as Hayden was someone Quinn could look up to, the younger Baker has taken it upon himself to be an example to his teammates.

The two brothers’ busy football schedules don’t allow them to talk as much as they’d like. When they do, the conversations tend to be more about “brother stuff” than on football. On Saturday, Hayden will depend on regular phone updates from his parents in Lake Forest while he and his Northwestern teammates travel back from Michigan State.

Although he can’t be there, Hayden will hope for the best, wanting to see Quinn’s C-G career end with the Trojans playing for another state crown. If it doesn’t happen, though, the two brothers will still have 2009, strengthening a brother bond that has been cemented through football.

“[The state title] is something we’ll be able to talk about for the rest of our lives,” Hayden said. “It’s one of those things that not many people get to do, and you’ve got to cherish that opportunity.”

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