Omar Baker didn’t know for sure that he was the Vance High starting quarterback until the team’s season-opening game at West Mecklenburg.
Since then, there has been no mistaking who is the Cougars’ leader.
As a transfer playing his first season at Vance, Baker is symbolic of the new regime first-year coach Aaron Brand has installed. Entering the Oct. 3 MECKA 8 4A contest at Kannapolis A.L. Brown, the Cougars were 4-1 and five points from being undefeated.
Baker had completed 70-of-111 passes (63 percent) for 1,027 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushed for 420 yards and six scores.
Brand says it’s Baker’s work ethic and adaptability that makes him the player he is.
“He’s one of those guys that keeps the light switch on all the time,” said Brand. “He’s enthusiastic. He’s a pretty good leader, and he can make some plays.”
Baker’s family moved to Charlotte from Rochester, N.Y., prior to his freshman year. They lived in Vance’s district, but Baker was interested in attending Phillip O. Berry Academy, where he could build a stronger foundation in computer programming, the field he wants to study in college.
After playing his freshman year on the junior-varsity team, Baker became a receiver on varsity as a sophomore and played quarterback as a junior.
One of his 2013 season highlights at Berry was throwing for 245 yards and five touchdowns and rushing for 71 more in a 45-39 loss at Kannapolis Brown.
The following week, against West Charlotte, Baker completed 16-of-22 passes for 225 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 62 yards; he was named the Power 98 Athlete of the Week.
“Coming to Vance, it was all up to me,” said Baker. “I liked it at Berry, but I wanted to try something new.”
Baker transferred to Vance in the middle of last school year. Shortly after he arrived, Vance’s coach for the previous two seasons, Keith Wilkes, left for Olympic High, and Vance replaced him with Brand.
“The first day (Brand) came, we were in the auditorium,” said Baker. “I told him, ‘I want to be your quarterback.’ He gave me the opportunity to come out here and show him, and I’m still trying to show him to this day.”
As the Cougars opened preseason practice, Brand said, he had a competition for quarterback that included Baker, returning starter Laquell Thames and Baker’s fellow transfer from Berry Kingsley Ifedi, a sophomore.
Brand said Baker proved the one who picked up the offense the quickest and worked the hardest.
Baker said he knew he was going to be the starter because his number of snaps in practice increased leading up to the opening game. Still, he had to wait to hear Brand call his name as the offense first took the field at West Meck.
Brand says Baker has made some correctable mistakes and that he lacks “big-time arm strength,” but adds that he has improved each game and that he took the Cougars on his back during the third and fourth games of the season against Richmond Senior and Rock Hill South Pointe.
Against state power Richmond, Baker completed 21-of-31 throws for 351 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Vance lost 42-37 but made a statement that it could play with the state’s best.
At South Pointe, Baker ran for 148 yards on 13 carries, including a 36-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-24 that gave the Cougars a 21-7 lead after halftime. Later in the third quarter, he threw a 60-yard strike to Myles Dorn to help Vance pull away for a 28-7 win.
Baker and Dorn quickly are becoming a formidable combination, and Brand said junior Ifedi is a “year away from being the best receiver in Charlotte.”
Teammates have thrown their support behind Baker, who has embraced his leadership role.
“Everyone looks at me as being the leader,” said Baker. “Coach has given me that role. In school, I have a high GPA (3.1). They see me walk around and go straight to class, things like that. They always look at me as a leader.
“I take all the responsibility. What else can you be? You’re the quarterback. You’re supposed to be good in school. I’ve taken it and embraced it.”