Skip to main content


Long, lean Terry Baker doesn't look or act like a football player, but his coach revised the Oregon State offense to accommodate this remarkable all-round athlete

In an era of specialization, when few college undergraduates have time or energy to devote themselves to more than one campus activity, Terry Baker, a gaunt 20-year-old who plays quarterback for Oregon State University is that rare thing—the all-round man. Last year Baker, as a sophomore, was selected by both the Associated Press and UPI as a first-team All-Coast back after setting an Oregon State total offense record of 1,473 yards. He is one of the best basketball players in the college, having averaged 17.8 points a game during his freshman year. Moreover, before he reached college. Baker pitched the Jefferson High School baseball team of Portland to the state championship. He is majoring in mechanical engineering, one of the toughest courses at Oregon State, and he has a scholastic average just under Phi Beta Kappa level. Although only in his junior year, Baker is the president of his Phi Delta Theta fraternity, an honor always previously reserved for seniors. In recent years probably only Army's Pete Dawkins, whom Baker resembles, was a finer athlete, scholar and leader.

"Terry is certainly a remarkable boy," says his football coach, Tommy Prothro.

"Yes, Terry is a remarkable boy," echoes his basketball coach, Slats Gill, who signed up Baker for Oregon State.

Terry Baker is so remarkable, in fact, that this year Coach Prothro redesigned the Oregon State football offense to accommodate Baker's unusual gifts as a loping but elusive runner and a coolly accurate left-handed passer. Until this year Coach Prothro was conspicuous as one of a handful of major college football coaches who still taught the hairy, old-fashioned, single-wing type of football. He finally switched to the T formation because Baker's talents are uniquely suited to the position of T quarterback.

At first glance it may seem a paradox to find a young man of Terry Baker's singular quality starring on the football team at Oregon State. In recent years the college has acquired a somewhat unsavory reputation on the West Coast as a football factory, largely because it recruited California athletes who couldn't meet the entrance requirements at places like Stanford and the University of California. On the other hand. Baker's high school grades were such that he even attracted the attention of alumni from Harvard and Yale, where athletes must have achieved certain academic merit to receive scholarships.

The fact that Baker chose to go to Oregon State had little to do with football, however. "I wanted to take an engineering course, "he has since explained, "and I wanted to stay in the state. The trouble with places like Harvard and Yale and Stanford, I thought, was that I didn't have any money. I realize now it probably isn't that way but that's how I felt at the time."

The stereotype of the college football star as a bull-necked, monosyllabic mercenary is so widely accepted that it comes as a distinct surprise to meet Terry Baker for the first time. He is tall (6 feet 3) and seemingly thin (195 pounds), with broad, unsloping shoulders, long arms and legs and a neck that obviously separates his head from his shoulders. If you ask Baker to explain his purposes in college, you will get this kind of answer: "I'm taking a mechanical engineering course largely for the background it provides. It's my theory that you get the best education by taking courses that are hard. If you get used to working hard, you find that you do your best work. That's one reason I like to take part in as many sports as possible."

The youngest of three brothers, Baker grew up in a broken home in what he describes as a "lower-middle-class" section of Portland. His 46-year-old mother, who is now employed as a checking clerk in the receiving department of the Sears warehouse in Portland, has had to earn all the money to support her three sons. "We were always in poor financial shape," Baker says, without the least self-consciousness or apology, "and as long as I can remember my mother did nothing but work, work, work to take care of us. Even so, she always wanted us to keep up our athletics."

Both of Baker's older brothers preceded him at Jefferson High and Oregon State. Richard, who is now 27, was, as Baker puts it, "the scholar of the family." Because he was always skipping grades in school, Richard found himself among older boys and never had a chance to develop as an athlete. He became a physicist at college and afterwards took a job as a civilian employee of the Navy department at Pearl Harbor, working on a phase of the electrical system in the new nuclear-powered submarines.

Gary Baker, the middle brother, is only two years older than Terry, and the two of them were extremely close during their boyhoods. Gary loved baseball above all else, and he contributed to Terry's athletic precocity by including him in the games with the older boys that were played at the public park near the Bakers' home. The only baseball glove in the family belonged to Gary, a right-hander, so Terry, who is a natural left-hander, had to learn to throw a baseball with his right arm, which he still does.

At college, Gary was a star outfielder on the baseball team, and after his graduation in 1961 he spent the summer playing for the Raleigh Capitals of the Class B Carolina League. Next spring he is to be given a big-league tryout by the parent New York Mets.

When it came time for Terry to go to college it was only natural that he would be pursued fiercely by most of the college scouts in the Pacific Northwest. Strangely though, Coach Prothro and his staff were among the least aggressive. "I got the idea that he didn't like to get hit when he was playing high school football, so we didn't rush him too hard," Prothro said recently.

The summer after he finished high school Baker took part in Portland's annual high school all-star game in which he starred. Afterwards Coach Prothro visited him in the locker room to see if he had made up his mind about college.

