Tosh Baker

Notre Dame freshman Tosh Baker, center, has long had size on his side in football and basketball. He has a chance to take his game to a new level as a full-time football player in college.

The old Tosh Baker used to wait for basketball season to end before starting his offseason football training.

That meant strength and conditioning specialist Rob Gentile, owner of Scottsdale Combine, wouldn’t see Baker in his facility until March. But there was no delay this year as Baker prepared to start his football career at Notre Dame.

The 6-foot-7, 271-pound Baker showed up for 5 a.m. workouts with Gentile three times a week during his senior basketball season at Phoenix Pinnacle. Then when the season ended in late February, Baker upped the workouts to five times a week.

“Although basketball was very important, he knew that Notre Dame was most important and the priority,” Gentile said. “So he had to do what he had to do.”

Gentile didn’t close his Scottsdale, Ariz., facility during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he put in protocols to practice social distancing, made sure the equipment was cleaned and limited the number of people in the building to no more than 10.

That let Baker keep working, but buying into Gentile’s program requires more than just showing up. He demands commitment on that front too. His ideal offseason football training program lasts 40 weeks.

“I didn’t have to push Tosh very much,” Gentile said. “The motivating factor is there. A sense of urgency was there. He always has done his due diligence.”

Baker never stopped working out with Gentile while recovering from a minor knee injury he suffered at the All-American Bowl in January. Gentile said Baker did his rehab at Pinnacle and would still do other workouts that didn’t strain his knee. After four weeks, Baker was back to full workouts.

“Whenever he was supposed to be there, he was there,” Gentile said. “The level of commitment and the level of respect and responsibility is way high.”

That doesn’t mean Baker’s a finished product.

“He has a ton of room to grow,” Gentile said. “I say this with absolute kindness and respect for Tosh’s strength, but he’s just a baby in the weight room.”

Baker was a bit of a lightweight on the football field too when he was a sophomore. He weighed just 230 pounds and was clearly a basketball player trying to figure his way through football. But each offseason, Baker gained 20 pounds while making significant strides as a player.

“The difference since that time is he got bigger and stronger, gained more confidence and his technique’s gotten better,” said Tom Burke, Baker’s offensive line coach at Pinnacle. “That’s when he started more or less dominating people on the field. It was fun to watch him grow.”

Baker’s improvement wasn’t just physical. He dedicated himself to learning the ins and outs of offensive line play.

“As he understood the game better, he enjoyed it more,” Burke said. “He started to get more into the techniques. He started to get into understanding the schemes. As he started to understand the system and schemes, it fascinated him.

“You could see he really liked it because he asked questions. When he’d make a mistake, he would own it before I could even talk to him about it.”

Size can only do so much for an offensive lineman. Long arms and legs aren’t helpful if not used properly. Burke said Baker took coaching well and played with a wide base and kept his hips low to create leverage.

If Baker can find the same kind of development in the weight room at Notre Dame that he found on the football field at Pinnacle, he could be great. That’s why 247Sports gave him the highest ranking — No. 56 overall as the No. 4 offensive tackle — for a Notre Dame offensive lineman since Tommy Kraemer in the 2016 class (No. 8 overall, No. 2 OT).

After his latest round at Scottsdale Combine, Baker should be ready for what Balis and the Irish will demand of him.

“Throughout my years of training the transition from high school to college, it’s a very big and drastic transition,” Gentile said. “I always try to go with college-type training to prepare them for the grind, because that’s really what it is.”

Baker arrived in South Bend last week as the team started to gather and quarantine with coronavirus precautions. He joins a Notre Dame offensive line that won’t need him in the lineup immediately with six returning starters from last season.

It’s the perfect scenario for Baker to start tapping into his potential. There aren’t many players on Notre Dame’s roster with a higher ceiling.

“He has the build. We all know that,” Burke said. “But there’s something special about him as a player.

“He needs to get bigger and stronger. That comes with time. Outside of that, he’s going to be good. He’s going to be a good one.”

tjames@sbtinfo.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI