The power to captivate an audience, no matter which team it is rooting for, is an ability few high school football players possess.
It’s more than just making the big play and scoring touchdowns. It requires a little something extra: flair, panache, swagger, verve — whatever you choose to call it.
You have to make the extraordinary look ordinary. You have to make people wonder what’s coming next: What can you possibly do to top yourself this time?
Heights quarterback K’Vonte Baker and Mulvane quarterback Jayden Price two of the state’s best at doing all of the above. The Eagle picked the brain of Baker and Price, and those closest to them, to find out how the spectacular happens.
And what they’re planning next.
What their coaches think
Baker and Price are dynamic athletes who play the quarterback position in different ways, but deliver the same highlight-reel plays.
Running the point of Heights’ flexbone offense, Baker averaged more than 10 yards per carry last season and rushed for 1,453 yards as the Falcons rolled to a share of the City League title and the Class 5A quarterfinals. Price was deadly in the spread offense in Mulvane, throwing for 1,551 yards, running for 1,640 more, and accounting for 41 total touchdowns.
Both have the ability to turn a three-yard loss into an 80-yard touchdown with one juke, one spin, one cut. But that’s only a part of why their coaches rave about them.
K’Vonte might be the best player I’ve ever seen with the football in his hands. He’s a special, once-in-a-career type kid who makes the amazing look ordinary.
Heights coach Terry Harrison
“Kids just tend to gravitate toward him,” Heights coach Terry Harrison said about Baker. “Everyone in school wants to give him a high-five and our kids really rally around him. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever seen.”
“The way kids respond to him is just incredible,” Mulvane coach Dave Fennewald said about Price. “Everybody’s level seems to rise when he steps on the field. Even when we’re in summer conditioning in the weight room. If he’s excited, then everybody is excited. The kids respond to him because not only does he talk the talk, but he backs it up by walking the walk.”
When the lights are on, both are game-breaking talents.
There are few who can make as large as an imprint on a game as Baker and Price and they rarely let the opportunity go to waste. They are a touchdown waiting to happen every single play.
JP has the ability to influence our entire team. This is my 35th year of coaching and I’ve had a total of three kids in my time that can dictate how an entire team runs and he’s one of them. He gives us a chance in every game no matter what.
Mulvane coach Dave Fennewald
“K’Vonte might be the best player I’ve ever seen with the football in his hands,” Harrison said. “He’s a special, once-in-a-career type kid who makes the amazing look ordinary. I’m glad he’s on my team because all this kid does is win at whatever he does.”
“JP has the ability to influence our entire team,” Fennewald said. “This is my 35th year of coaching and I’ve had a total of three kids in my time that can dictate how an entire team runs and he’s one of them. He gives us a chance in every game no matter what.”
What their teammates see
Ja’Veon Johnson has spent the last three years trying to tackle Baker on the practice field.
After seeing him every day in practice, Johnson has a hypothesis about why Baker is so hard to catch on Friday nights.
“He don’t like getting touched,” Johnson said. “I think he runs so fast so nobody can touch him.”
What everybody else sees is the highlight-reel runs on Fridays, but Johnson said what’s just as impressive is Baker’s work ethic the other six days of the week.
“He works hard literally every single day,” Johnson said. “Today were doing a ‘gasser’ test and he made sure he came in first every single time. He works hard and at the end of the day I know he inspires a lot of kids.”
At Mulvane, Price makes playing wide receiver one of the most exciting jobs on the team.
Since he is so adept at sensing the pocket collapse and scrambling to buy time, receivers like Drew Ellis know to keep moving even when the original play is broken.
“Running routes for him is a lot of fun because you know you might always get the ball,” Ellis said. “It’s pretty exciting when he starts scrambling because he’s either going to break one off or find you for a big play.”
Sometimes the team doesn’t fully appreciate the level of difficulty on some of the plays Price makes.
Even after seeing it on film, they can’t explain how he does the things he does.
“It’s just crazy,” Ellis said. “You see the defense send a blitz that gets to him, but he somehow finds a way to get out of the pocket and makes the play. It’s crazy to watch and even crazier when you’re down there with him.”
What they see
Defenders don’t slow down and the game doesn’t come to a stand-still for playmakers like Baker and Price.
That’s not how their magic works.
Many of the best plays by Baker and Price weren’t scripted, rather dazzling, split-second reactions with a defender charging toward them.
“Honestly, you can’t really practice what you do out here,” Price said. “When you make split-second decisions like that, it just kind of comes natural. Your natural ability comes out and you just take advantage of it and just do you.”
There is no drill that can replicate the ability that Baker and Price possess.
They both have speed in all of its variety: the quick burst to escape the pocket, the change-of-speed to maneuver through defenses, and the straight-line speed to out-run them.
But on top of that, they have superior vision. They are mapping out their next move before their first one is completed.
“I always try to focus on which foot the defender has the most weight on and then attack that because I know it’s hard to tackle if you’ve already planted it,” Baker said. “It doesn’t really surprise me when (I have highlight plays) because I pay attention to that stuff and then I just go where I see a lot of green grass.”
Last season Baker produced one of the most spectacular runs in the country in the first game of the season against Olathe North.
Baker faked a hand-off inside and was immediately met in the backfield by a blitzing linebacker. He evaded the initial tackle by bouncing the run outside, but was wrapped up before he could make it to the left sideline. He slipped out of that one and danced his way from five defenders to reverse course and go streaking up the middle of the field.
By the time Baker crossed the goal line for a 70-yard touchdown, he had made every defender miss at least once and some of them two and three times. What goes through the mind of players who make plays like that?
“It’s the best feeling ever, but there’s nothing really going through my head,” Baker said. “Hearing the people cheer for your team gives me even more motivation and it brings out the best in me.”
“Sometimes you break off a play you don’t think you could and you look back and just say, ‘Wow,’ ” Price said. “You don’t know how you did it, but the feeling afterward is pretty great.”
Price (6-foot, 175 pounds) has verbally committed to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State with plans of moving to safety, while Baker (5-9, 180) is frustrated by the lack of Division I recruiting due to his size.
It’s the fuel that will be driving another season of highlights.
“I might not have the size, but I think I’m capable of doing a lot more than most people can do,” Baker said. “Being my size isn’t easy. I’ve seen a lot of players who were talented not go anywhere because of their size, but I’m not trying to be like that. I’m trying to make a statement and give hope to other players who might not have a lot of height like me.”