To outsiders, Liberty City is a neighborhood defined by statistics. The five-square-mile neighborhood on Miami's northwest side is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in America. It's a community where roughly 60% of children grow up below the federal poverty line and where young men face startling odds of winding up either incarcerated or dead due to gun violence. For many who live there, the drive not to be "another statistic" is quite literally life and death.
Liberty City is famous for another startling stat, though—per capita, no other place in the world produces more pro football talent. Deandre Baker is set to join fellow Liberty City products like Amari Cooper, Antonio Brown, Devonta Freeman and Teddy Bridgewater in NFL stardom. Baker's path to the pros can be traced by the numbers that defined it.
200-300. That was the number of Push-Ups Andre Baker required his young son to perform each day. Andre recognized DeAndre's athletic potential from an early age, so he did all he could to make sure his work ethic matched his talent. "It was difficult. Because you know kids just want to go outside or play video games, but sometimes, I just had to knock out a few push-ups," Baker says. "A few hundred."
305. The area code for Miami, Florida. Baker often writes the numbers on tape adorning his forearms before games. "Where I come from, we ain't scared of nothing, really," Baker says.
Like many standout football players from the Miami area, he got his start playing for the Liberty City Warriors of the Liberty City Optimist Club. The program, which was founded by Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame, has given countless future D1 and NFL stars their start. "Man, I was just in love with football from the beginning," Baker says. "I used to watch Reggie Bush growing up. Then I fell in love with watching Adrian Peterson."
Baker was a star running back for the Warriors and stuck with the position until his sophomore year of high school. "Coming up playing running back definitely helped me playing corner, having the lateral ability and agility definitely helped me," Baker says.
11th Grade. It's when Baker committed to playing cornerback at the behest of coaches as well as his father. He didn't love the idea at first, but razor-sharp footwork and turf-singeing speed—plus a lack of prototypical size for a position like receiver—made it a natural fit. Baker competed with Miami Northwestern teammate Khalid McGee in everything and anything. "Me and him, everyday, would go at it to see who could do the smallest thing the best. It don't matter what it is. Whoever get to the practice field first. Just me and him competing everyday to be better," Baker says.
Baker's two biggest goals at Miami Northwestern were to win a state championship and to be named an All-American. "I always (wrote) down my goals," Baker says. "We didn't win the state championship, but I was an All-American."
McGee went on to star at USF, as he led the Bulls in tackles in 2018.
21.74. Baker's high school PR in the 200-meter dash. He was an all-state track athlete who ran on several state champion relay teams. He believes the best advice he can offer to young defensive backs is to run track. "(My parents) kept me in track for football. They were like, 'alright, you run track, you get faster for football'," Baker says. "It definitely helped."
After preparing for the pre-draft process at XPE Sports in Boca, Florida, Baker blazed a 4.46 40-Yard Dash at his Pro Day.
2/4/2015. The date Baker signed his letter of intent to the University of Georgia. He grew up idolizing Alabama, but as their dominance grew with each passing year, he liked the idea of taking them down. "Georgia's one of the biggest SEC teams. Rival against Alabama. I always loved Alabama," Baker says of his college decision. "I didn't want to join a winning team, I wanted to take out a winning team. So I joined Georgia."
Baker was not an immediate star. He played sparingly during much of his freshman season, biding his time and striving to improve with each practice. He seized a starting spot midway through his sophomore season and held on with an iron grip. "My mentality was to just keep working, stay determined. Because one day, you're gonna get your shot to play, and when it comes, never look back," Baker says.
225 Pounds. Baker's Bench Press max when he arrived at UGA. By the time he left school, it was well over 300. He also gained about 25-30 pounds of muscle during his time on campus. A huge part of the equation was a smarter approach to nutrition. "My nutrition changed drastically. Coming out of high school I just ate whatever I wanted. Fried foods every day, burgers every day, I was eating McDonald's and Burger King. When I got to college, I had to gain weight. You can't gain (good) weight eating McDonald's and Wendy's, things like that. So when I got to college, my nutritionist started giving me shakes I never drunk before, foods I never ate before, it just changed. From then, I just kept it going," Baker says.
Five Yards. It's the standard Baker held himself to in practices at Georgia. He never wanted to allow a completion for more than 5 yards. Riley Ridley was perhaps Baker's toughest foe to hold to the stingy standard. Riley, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, led the Bulldogs in receiving last season. "Me and Riley, all throughout spring, summer, fall, we just go at it. Top receiver on the team, top cornerback on the team, everybody looks at us and wanna see us go at it," Baker says. "He runs great routes, he's got strong hands…In practice, he made it way harder for me (than) in a game. Shoutout to Riley."
28. The number of times Baker was targeted by opposing quarterbacks last season. He allowed just a measly 14 receptions all season. It was gaudy numbers like that which helped Baker win the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to college football's best defensive back, last season. Other accolades include consensus All-American honors as well as two All-SEC selections. "My film speaks for itself," Baker told reporters after his Pro Day. "My stats, everything. My production, week in and week out. You go back to 2017 or the first day I started I was the best cornerback in the nation."
One. The number of touchdowns Baker gave up during his career at UGA. Over his final two years at Georgia, he did not allow a single touchdown. He credits that amazing statistic in part to intense film study. "From my sophomore year going into my junior year, (things) were way slower. I just made plays easier…When you watch enough film, you'll know what's coming," Baker says. "Big receivers not gonna really run slant routes, they wanna run deep balls, fade balls. Quick receivers run quick routes. So just knowing the personnel and what type of receivers I got and what type of quarterback I got. Can he make the outside throws? Is he a deep-threat QB? What things can he do? In high school, I would've never thought about it like that," Baker says.
84. The jersey number of Oakland Raiders superstar Antonio Brown, who's father, Eddie, coached Baker at Miami Northwestern. Brown and Baker, two sons of Liberty City, are well-acquainted. Baker says he can't wait to line up across from Brown in the NFL, as he's not yet had the chance to guard him one-on-one.
0.08 Percent. That's how many football-playing high school seniors go on to be drafted into the NFL. In other words, just eight in every 10,000 players get to live that dream. As slim as the odds are, Baker isn't surprised he's gotten this far. Every decision over the last 15 years of his life was leading to this moment. "The NFL's been a dream for me since I was 4 years old," Baker says. "I (knew) I got a dream I want to accomplish. I just used that as motivation, (to) stay driven on my task. ... When things get tough I just remind myself where I come from and what I'm doing this for. I'm doing this for my family, my friends, and most of all, myself."
Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images, Icon Sportswire/Getty Images