In many ways, Kenny Baker is just like thousands of other American teenage football players across the country. The Blue Island (Ill.) Eisenhower High senior is a captain on his school's varsity squad after spending three years building toward a final glorious campaign. He's a talented running back who gets by as much on extra effort as he does on skill, which he has plenty of nonetheless.
Yet there is something distinctly different about Baker: He was born with just one arm, yet he has found ways to excel, not just get by, on the football field.
"Players from other teams look at me when I come on the field like I shouldn't be out there," Baker told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I take that personally. When I hit them, that usually stops. Growing up, I hated when people would ask me, 'What happened,' I would ask myself, 'Why was I born without an arm?' But I've gotten over that a long time ago. I challenge myself to do what everyone else does and to do it better. I'm able to do everything anybody else can, except I can't stiff arm someone. If I had two arms, that would be my favorite move.
"But I consider myself blessed to be able to do what I do."
What Baker can do is more than most teens can with all their limbs intact. According to the Sun-Times, Baker once intercepted three passes in a single 7-on-7 game while playing defensive back. He started as a safety as a junior and was one of his team's best pass defenders, not to mention its biggest hitter. As a running back he's more elusive than his powerful, 5-foot-9, 160-pound body might suggest, and he has all the power that can be squeezed into that frame.
Perhaps most notably, Baker is a natural leader, refusing any special treatment or sympathy from teammates or opponents. Every time he steps onto the field he serves as an inspiration, and every time he makes a play he's shows what anyone can do when they put their mind to it.
"From Day 1 when he was a freshman, he said to me, 'Don't treat me any different than anybody else,'" Eisenhower coach Travis Moore told the Sun-Times. "Kenny doesn't look at his situation as a disability. He never wants to be treated special, so I don't treat him special.
"He's a fearless tackler. He has speed, skill and he's tough."
Baker, who was nicknamed "Moss" after Randy Moss by his teammates because of his skill catching the football with one hand, is now one of the standout stars of the Eisenhower program, which enters the 2012 season coming off a 7-3 campaign, including the school's first playoff appearance in four years, a tight, 14-0 loss to Tinley Park (Ill.) Andrew High.
For his part, Baker is just glad to be a part of the team while working hard to keep achieving his dreams.
"The first day of practice I just fell in love with the game," Baker told the Sun-Times. "I live with my uncle and he's been there every day for me and he comes to all of my games. He makes sure I keep working hard to achieve my dreams."