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posted: 4/28/2017 1:00 AM

Grayslake North makes the move to hire Baker

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It took just two days for Sam Baker and his wife Kate to sell their house in suburban Minneapolis.

Baker is hoping that's a good omen for getting off to a quick start at Grayslake North.

Baker, a 29-year-old Minnesota native, was named by the school board on Thursday to be the new football head coach at Grayslake North. He replaces Steve Wood, the only head football coach in school history. Wood, who guided the Knights since the school opened in 2006, stepped down at the end of last season in order to be able to watch his sons play football at Richmond-Burton. He was 49-57 over his 11-year career.

"Grayslake North is a great fit for us. It's a great culture," said Baker, who was seeking to move Kate and their toddler son Sawyer to this area so that Kate, a Cary-Grove High School graduate, could be near family. "It's such a great opportunity. I'm all in, and I'm ready to get after it."

Baker was selected from a pool of 25 candidates, and beat out four other finalists, in spite of his lack of ties to football in Illinois. He wowed the interviewing committee at Grayslake North with his energy and passion.

"Sam was really enthusiastic and excited about being at Grayslake North," Grayslake North athletic director Tina Woolard said. "He's passionate about football and kids and character building and he believes in creating a family through football in which you really care for the kids. You're not only teaching kids about football, you're teaching kids about expectations and what it means to be accountable and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

"That's always been a priority for us at Grayslake North."

Winning has been a priority for the Knights, too.

Wood built up quite a tradition during his time at Grayslake North. The Knights were 0-9 in their first year of existence and won just one game over their first three seasons.

But gradually, the program gained momentum and is now a consistent winner. Grayslake North has made five straight playoff appearances and has advanced to the second round the last two seasons.

Baker says that he intends to respect that tradition and history, to the point where he is expecting to keep most of the current staff in place and to also run the same offense that Grayslake North has run in the past: spread and no-huddle.

"It would be wrong on my part to come in and change everything," Baker said. "I need to be respectful of what worked here and keep those things going. The spread worked well for (Grayslake North)."

It won't be a stretch for Baker run with that. He used the same kind of offense the last four years at Waconia High School in the Minneapolis suburbs. He took over that program four years ago.

"I like that style. It's fun for the kids," Baker said. "It's what they see on TV on Saturdays with college football, and that's what they're into. You've got to be quick and up-tempo and keep it interesting and exciting for them. I like to play fast."

Baker would know. He's barely removed from being a player himself.

He got his job at Waconia when he was just 25 years old, taking a team that went 1-8 his first year to 7-3 last year. Prior to that, he held a couple of jobs as an assistant coach right after he left college.

Baker is a 2010 graduate of Winona State where he was a reserve quarterback for the football team.

"I'm 6-foot-3, 200 pounds so in high school I was pretty big and I could throw it," Baker said. "But I'm not the most athletic guy, so in college, I didn't play much. I was third string.

"It got to the point where my coach (at Winona) told me that I should think about coaching. I was thinking about coaching already. I had wanted to be a coach since I was in high school."

Baker, a physical education and health teacher at his current school, will take on a position yet to be determined at Grayslake North. He plans to wrap up the school year in Minnesota and be in the area full-time in early June. However, he plans to come down here every weekend between now and then.

"I'm excited to meet with players and coaches and really get going," Baker said. "You win with people and I've already met some great people at Grayslake North. The kids are really good kids and they are such hard workers and that really excites me."

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