How footballing teenagers are taking on the world
WHEN Ipswich Knights footballer Robbie Baker tackles the biggest challenge of his sporting career, he will be well prepared.
Two seasons with the progressive Knights after a stint in the Manchester City Academy as a junior have the centre back/midfielder primed for what awaits him.
That is one of the most exciting opportunities a talented 18-year-old footballer can embrace.
Baker was today on his way to the United States to study international business and play football at the Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in Michigan.
"It's brilliant. I can't wait,'' Baker said.
Having just completed his commitments with the Knights Queensland Premier League senior team, Baker was appreciative of the Ipswich support he'd received.
"I've learnt a lot playing at the Knights,'' the teenager said, having risen to the QPL from previous under-20 ranks at clubs like Brisbane City.
"I really got on well with all my teammates. Andy (Ogden) is a great coach.
"I've really enjoyed my time there. The competition is good . . . the physicality is greater than under-20 competition or the junior leagues.
"I'm really looking forward to how I go in America.''
Baker secured the trip through the Study and Play USA agency and some coaches, after graduating from St Peters Lutheran College at Indooroopilly last year.
He presented a video package of highlights from Knights and school games to support his bid to study a four-year degree in the States.
"The American college option appealed to me because it allows you to continue playing football at a high level while gaining a world class education,'' Baker said.
"I love travelling and if I can study international business, I can get a role at a big multinational company and see how we go from there.''
Based in chilly Michigan south of the Canadian border, he hopes to travel with the football team gaining valuable experience for a college which has qualified regularly for the NCAA Division 2 national championship.
"I'll complete the season for them, which starts when I first get over there,'' Baker said.
"Then I'll do a normal degree like every other student.
"The college where I'm going have great results in the past seasons so I'm really positive about how I'll go.''
Before joining the Knights, Baker spent 10 months in England as a 14-year-old. That was in the Man City Academy where he got an early taste of the international demands.
"It was just amazing,'' he said.
"I was exposed to different styles of football which improved my game greatly.
"That's part of the reason I want to go to America so I can play against all the different nationalities - particularly South and Central Americans and Europeans.
"My soccer team at SVSU has players from every continent which will not only improve my game, but will give me the opportunity to develop relationships with people all over the world.
"I also look forward to living independently and facing all the challenges that come with it.''
Ogden wished Baker well, having first met him when coaching the Brisbane Force under-13 side.
The current Knights head coach has followed Baker's progress since, after welcoming him to the Knights last season.
He said this year's QPL first team regular was a fantastic person who always listened.
"He has a massive desire to improve,'' Ogden said. "He's a great team player and a fierce competitor.''
Townsend's terrific trip
ANOTHER Knights footballer, under-18 player Xavier Townsend, is also heading overseas soon.
Goalkeeper Townsend has been offered a four-year scholarship at Elmira College in a Division III NCA college in New York State.
The Ipswich Grammar School student leaves on August 7, having first been identified in central Queensland by current Knights technical director Joe Fenech.
He also had a stint with Western Pride in 2016/17 before joining the Knights.