RALEIGH — Toney Baker is 23 years old with a bachelor's degree from N.C. State under his belt, five years removed from breaking North Carolina's career high school rushing record at Jamestown Ragsdale
Despite being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, Baker has decided to leave N.C. State for the NFL draft.
"I just personally feel like it was time for me to go, especially after earning my degree here," Baker said Tuesday. "I guess I feel like it's time."
Baker led N.C. State with 773 rushing yards and added 28 receptions for 355 yards last season after missing all of 2008 and all but the 2007 opener with a knee injury that nearly ended his career. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility because the injury wiped out two seasons.
But Baker said his father, former NFL running back Tony Baker, told him this would be a good time for him to enter the draft. Baker consulted the NFL draft advisory board, which provides information on where players might be drafted so they can make an informed decision on whether to return to school when they have eligibility remaining.
Baker said the board gave him a range of rounds in which he might be drafted, but advised him not to share it with the public.
"The information was good enough for me to decide to come out," Baker said.
Veteran analyst Jerry Jones of The Drugstore List draft guide projected that Baker won't be drafted but will be invited to join a team in training camp as an undrafted free agent.
Jones said the draft lacks senior talent at running back, with only Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Stanford's Toby Gerhart projected as high picks.
Jones added that the possible addition of some talented juniors could strengthen the pool of backs in the draft. He said returning to school would have helped Baker's draft status only if Baker was going to be a featured back who would get 80 percent of the carries for N.C. State.
With steady senior backup Jamelle Eugene also finished with his career, a workhorse role was a possibility for Baker. But Baker has made his decision and has signed with Miami-based agent Marco Marciano.
Jones said NFL team executives will fully research the injury to his right knee. In the 2007 opener against Central Florida, Baker had cartilage torn off his knee. It had to be removed, regrown in a lab, and injected back into his knee.
Jones said Baker's toughness - N.C. State listed him at 5 feet 10 and 225 pounds - should help him.
"I would think that his strong point is that he does have some inside power," Jones said.
Baker said N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien wanted him to return to the Wolfpack but told him he would support him either way. O'Brien, who was away on a recruiting trip, released a statement about Baker to the media Tuesday.
"We support Toney in this decision and wish him great success," O'Brien said in the statement. "He has been and will continue to be a great representative of N.C. State University and our football program."
Baker earned his degree in parks, recreation and tourism in December, when he also was honored by the ACC with the conference's Brian Piccolo Award for courage because of his determination in overcoming the knee injury. Baker said he is leaving N.C. State with many fond memories.
"It's fantastic how much support they gave me even when I was out for two years," he said. "They're very supportive. The people around here are special. I really enjoyed my time here. I did. I've been through two coaching staffs here. I think both of them did it really well and had my best interests at heart."
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