By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An 18-year-old from north Minneapolis today signed a letter of intent to play at an Ivy League school.

J.T. Baker is a student athlete at DeLaSalle High School and has done more than just score touchdowns to get into Cornell University. He has a 3.7 GPA and is member of the National Honor Society.

More importantly, he’s a humble guy who takes his role as helper to others in the community seriously.

“It’s always every athlete’s dream to sit at that table and sign your letter of intent,” he said.

With the stroke of a pen, Baker is on his way to fulfilling a dream.

“It was always my dream to go to an Ivy League school, because my mom and dad raised me from a young age to value education,” Baker said.

Baker will attend Cornell University in the fall as one of three high school student athletes in the state heading to play at an Ivy League school.

“Going to Cornell is a dream come true, and along with playing football, that’s just the cherry on top,” he said.

Baker played varsity all four years at DeLaSalle. He was a part of two section-championship Islander teams, and was awarded all-district honors his junior and senior years when he was a team captain.

Voted team MVP, Baker was selected and played in the Minnesota State High School Football All-Star game last December.

“They instilled in me the work ethic to play The Islander Way,” he said. “That’s what we call it ‘The Islander Way,’ which means academics first, and to be a good person before a good football player.”

Baker’s life as a football player and as the son of Northside business owners is on display for all to see inside the Sunny Side Cafe. He works there on the weekends with his parents James and Alice Baker.

It’s there, they say, that Baker met the mentors who helped mold him.

“People like Carl Eller, who I call Uncle, and Jim Marshall, and even people like professor Mahmoud El-Kati,” Baker said. “Yes, they’ve definitely helped shape my life, and they’ve shown me that with hard work and education, anything is possible, especially if you put your mind to it.”

Baker credits his other loves for preparing him for the Ivy League.

“I started karate when I was 5 years old in National Karate, and I earned my first black belt at the age of 10,” he said. “I started flying at the age of 7, flying Cessna and Piper planes.”

His parents say for having a rough start, their son is right on track.

“The kid was born at a pound and a half, he was a preemie,” James Baker said.

Baker spent his first three months in the hospital and since then has mastered everything he touched. He says living amongst the violence, the crime and the plight of many of his neighbors in north Minneapolis motivates him.

“Because I know that I have to make a difference, and I have to inspire and help other kids make a difference, because we all can,” he said.

Baker tutors and mentors younger students as an ambassador at DeLaSalle. He will major in hotel management. He says he wants to eventually come back to Minneapolis, take over the family business and build the first of a hotel empire on the Northside.

Out of all the famous people who mentored him, Baker says his dad is his role model. He says if he can be half the man his dad is, he’ll be alright in life.

Reg Chapman