PREP FOOTBALL: Going beyond the gridiron with Bear River’s football phenom Austin Baze
Special to The Union
BAze At A GLANCE
Weight: 230 pounds
2016 offensive stats: 31 carries, 271 rush yards, 8.7 avg., 5 rush TDs
2016 defensive stats: 45 tackles (37 solo), 3 FR, sack, punt block, defensive TD
Survey the field from the bleachers at J. David Ramsey Stadium and it’s not hard to find Bear River’s Austin Baze.
The 6-foot 2-inch, 230-pound junior fullback/linebacker stands out among the rest and has been at the varsity level for all three years of his impressive high school athletic career. Baze, who turns 17 in early October, currently leads the team in rushing with 31 carries for 271 yards and five touchdowns. Defensively, he boasts the most tackles with 45. Last season he led the squad as a sophomore with 11 rushing scores despite missing playing time with a shoulder injury. Already, the bruising Bruin has racked up a combined 781 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in what will surely continue to be an awe-inspiring varsity career.
“One word, classy,” said Bear River co-head coach Terry Logue. “He’s a classy young man. He works really, really hard in the weight room, hard in the classroom, gets good grades and on the football field his talent speaks for itself. He runs a 4.65 – 40 (yard dash). He’s been on varsity since he was 15 years old, been to two (Sac-Joaquin Section) title games and won one. I’d take 20 of him.”
Watching Baze carry the rock for his team, any fan can see there is an intensity that is unmatched. Defenders don’t detour him, they are simply in his route, a mere traffic cone. Breaking tackles and gaining that almighty yard on fourth-and-short is what he was born to do.
For the love of family and football
“I love my team. They’re like my second family. I just love coming out and practicing with the guys. It’s like my escape,” said Baze, who knows no other reasons to play but for love of the game and for his teammates. “I just love playing with them. They’re my friends, my best friends.”
Hard to believe there could ever possibly be things in life more important than football, but it’s true, and Baze recognizes where his priorities lie.
“Big family, I have three brothers,” said Baze. “I have an older one who lives in Oklahoma and I have two (younger) at home. My father died when I was 9, had Swine Flu back in the day, back when that was a huge, huge thing. Ever since then been just taking care of my family. Family first, then football. I love football. Football is like my second family. I come out here and I try to protect my guys, try to do the best I can for them.”
A product of his environment
Baze grew up in Grass Valley out on Perimeter Road and has always called Nevada County home. He attended Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, Cottage Hill and Magnolia. His love for the community, being outdoors and experiencing the thrill of physical contact sports has also led him to take up lacrosse with the Gold Country Stampede, when he’s not too busy with academics and football of course.
“Either homework, working out or playing lacrosse,” said Baze, who is learning to multitask and manage his time. “(Lacrosse) been treating me good. It gets my agility up because it’s more of a running sport. I kind of bring the football side to it. I don’t target people, but they bounce off me. The cool thing is we have kids from all over, from Colfax, from NU. It’s really fun having all those kids from different schools around.”
Soaking it all up
Baze relishes his moments and opportunities on and off the field everywhere he goes. His football IQ is ever-increasing week by week. He sincerely appreciates what his coaches have done to help him progress to where he is today.
“(Scott Savoie and Logue) have been huge mentors,” he said. “They always come up and talk to me before games. I kind of get a bit nervous before games. They’re always the first ones to come up and talk me through it and get me ready. They’re great. I love them both to death. They’re just great coaches. They know how to motivate and get everything done in an orderly fashion.”
The journey hasn’t quite been eye-opening for the young man, who acknowledges his hard work and preparation came in response to being called up to varsity so quickly.
“I remember freshman year when I went up to varsity I was a little bit intimidated,” said Baze who weighed 205 pounds at the time. “That was my first awakening, like OK, I need to put in a little more work, a little more effort into it. I put a lot of effort into the offseason, gained like 20 pounds. I was ready to play.”
Off the gridiron
Bulldozing his way through defenders, moving the chains and pounding it in the end zone is what he does best, however, beneath the helmet is just a kid who loves cheeseburgers topped with onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise and mustard.
If he had no obligations and could suddenly disappear and take a one week hiatus…
“Oh boy, Alaska, outdoors,” said Baze. “I just love being outdoors. It’s my favorite. When I used to live off Perimeter it was just 22 acres of trees and stuff and I’d just go out and have fun. I just like to go walk through it.”
Makes one wonder what would happen if Baze encountered a bear walking through the woods? In all likelihood, the bear would try to run around him, but end up losing 5 yards.
On Sundays it can best be assumed he’ll be watching some NFL action, primarily anything that involves coverage of the San Diego Chargers, his favorite team, which also happens to be coach Savoie’s favorite.
“Chargers, because my dad’s favorite team is San Diego,” said Baze. “He used to do rodeo down in San Diego and he was a big Chargers fan… Oh (Savoie and I) do, trust me. We talk about the Chargers all the time. During practice I’ll be like, ‘Hey coach, how about the Chargers?’ And we just go off about it for 10-15 minutes.”
Whether watching, talking or playing, he’s breathing football day in and day out. It’s hard to believe he’s only a junior.
“I’m kind of sending stuff out to all colleges at this point,” Baze said. “The plan is to go somewhere, play collegiately. Education is the biggest thing.”
In addition to being the Bruins’ biggest impact player, Baze is a leader, a role model, a team player, and also someone who understands the game and knows in the realm of life it’s not the scoreboard that matters most.
“He’s a very humble young man,” added Logue. “He’s not a cocky player, doesn’t flaunt. We certainly hope he can help get us into the playoffs. Obviously a college student-athlete prospect, has the ability to go to the next level. He’s got a big future ahead of him. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to decide. It’s hard to believe it’s only his third year. We’re proud and pleased with Austin. He represents our program well.”
Baze and the Bruins (2-2) conclude non-conference play as they hit the road for a tough match up tonight at Sutter.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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