July 28, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, online columnist
CHICAGO - By the age of 7, Edwin "Rock" Baker knew he would have something interesting or important to say someday, and people would actually want to hear him say it.
He's had numerous opportunities to express his views while starring at Oak Park High School, as an emerging Spartan running back as a true freshman in 2009 and then as the team's top rusher last season. However, his role as spokesman reached new heights Thursday at the Big Ten Kickoff Media Days.
Baker could have used a lead blocker to create holes for him in the throng of print, radio and television reporters amassed outside of a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. One minute he'd be doing a live interview with a Nebraska radio station introducing the Cornhusker Nation to many of the personalities in its new conference, and the next minute he'd be tugged over to a seat in front of a TV camera or spun around by a reporter with a pen and notebook.
"Everybody just wants to hear what you have to say about your teammates and what's going on as far as what you're going to do to help the team get better," Baker said. "When I was real little and first started playing football I dreamed about representing my team. I'd see players getting interviewed all the time on TV and I was like, `That's gonna be me one day.'
"I'm just living a dream right now."
Baker shared the ever-growing sports-media spotlight with teammates Kirk Cousins and Trenton Robinson and 33 select fellow Big Ten players. The three Spartans enjoyed a surge in demand because MSU is being picked to contend with Nebraska and Iowa for the Legends Division championship and Cousins enters the season as one of the league's top passers.
The process continues Friday morning with players seated at individual tables for in-depth interviews during a two-hour session. The event concludes with the annual Kickoff Luncheon.
"I knew a lot of people were interested in Big Ten football, but this is blowing me away a little bit," said Robinson, who'll enter preseason camp as MSU's No. 1 free safety. "There are so many reporters, it's unbelievable. It feels like there are a thousand reporters in here."
The Big Ten issued credentials to more than 500 print, radio and TV reporters, an increase of more than 100 over last year. Including broadcast partners, 780 media members are attending Big Ten Media Days this year compared to about 600 overall in 2010.
Robinson saw the event as an educational experience.
"I feel like it will help my public speaking so I'll be able to talk to just about anybody about just about anything," he said. "If you can sit up on a podium and have people ask you a lot of questions and show that you're not nervous, that can help your communication skills."
Cousins has been an polished interviewee since arriving at MSU in '07, and as a three-year starting quarterback is never at a loss for words even under difficult circumstances, such as after the 49-7 loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.
Nevertheless, even he was somewhat awestruck by scope of the proceedings.
"You look around and see all the different coaches in the Big Ten, the media that covers the Big Ten, the personalities you usually see on TV during the week when you watch the Big Ten Network, ESPN and ABC," Cousins said. "Then you add in the players and it's an exciting scene.
"To be selected to represent so many people back home is an honor and to be somebody who can put Michigan State on display is exciting."
Cousins tried to file away as much of the experience as he could for future reference.
"I would enjoy being a part of this someday from the media side, being able to interview and do the analysis," he said. "To learn from guys who are doing that is as exciting as anything. Anytime you're forced to be put in front of a microphone, and share your thoughts and speak clearly, helps develop you as a person.
"For some of us, it might be uncomfortable, but it helps you grow and mature. And it just starts to stoke that flame that gets you going for this coming season.
With Nebraska making its debut so much turnover in the conference coaching ranks, the media wasted no time casting Mark Dantonio as one of the league's senior statesman even though he's entering his fifth season. Only Penn State's Joe Paterno (by a wide margin), Kirk Ferentz of Iowa, Illinois' Ron Zook of Illinois, Bret Bielema of Wisconsin and Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern have more Big Ten head-coaching tenure than Dantonio.
"That pretty much says it all right there, if I'm one of the old guys," Dantonio said. "I am 55 now, so I had to go into Denny's and look at the back of the menu.
"But this is all very exciting. Nebraska strengthens the brand of football in the Big Ten conference because of the national prestige it brings. Along with that, the (league) championship game is even more important because it brings a national media perspective to that game."