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The Road Back Home

They say sometimes the blue bird of happiness is right there in your own backyard, or in this case, it was purple...

Budda and his mother Michelle at Husky Stadium last summer

Budda Baker was offered last year by the old staff; Steve Sarkisian did make him a priority while Baker was yet a junior, but for whatever reason, that relationship didn't develop enough to keep Baker from leaning towards Oregon for many months.

It all started last spring when Baker took an unofficial visit to Eugene, and was very much taken with everything he saw. Baker then named Oregon a leader, but the first time we spoke with him he talked in depth about the deep love for Husky football his family had.

"My mom wants me to be a Husky", he said back in the spring.

As most already know, Baker's mother Michelle has suffered from illness the past few years -- first with cancer, and then residual issues such as Crohn's Disease. Baker told us many times that "she doesn't really talk about it to me though -- she doesn't want me to worry".

But one thing we have come to know about Budda Baker -- it wasn't just his mother's illness that drew him back to his roots in the Puget Sound area when he decommitted from Oregon -- he has a very close-knit family and he's very close to his siblings. It was his aunt that first encouraged him to go out for football, after he had been playing soccer most of his childhood years.

He has older siblings who have children and he takes his role as "uncle" very seriously.

There was a lot to consider when he made the choice to commit to Oregon, at the time, Baker said "It was a gut feeling I'd had". But later he would say that he felt he was only looking at the present -- the football at that time, and he would go on to tell the media that Washington would have been his second choice.

One thing kept coming back though -- those first encounters with Chris Petersen and the fact that this was going to go beyond just what happens on the field on Saturdays, but everyday; practices, going to class, being able to just jet home on a whim and check in on his mother, and whether he could see himself in 4 or 5 hours away from those "home comforts".

Back in 2001 Lakes receiver Reggie Williams, who was the nation's #1 receiver at the time, turned down Michigan, Florida State, UCLA, USC and a whole host of other elite programs to stay home and play for the Huskies. His reason? He wanted to close enough to go get a home-cooked meal from his mother once in awhile.

Not enough can be said about that bond -- when a player looks at the camera, he doesn't say "Hi Dad!", he says "Hi Mom!".

While some would play down Baker's need and desire to stay close to home rather than go to California or even a place as close as Eugene, Oregon because of family ties, the fact is -- why would he want to go anywhere but Washington?

When Baker decommitted from Oregon, he cited the idea of being in another state for the next four years and said that he realized he couldn't see himself there. He told the Seattle Times that he was excited about the Oregon commitment and it felt right "for about the first two weeks", but then something began to nag at him and he felt that "‘Naw, I can’t. I wouldn’t be able to do this.’”

But what about the draw to UCLA? Some rumors had Baker giving a silent verbal to the Bruin coaches during is visit to Westwood, but this never happened.

That trip was long for his mother, and it began to sink in that, for Baker, there's just no place like home.

For all intents and purposes, the in-home visit with Chris Petersen was the tip of the iceberg. The coach spent a lot of time talking to Baker about Washington's future and new direction, about his formula for success, and about how he had already had proven success in putting young men in a position to fully succeed. Baker likened Petersen to his Bellevue coach, Butch Gonchoroff. There was a familiarity factor there that, not only impressed and reassured Baker, but also his mother and family.

Baker also discovered a new coach by the name of Jimmy Lake, who he hit it off with and felt very comfortable with.

The pieces started falling into place, and last Saturday, Baker told us, "I know where I'm going".

He asked us not to report it at the time but it leaked out elsewhere, Baker just said simply, "I will announce it next week".

On the eve of signing day, Baker announced that he was going to stay home and play for the University of Washington -- a decision that seemed so simple, but he took a couple of detours before finally coming back home and doing the "obvious" thing.

Just like many of the state's best in years who have made that decision; Williams, Jake Locker, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Danny Shelton, and Kasen Williams, Baker discovered that age-old realization that hits suddenly and decidedly -- there's no place like home.

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