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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087


Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

  1. Did Jim Harbaugh's spring break trip to IMG Academy help Michigan recruiting?


    Remember one of last offseason's biggest stories, when Jim Harbaugh brought the Michigan Wolverines to Bradenton's IMG Academy for spring (break) practice?

    Harbaugh said his $350,000 excursion was about team building and chemistry - and nothing, of course, about the 22 blue-chip prospects who could drive to Michigan's open practice, or a possible recruiting edge that comes by setting up shop at a school with 14 of the state's top 100 players....

  2. Surgery sidelines UF's Del Rio for spring


    Whatever chance Luke Del Rio had of starting in Florida's season opener took a serious hit Thursday, when the Gators announced that the quarterback had surgery to repair his left, nonthrowing shoulder.

    The successful procedure, performed Wednesday, will sideline him for all of spring practice.

    Del Rio battled injuries during his redshirt sophomore season last year. The former walk-on transfer from Oregon State and Alabama hurt his knee Sept. 17 against North Texas, then missed the final five games after injuring his shoulder Nov. 5 in a loss at Arkansas. Even when healthy, he struggled, finishing the season 114-of-201 for 1,358 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions, though he was 5-1 as a starter....

    Florida’s Luke Del Rio throws a pass against North Texas on Sept. 17, the game in which the redshirt sophomore injured his nonthrowing shoulder.
  3. Florida Gators' Luke Del Rio has shoulder surgery, will miss spring football


    Quarterback Luke Del Rio had successful surgery to repair his non-throwing shoulder Wednesday and will miss spring camp, the Florida Gators announced Thursday.

    That means Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask will be battling for the job this spring, after redshirting this past season.

    Del Rio opened last season as the Gators' starter before injuring his knee, then his shoulder. The former walk-on transfer from Oregon State (and Alabama) finished his redshirt sophomore season 114-of-201 passing for 1,358 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions....

    Luke Del Rio opened last season as the Gators' starter before injuring his knee, then his shoulder.
  4. Florida Gators' Joey Ivie impressing scouts at East-West Shrine Game


    ST. PETERSBURG - The East-West Shrine Game is all about uncovering some potential underrated NFL draft prospects.

    One who seems to be helping himself this week is Joey Ivie, a defensive lineman from Florida and Pasco High.

  5. Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel learns from time at the top, then the bottom


    ST. PETERSBURG — The distance between the top two high school quarterback prospects of 2012 was much greater than the few miles that separated Jameis Winston and Gunner Kiel on Monday afternoon.

    There was Winston, sitting atop a convertible and waving to the crowd as the grand marshal of St. Petersburg's MLK Dream Big Parade. Since his days as the top dual-threat quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class, Winston has won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship at Florida State. He has been drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL, signed a $25 million contract and thrown 50 touchdown passes in his first two seasons as the Bucs' starter. With a strong showing next season, he could further establish himself as one of the best young passers in the NFL....

    Gunner Kiel had two good seasons at Cincinnati but last year was demoted twice from the starting job.
  6. Jameis Winston lawsuits officially closed


    Jameis Winston's legal saga is officially, finally, over.

    Judge Paul G. Byron closed the case Tuesday, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court's Middle District of Florida.

    In legalese, Byron granted last week's joint motion to dismiss a sexual battery lawsuit filed by Zephyrhills' Erica Kinsman, and Winston's defamation countersuit against Kinsman. The suits have been dismissed with prejudice, so they cannot be refiled. Terms of the settlement (agreed to last month) have not been disclosed....

    Jameis Winston's legal saga is officially, finally, over. Judge Paul G. Byron closed the case Tuesday, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court's Middle District of Florida.
  7. Florida Gators announce five early enrollees


    The Florida Gators have officially announced the signings of five early enrollees:

    Defensive tackle Kyree Campbell, a three-star recruit from Wyoming Seminary College Prep

    Tight end Kemore Gamble, a four-star recruit from Miami Southridge

    Linebacker James Houston, a three-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale's American Heritage

    Athlete Kadarius Toney, a three-star recruit from Eight Mile, Ala....

