Share story

Despite Budda Baker’s quiet and humble nature, he cannot escape the compliments that are constantly bestowed upon him. The praise that he receives stems from the athleticism that is on display each time he stepped onto a football field or track for Bellevue.

Baker isn’t too comfortable with the attention, but he deals with it because it comes with the territory of being a football and track star. On the gridiron, Baker played his way into the top recruit in the state of Washington as a safety this past season. He topped that by claiming state titles in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100 meter relay while helping Bellevue claim another team title at the Class 3A track and field championships in May.

It’s the way he deals with the adoration from his success, though — with the utmost humility and genuine appreciation — that makes him The Seattle Times’ High School Male Athlete of the Year.

This year, as Baker ran his final season on the Bellevue track team, athletes from other schools would approach him and jokingly ask when he would graduate, so they could have a chance to win events.

“I’m just humbled and I start laughing and then I say thank you,” Baker said — an answer by someone all too familiar with the occurrence.

Of course, that humility has, in the past, been perceived as an act. No kid that talented can avoid arrogance, detractors have stated. But he is humble. And he works hard.

Just ask Bellevue football coach Butch Goncharoff, who says: “You can’t tell the difference between Friday night (and) Monday at 3:15.”

The dedication to practice shows in games, where Baker is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. After originally committing to Oregon, Baker decided to stay close to home and play football at Washington, where he will immediately compete for a starting job in the secondary. A heavy hitter at 5 feet 10 — he’s been compared to the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas — Baker may also return kicks and play in specific offensive packages.

Then, of course, there’s Baker the track star. A sport he participates in for fun and is not interested in pursuing at UW, but the one where most of his 13 state titles have come from. It’s also mainly an individual sport where Baker’s leadership most shines.

“He’s not a guy who sits on his laurels and rests and relaxes,” Bellevue track coach John Hill said. “You have your very best athlete on your team willing to push themselves and do a complete workout on a day-in, day-out basis, you have no choice but to want to follow that.”

Not so surprisingly, that’s what Baker will miss the most about high-school athletics: “I’m going to miss the grind with my teammates.”

His opponents will be more than happy to see him graduate. After all, it’s time for someone else to win a state title.