Chris Baker was a basketball player in high school. Standing 6-feet tall by the age of 11, Baker had every intention of a career in the NBA similar to that of Shaquille O’Neal. But as years passed, his growth stagnated and his weight rose. As his dreams started to dwindle in one sport, another activity arose: Football.
Baker became enamored with football in his junior year of high school through lifelong friend Terrance Knighton. Knighton — who was a senior on the football team at Windsor High School in Connecticut — saw Baker’s size, and recruited him to join the team. More than a decade later, the nose tackles would reunite for the Washington Redskins.
The two grew up in the same high school halls and shared the field, taking after their fathers who attended high school together. Knighton, also known as “Pot Roast,” dealt with academic problems throughout high school.
“There was a big controversy with him coming out of high school,” Baker said. “He failed an English class and couldn’t come back, and had to attend a prep school. He lost a lot of opportunities to go to better schools because of that.”
In 2004, Knighton attended Milford Academy in New Berlin, New York, where he was noted for 70 tackles and six sacks. After one year at Milford, he had only two scholarships offers, one from Temple and another from the University of Central Florida. Temple was his school of choice after being denied admission to UCF for academic reasons.
“He beat all odds [at Temple],” Baker said.
Baker’s journey to the NFL had its share of potholes as well.
“I didn’t get good grades my first couple years [of high school], so I had to grind and really get focused on and off the field,” Baker said.
Baker played football for Penn State until he was kicked out because of off-the-field issues. After being temporarily, then permanently, expelled by the university for participating in two separate off-campus fights, Baker transferred to Hampton University.
Following college, Baker and Knighton hoped to reunite in the NFL. Knighton was eventually drafted in the third round (72nd overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Baker went undrafted. The reunion seemed hopeless since teams were turning their heads in the opposing direction of Baker, yet that never stopped him.
“I was always able to do it,” Baker said. “People told me I couldn’t do this and that — I’ve always been able to prove people wrong.”
After short stints with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, Baker was signed to the Redskins’ practice squad in 2011.
Meanwhile, Knighton was living out his four-year contract in Jacksonville. After becoming a free agent in 2012, he signed with the Denver Broncos for two seasons. By the time Knighton’s tenure had expired in Denver, Baker had made his way on to Washington’s 53-man roster and re-signed for three years. Baker saw Knighton’s free agency as a chance to reunite with his high school pal. He began to recruit him to come to D.C. Things looked promising since Knighton had been failing to gain interest in free agency. After the Redskins signed “Pot Roast” to a one-year, $4 million deal, Baker feels they have the pieces they need to turn around the organization.
“He brings a lot of leadership,” Baker said. “He plays well. Guys always follow Terrance. Ever since we were in high school, everyone always gravitated to him. So he’s a great leader on and off the field.”
All seems content with Knighton and Baker, right? They received what they wanted by becoming teammates again. Now, all they need is a Super Bowl ring as a capper. There’s one problem, though. With Knighton and Baker both being nose tackles, one of them will likely sacrifice playing time to the other. Baker didn’t seem worried about losing reps.
“The thing is, with me, I’m able to play more than one position,” Baker said. “If I can’t start at nose tackle, I can try at left end and let the coaches decide from there.”
With the additions of defensive tackles Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean-Francois, along with Knighton, spots for Baker to fill are looking slim. A new defensive coordinator in Joe Barry could mean a new set of players at the defensive frontline.
“I definitely have a lot of respect for the way he [Barry] ran his defense,” Knighton said when asked about the new defensive scheme. “I would describe it as organized chaos. Everybody is playing fast and physical. We’re just going to drive teams crazy.”
From battling side by side in high school, to battling each other for a starting spot on an NFL roster, Baker and Knighton have worked careening paths in order to come back together. As off-script as their journeys seem, their friendship looked unaffected when they partnered up for one-on-one pass rush drills Tuesday.
“I got him to sign here so we could win a Super Bowl together,” Baker said. “So I could win one with my best friend.”