  8. Former Pasco High star Janarion Grant returning for fifth year at Rutgers


    Former Pasco High star Janarion Grant is returning for a fifth and final season at Rutgers.

    "Fifth year, here I come!" Grant wrote on social media. "I'm excited about what I have been able to accomplish so far, but I look forward to getting out there and competing with my teammates again."

    Grant was one of the nation's most electric players early last season. He rushed for three touchdowns and scored on a kickoff and punt return before breaking his ankle in the Scarlet Knights' fourth game, against Iowa. Grant could have been a late-round pick in the NFL draft. ...

    Janarion Grant will enter his final college season with a combined eight kickoff/punt returns for touchdowns, tied for most in NCAA history.
  9. Could USF football pass the Florida Gators in 2017?


    After scanning the too-early top 25 rankings for next season, two things popped out.

    First, Florida State is going to be really, really good. Again. That's not a surprise, and we'll get to that later in this agonizingly long offseason.

    The other one was more interesting: Florida might not be the state's No. 2 team. Or even third.

    Miami has a strong case (although I'm less convinced on how the Hurricanes will be without quarterback Brad Kaaya), but let's focus on the Gators and another team - USF....

    Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain gets Gatorade dumped on him after beating Iowa in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
  10. Florida Gators assistant Mike Summers heading to Louisville, ESPN reports


    Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers is leaving to take the same position at Louisville, according to a report Saturday from ESPN.


  11. Attorneys ask for joint dismissal of Jameis Winston civil lawsuits


    Jameis Winston's legal saga is over.

    The Bucs quarterback and former Florida State star and the woman who accused him of sexual assault have formally filed for their lawsuits against each other to be dismissed. 

    The joint motion for dismissal with prejudice, filed Friday, comes after both sides reached a compromise with contingencies last month. Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, although Friday's filing says that each party will be responsible for its own attorney fees/costs. ...

  12. James Wilder Jr. switching to linebacker to try to stick in NFL


    Talk to high school coaches around Tampa Bay, and they'll tell you that James Wilder Jr. was a fine running back, but he was one of the best defensive players this area has ever seen.\

    So maybe it's not a surprise that the former Plant High star has announced that he's officially switching to linebacker to try to stick in the NFL.

  13. College Football Playoff: Locals make presence felt in title game


    TAMPA — For Clemson receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, the best part of Monday's College Football Playoff national title game wasn't the double-digit fourth-quarter comeback, or one of the wildest finishes in championship game history.

    It was the location.

    "It's at home," McCloud said.

    And what a homecoming it was for the Tigers' Tampa Bay trio — McCloud, Artavis Scott and Deon Cain. The receivers all played pivotal roles in Clemson's 35-31 comeback win at Raymond James Stadium....

    Clemson receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, from Sickles High, celebrates at his home stadium, Raymond James.
  14. College Football Playoff: Tampa sets sights on 2021 title game and beyond


    TAMPA — As Mayor Bob Buckhorn left the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday, he left a parting message with College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock.

    "Let's do it again some time."

    Local organizers were already at work on that Tuesday, less than 12 hours after the confetti fell at Raymond James Stadium.

    The next sites are set through January 2020, but the Tampa Bay Sports Commission plans to bid on the next round — and pretty much every one after that, executive director Rob Higgins said. ...

    American comedian Jay Pharoah performs a stand-up routine for fans during day three of the Playoff Playlist Live at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa on Sunday, January 8, 2017.
  15. Baker's Dozen: Wrapping up a thrilling college football season


    TAMPA — With the college football season (sadly) over, let's look back at another thrilling year.

    Here are my favorite moments, games and memories from a season that ended with Monday's College Football Playoff national title game at Raymond James Stadium:

    Alabama's defense

    I prefer to watch points being scored, but it's easy to appreciate the Crimson Tide's dominant defense. It's not just the insane numbers (15 non-offensive touchdowns entering Monday). It's the little things. The Tide's players never seem out of position, and they never seem to miss a tackle, either....

    Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, left, and Anthony Averett celebrate a sack against Washington.