"You didn't seem too interested in me before, Coach," Baker said to Prothro.

"I wasn't," Prothro admitted, "but tonight I thought for the first time that you really enjoyed playing football."

"I did enjoy it," Baker agreed.

By that time Baker had made up his mind to go to Oregon State on a basketball scholarship, and he didn't even bother to go out for freshman football.

Playing basketball for Coach Gill, Baker was an instant success even though he is on the small side as basketball players are measured at such earnest centers of the sport as Oregon State. "Terry can't work much around the backboards against the tall men," Gill says, "but he is fast and intelligent and competitive and makes wonderful plays."

After that first basketball season Baker started to play on the freshman baseball team as a pitcher. However, he stopped by the football field one day to watch spring practice, and another idea crossed his mind. He asked for a football suit and was soon hard at work learning the single wing.

"I didn't like all that idle time I had had in the fall," Baker recollects. "I guess I was like a businessman who puts his whole life into a business and doesn't want to give it up."

"Terry had a great deal to learn before he could play single wing," Prothro says. "He'd never run with the ball before he came here, and everyone had told him he couldn't play single wing. Everyone but us, that is. We told him he could. At first, he wasn't a good runner, but he kept improving. He's not fast, but he learned to be elusive, and he has a great competitive spirit."

Last fall, as a sophomore, Baker alternated as Oregon State's single-wing tailback with Don Kasso, the best running back in the college but an inferior passer. For a while they played about an equal amount of time, but Kasso was injured in midseason and was unable to play in two games. In those, Baker gained 274 and 302 yards, respectively, running and passing, and thus was able to set the new Oregon State record for most yards gained in a single season, a total that ranked him sixth in the whole country in this category.

"I don't really know what I do that's different," Baker will tell you in explaining how he learned to run with the ball. "I'm not very fast, you know. I guess I just give the basketball fakes out there, and it seems to work."

"Don't let anyone kid you," says Kasso, the husky little towhead who was Baker's rival for the tailback position. "Terry may not look fast, but that long-legged lope of his really eats up the ground and fools people. They don't think he's moving as fast as he is."

Although Oregon State had a very respectable 6-3-1 record last year and lost by only a single point to Washington, the team that represented the West in the Rose Bowl, Prothro decided to convert his offense to the T formation this year so he could use both Baker and Kasso in the same backfield at the same time. This meant that Baker again had to skip baseball in the spring in order to learn all of Prothro's formations. This was quite a blow to the baseball coach, who harbors secret dreams of building Baker into an ambidextrous pitcher. For Baker still throws a baseball right-handed, as he learned to do in his boyhood, although he throws the football left-handed.

Baker's clear thinking is the one trait that impresses his elders above all his other assets. Admiral Daniel B. Miller, who had him as a student in his general engineering course, says he is "one of the best students I ever had. Normally, there are about 25% dropouts in this course; in other words, it's not a Mickey Mouse, as the boys would say. Terry showed me a clear, decisive mind, and his work is neat and logical. Above all, he knows how to husband his time, and his concentration is remarkable. You could shoot a gun off in the room when he is studying, and it wouldn't disturb him."

Coach Prothro puts the same idea a different way. "With most boys," he says, "if they ask you a question, you can just give them an answer, and that's that. With Terry, he's so intelligent you've got to stop and think. I remember one time we were discussing the subject of second- and third-choice receivers on pass plays, and I told him I didn't want him to throw to anyone if the designated receiver was not open. Right away he wanted to know whether that was because I didn't think he was good enough or whether I would apply the same rule to anyone. He always wants to get to the heart of the matter."

At college, Baker lives in the Phi Delt house, one of the large family residences bordering the campus that have been converted into fraternity houses. The Phi Delts have always included prominent athletes in their membership, so it was natural for Baker to join them, but his election to the presidency at the end of his sophomore year was a tribute that may well be remembered around Corvallis long after his football heroics. Baker's scholarship, which was transferred from the basketball to the football budget last year, takes care of the $80 a month that is charged for board and room at the Phi Delt house as well as the $270 tuition charged by the college and some $40 or more a year that he must spend on books. Actually, the board and room allowance for an athletic scholarship at Oregon State is $90 a month, and since Baker doesn't use it all at the Phi Delt house, he gets to keep the difference for spending money.

He sleeps with his fraternity brothers in a large room full of double-decker bunks, but he also has a small corner room on the second floor of the house where he studies and hangs his clothes. He shares this room, which measures about 10 feet by 10 feet, with a classmate and one of the newly pledged freshmen, and it has all the shabby informality of a few hundred thousand other college rooms from Abilene Christian to Youngstown U. Guiding a visitor through the fraternity, Baker displays a kind of paternal fustiness, complaining about trash in the hallways and the fact that the workmen didn't complete their repairs during the summer holidays and the untidiness of the living room. But he also takes great pride in displaying the intramural athletic cups on the piano and the photographs of the fraternity's athletic heroes on the walls of the basement playroom and the small closet where the Phi Delts tidily file away past examination papers to help in the preparation for future ones.

