ASHLAND — Quinton Baker is coming to Lexington to play football, after all.
The star Ashland Tomcats running back will bring his 2015 Mr. Football campaign to Tates Creek on Friday night at 7:30. Yet unless something wildly unexpected happens, it will be one-and-done for Baker in the city where his father, Al Baker, played college football for Jerry Claiborne and Bill Curry at Kentucky.
This time last year, the plan was for Lexington to be the venue for Quinton Baker's college football career, too.
Last Oct. 25, Baker gave a verbal pledge to become a Kentucky Wildcat.
On Nov. 29, he took it back.
After the 2014 Wildcats finished 5-7, Baker watched the Cats assistant who had recruited him, offensive coordinator Neal Brown, leave to become head man at Troy.
"Neal left, and I think Quinton kind of got cold feet with the uncertainty of who (UK) might bring in to replace him," said Chad Tackett, Baker's running backs coach at Ashland.
With Brown gone, Baker says, he decided he'd committed too early to UK and wanted to weigh other options.
By the time Baker was ready to decide again this summer, UK had removed itself as an option.
Kentucky "recruited me for a little while" after his de-commitment, Baker said Wednesday. "But then we kind of cut off ties."
So instead of coming to town Friday as a UK legacy recruit, Baker is a Marshall pledge (with Mississippi State showing some late interest).
For Baker, life after moving on from UK has been pretty swell. He needs 56 yards against Tates Creek to hit the 2,000-yard rushing mark for his senior season. Under Coach Tony Love, Ashland (8-1) is considered a Class 4A state title contender.
Baker already is the Tomcats' all-time rushing leader (6,196 yards) and leading scorer (79 touchdowns). Dick Martin Jr., who has spent 40 years doing radio play-by-play for Ashland games, says Baker is the best football player he's seen in Tomcats' maroon.
Al Baker, in his 1980s heyday as a prep phenom at Trigg County, invoked Herschel Walker comparisons because of his freakish combination of strength (5-11, 225 pounds) and speed (state sprint champion).
Quinton has gotten by mostly on being fleet.
"I didn't have much shake and bake in my game. I had to run over you," Al Baker said. "Quinton, he's quick. He can juke guys, and he has something that is really invaluable: He's got that speed to run by you."
As a college prospect, the knock on Quinton Baker has been lack of size. Yet Tackett says adding 10 pounds of muscle this season has made the back better able to run between the tackles.
Ashland is a fervent outpost of UK fandom, but Baker says the town's response to his de- commitment has been mild. It probably was tempered by the fact that the locals will be able to follow his college career easily at Marshall, in nearby Huntington, W.Va.
What people in Ashland are worried about is whether Baker not being pledged to UK damages his Mr. Football prospects.
Since the award to the top high school senior player in the state began in 1986, there have been only two winners from Eastern Kentucky — Scott Russell of Evarts (1991) and Tim Couch of Leslie County (1995).
This year, two players who should be leading Mr. Football candidates are separated by 60 miles in northeastern Kentucky — Paintsville's Kash Daniel and Baker. A punishing linebacker who doubles as a hard-running quarterback, Daniel is a UK commitment.
"I think that factors into (Mr. Football consideration), especially from the media perspective," Tackett said. "Just the fact that (Baker) was committed (to UK) at one time, then de- committed. Now he's committed to Marshall. I think maybe that has caused some people to shy away from looking at him as a serious Mr. Football candidate. But pop in the film, look at the stats, his speed ... I think (Baker) is the best player in the state."
Whatever effect Baker's choice to take back his verbal pledge to Kentucky could have on his Mr. Football aspirations, his dad says the family has no regrets.
"I love UK," Al Baker says. "But if Quinton wasn't comfortable with his choice, he needed to find the situation where he was comfortable. I guess the way I look at it, I'd rather he make the decision he did than go to UK with doubts, and then you look up and he's wasted four years."