Leading man

Huntley senior Lucas Baker is the Northwest Herald Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Huntley senior Lucas Baker is the Northwest Herald Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

Huntley’s boys soccer program completed its main goal of making school history.

The Red Raiders are coming off a historic season with a playoff run that included the program’s first regional title, and the team’s success was largely due to the exceptional play of its captain, Lucas Baker.

Baker scored 23 goals, even after seeing double- and triple-teams from opposing defenses for the second half of the season. The forward/midfielder brought a consistent scoring threat and unmatchable energy and leadership on the field.

“From the beginning of the year he has been just an amazing leader,” coach Kris Grabner said. “He gets the team focused and ready to go from practices to games, and the energy he brings in the games is outstanding.

“The technical skill he brings is amazing as well. I can’t say enough about him. His soccer knowledge is top notch, and I personally feel that if we would have made it through sectionals he would be seeing a ton of awards.”

For his accomplishments, Baker is the Northwest Herald Boys Soccer Player of the Year as selected by the sports staff with input from local coaches.

Baker is the most explosive and dangerous player in the area, and he shifted momentum in games countless times, especially late in games when Grabner would try to get Baker as many touches as possible, knowing something good would happen.

The senior welcomes the pressure that comes with the territory as the go-to guy, and he said it just makes him work harder. Grabner said it will be impossible to replace someone with as many intangibles as Baker.

“Since I was little, those around me told me to be confident in all that I do,” Baker said. “I always have this dream that whenever I try something, I know I am going to be good at it.”

Baker’s stature is the first thing one notices when sizing him up. Standing at a generously listed 5-foot-10 and soundly built, he has limitless natural ability of speed, agility and strength, but that alone can’t propel athletes to greatness.

He works at it.

Baker keeps a journal in his room detailing all of his soccer moments, encompassing practice, games and scrimmages. He notes if he had a few bad touches one game or if a double team shut him down another. He notes if he scored two goals and writes down how he was able to break free. He reads and rereads the journal, trying to perfect his craft.

“It’s a purely positive thing,” he said. “One entry will say I had two bad touches today, and I’ll go back and look at it the next game when I write down what happened and see if I cut down on those two bad touches.

“If you’re really dedicated, you should be writing down your role and what it takes to get better.”

That type of attention to detail is what allowed Baker to continue to improve each season, and though high school soccer has ended for him, he plans to keep playing at a higher level.

In what is normally a stressful time for most high school seniors toying with what college to attend and what career path to follow, the Huntley soccer star is not the least bit worried about his future. He plans to move to London and play in Europe under former soccer club coach Brad Wellman of the Cary Defenders.

Even when playing at a high level, the key to improving is to enjoy what it is you’re doing. Baker was a gymnast early on, but when given an ultimatum from his coach about picking just one sport, it was a no-brainer.

“Soccer is my No. 1 thing,” Baker said. “I wanted to be with my friends and have fun. I made a good choice.”

Grabner also is pleased he made the decision.

High school sports are touted as a learning experience. Coaches teach their players values, how to work together for a common goal and how to be better people.

Sometimes coaches see the reverse and find that through the course of a season their players actually teach them something about the game and, more importantly, life.

That was the case this season, as Grabner learned a few things about himself from Huntley’s captain.

“So often we get so serious about the game we play that we forget to have fun,” Grabner said. “And Lucas never forgot to have fun from the first time I met him to the last game he played for me.

“The biggest thing there is that he kept me from getting too serious. Personally, I am a very intense coach and I push, and sometimes you have to back off, and [Baker] helped me to learn to do that.

“No one else really knows about that, and I don’t think he even realized that he did that for me, and it’s something that I will never forget for the rest of my life.”

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