Due largely to the presence of Terry Baker and Don Kasso in the same T-formation backfield, the prospects for a successful season at Oregon State had never been higher during the seven-year tenure of Coach Prothro than they were when the team opened its season on September 23 in Portland against a highly regarded team from Syracuse. It was late in the first quarter, however, before Baker could build up any momentum in the team, and already they were trailing, 7-0.

With the ball 36 yards from the Syracuse goal line, Baker started to throw a pass and found three big Syracuse linemen bearing down on him. He retreated to midfield, executed some nimble footwork and left his three pursuers tangled together in an awkward gaggle. He then zigged and zagged his way back up the field through the remainder of the Syracuse team for Oregon State's only touchdown of the afternoon. It was a run that left everyone in the stadium—and particularly the astounded Syracuse coach—shaking their heads in disbelief. One had to think back to the days of Albie Booth to recall anything quite like it.

Otherwise, the debut of Baker and his teammates in their new T formation was not auspicious. They fumbled frequently and seemed uncertain in the execution of their new offense, finally losing the game 19-8. The following week was even worse when an underdog Stanford beat them 34-0 in their own stadium at Corvallis. In that game Baker broke loose on one of his amazing runs, going 25 yards up one sideline, skedaddling all the way across the field and then twisting his way 25 yards up the other sideline. But the ball died on the Stanford three-yard line. "We have a lot to learn," Prothro said with a sigh, "but Terry has shown he knows how to play his position."

What it will all lead to is a problem Terry Baker hasn't yet solved. "As I stand now I could have my degree at the end of four years, and I've just about finished all my requirements for medical school," he was saying the other day. "I've thought about going to medical school so I could take up psychiatry. This summer I took a camping trip with one of my old high school coaches who has been doing work in the behavioral sciences, and I found myself getting very interested in that subject.

"On the other hand," he went on, furrowing the broad brow that leads up to his receding blond hairline and gazing intently at the cleatless football shoes he wears around the campus, "I might try professional sport for a while if I'm good enough. I don't think I'd want to do baseball, because you can waste an awful lot of time knocking around the minor leagues, but if I could earn some money quickly playing pro football, that might appeal to me."

Hearing about this, Coach Prothro said in his gentle Memphis accent that is the antithesis of the tough coach's growl: "That reminds me of one time Terry came to dinner at our house with my wife Shirley and me. We eat pretty good at our house but nothing very special. But I remember Terry saying to us, 'Do you always eat like this?' I told him, sure, this is about the way we usually eat, and Terry said, 'Gee, I hope some day I'll be rich enough to eat this way.' "






TERRY'S MOTHER, Mrs. Laura Baker, looks over his scrap-book with brother Gary, now a professional baseball player.


Terry Baker is not alone among accomplished performers in college today. Of at least two dozen other superb athletes in big and small schools, here are the best.

Reginald Carolan, Idaho end: Ranked sixth nationally with 33 pass receptions last year. Starting forward on basketball team, was second high on team with 125 rebounds. Competes in shotput, discus and hurdles on track team. Has 3.0 average in physical education. Home: San Anselmo, Calif.

Ernie Davis, Syracuse halfback: Made All-America last year, also rallied losing basketball team, averaging 10.2 points per game. Is a C student in economics. Home: Elmira, N.Y.

Roman Gabriel, North Carolina State quarterback: All-America in 1960, completed 105 of 186 passes for 1,182 yards and eight TDs. Played center field on baseball team, hitting five home runs and leading team in RBIs. High-B student in school of education. Home: Wilmington, N.C.

Ronnie Goodwin, Baylor halfback: Southwest's leading receiver last year and team's second-leading rusher, carrying ball 76 times for 343 yards and three TDs. A third baseman on baseball team, led conference batting with .419 average. Has a B-minus average in business. Home: Odessa, Texas.

Curtis McClinton, Kansas halfback: Gained 861 yards rushing in two years, led team in pass receiving in 1960. In track, won His; Fight 60-yard high hurdles, runner-up in outdoor high hurdles. Studying voice, hopes to be concert singer. Home: Wichita.

Pat Richter, Wisconsin end: First man in 36 years to win Wisconsin varsity letters in three sports, tied school record last year for most passes caught (25). Center on the basketball team, plays first base and outfield on baseball team with .398 batting average, including 13 doubles, four triples and seven home runs. A C-plus student in school of commerce. Home: Madison.

Bobby Lee Smith, UCLA halfback: Scored three TDs, kicked extra point, ran for 178 yards in 19-6 victory over Air Force. In track, broad jumped 24 feet ¾ inches, ran low hurdles in 23.8, 100 in 9.8, is B-minus student. Home: Compton, Calif.