By Michael Kinney
Going to college was an important goal for Mustang’s Phillip Baker. But staying in and graduating was an even bigger objective for him.
“You don’t hear about a lot of Native Americans succeeding at that level,” Baker said. “It’s almost like a stereotype for Native Americans to get there and drop out. I don’t want to be one of those people. I want to be one of those people who go through a program and finish. Someone that young kids can look up to.”
Baker is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Creek and Yuchi tribes. In 2015, only 67 percent of American Indian students graduated from high school compared the national average of 80 percent, according to usnews.com.
So last week when Baker was able to sign his National Letter of Intent to play football at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, he knew just how big the moment was.
“It is truly a blessing to me,” Baker said. I know how many people are able to play at the next level. That number is a lot smaller than those who play at the high school level. It’s just an honor to me and I feel like I can represent both the people from my culture and my family.”
According to Baker, he was sold on the new coaching staff and atmosphere at Southwestern. Also, the tight end will have the opportunity to play basketball for them as well, which was another huge selling point.
“I feel at home with them,” Baker said. “I feel pretty comfortable there. It’s a good way to help pay for my education and getting a degree is what’s really important to me. I feel like it’s the place where I need to be.”
Baker was one of eight Mustang Broncos who signed their NLI on signing day. They included two soccer players in Sarah Bryant (Oklahoma Baptist) and Nikki Lohr (Southern Nazarene), and six football players in Baker, Cooper Meadows (Southwestern College), Johnny Still (Northwestern State), Blake Russell (Central Oklahoma), Drew Rosko (Central Oklahoma and Carlos Thomas (Southern Nazarene).
For the Broncos to have six football players sign on to play in college is something coach Jeremy Dombeck didn’t just gloss over while introducing the players. The numbers show it is a special achievement.
“Less than five percent of high school football players have the opportunity to go on and play at the next level,” Dombeck said. “It is truly a special, special thing. We had 17 seniors and we’re signing six kids. Each of the guys had a huge impact on the program.”
Thomas was one of those players who had an impact on the program. But for one of the top tailbacks in the state, the program had a bigger impact on him.
“These four years at Mustang determined my path for the future,” Thomas said. “Growing up I was a bad kid. I didn’t think football would be a really big factor in my life. But once I came to Mustang, it really set me straight and I found a family and home in football. I believe if I didn’t come to Mustang, I wouldn’t be playing football or anything. I would probably be going down the wrong path just because of the environment I was in. I think God put me in this place for a reason and everything is working out how it is.”
Thomas is looking forward to continuing his football career at SNU, but also prepare for his future.
“I feel like it was a good fit for me. I really like the coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Just a good Christian environment for me. I kind of want to take the path of a pastor and being religiously associated with a college that’s going to help me with that route and on the right path to pursuing that career.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer for Eyeamtruth.com