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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. Lightning tops Penguins

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — If any concern still lingered over the slow season start by Lightning center Tyler Johnson, it disappeared in Friday night's 6-3 win over the Penguins.

    The 2015 All-Star followed up a strong performance Wednesday against the Red Wings with his first multipoint game since November, scoring once and adding two assists to help Tampa Bay earn its 10th win in its past 11 games.

    "I think he's kind of coming into his own," wing Alex Killorn said....

    The Lightning’s Cedric Paquette, right, and the Penguins’ Derrick Pouliot go for the puck ahead of Pittsburgh’s Kevin Porter in the first period.
  2. Miami Hurricanes announce spring football schedule


    Miami will begin its first spring football practice under new coach Mark Richt on March 15 and end it with a spring game on April 16 at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

    The schedule includes a public scrimmage on April 9 at West Palm Beach's Oxbridge Academy.

    The free spring game will be at 2 p.m. one week later and will be aired live on ESPN3.


  3. Recruiting analyst talks Florida Gators, FSU football classes


    Before we all move on from national signing day, my colleague, Joey Knight, caught up with Scout national recruiting analyst Brian Dohn to get a little more insight on how the Gators and Seminoles fared.

    Dohn called Florida losing four-star DL Shavar Manuel (formerly of Blake High) to Florida State one of the biggest surprises of a day that wasn't great for UF.

    "In recruiting you have ups and downs, and today was not a great day for them," Dohn said. "I think you miss out on (DE Brian) Burns, you miss out on (OL John) Simpson...but the bigger issue is, you lose Shavar Manuel and you lose Aaron Robinson... You just wanted to see a little bit more out of the Gators."...

  4. UF hires Virginia Tech's Torrian Gray as defensive backs coach


    One day after national signing day, Florida landed another big addition to its team.

    The Gators named Lakeland native Torrian Gray their new defensive backs coach Thursday.

    Gray, a graduate of Lakeland's Kathleen High, spent a decade in that role at Virginia Tech, where he coached five All-America players. The Hokies' pass defense allowed an average 185 yards per game and held opponents to a 106.5 passer rating during his tenure. Both figures were second in the nation in that span....

  5. Torrian Gray announced as Florida Gators' new defensive backs coach


    Florida officially named Lakeland native Torrian Gray the team's new defensive back coach Thursday night.

    "We're excited to have Torrian join the Gator family," coach Jim McElwain said in a statement.

    Gray spent a decade in the same role at Virginia Tech, where he coached five All-America players. The Hokies' pass defense allowed only 185 yards per game and held opponents to a 106.5 passer rating during his tenure; both figures were second in the nation in that span, according to UF....

  6. Virginia Tech confirms Torrian Gray is Florida?


    Florida still hasn't announced the news, but it certainly looks like the Gators will be hiring Torrian Gray as their new defensive backs coach.

    Gray's former school, Virginia Tech, confirmed Thursday that Gray resigned "to pursue another opportunity in his home state of Florida."

    The Twitter bio of the Lakeland native now includes this: "University of Florida Defensive Back Coach. #DBU."...

  7. How FSU recruits other schools' oral commitments


    One of Wednesday's biggest national signing day stories came from former Blake High DL Shavar Manuel, who flipped from Florida to Florida State.

    Maybe flipped isn't quite the right word, according to the Orlando Sentinel....

    Former Blake High defensive lineman Shavar Manuel flipped from Florida to Florida State.
  8. National signing day: What recruiting classes tell us about college football's next national champion


    Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and LSU had many reasons to celebrate the strong recruiting classes they landed Wednesday on national signing day. If history is any indication, there's a decent chance they'll be playing in Raymond James Stadium for next season's national title game....

    Jimbo Fisher and Florida State has reeled in four top-four classes in the last five seasons.
  9. FSU lands a No. 1 signing class as UF falls off


    After four years of building relationships with each recruiting class, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said he still never knows exactly what to expect on national signing day.

    "I wish there was," Fisher said. "Every year I'd sleep a lot better knowing what's coming."

    Fisher probably slept just fine Wednesday night after his Seminoles landed their deepest haul of his tenure and claimed ESPN's No. 1 recruiting class in the country....

    Paramus (N.J.) Catholic High defensive lineman Rashan Gary, the country’s top prospect, signs with Michigan.
  10. Offensively challenged Gators load up on skill players


    CITRA — Even when the wins were piling up last fall, Florida coach Jim McElwain was never shy about addressing the Gators' offensive struggles.

    "Obviously that's part of the side that needed probably the most restructuring," McElwain said.

    The restructuring took a big step forward Wednesday when the Gators landed their most heralded crop of skill players in a decade.

    UF's top-20 recruiting class featured five quarterbacks, receivers or running backs who were at least four-star recruits. That hasn't happened since 2011....

    Receiver Joshua Hammond, left, battling for a pass during the  Jan. 2 Under Armour All-America Game, is an early enrollee and ESPN’s No. 120 prospect in the country.
  11. Persistent FSU gets DL Manuel to flip from Florida


    Before four-star DL Shavar Manuel was committed to Florida last month, Florida State coaches thought he was headed to Tallahassee.

    So when Manuel pledged to the Gators last month, FSU coaches asked if his recruitment was over; Manuel said no. The persistence paid off Wednesday when the former Blake High star decommitted from UF and signed with the Seminoles.

    "No magic formula," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Just relationships. Sometimes guys flip to other places and flip back. It's back and forth."...

    Defensive tackle Shavar Manuel of IMG Academy (46) blocks during the Under Armour All-America Football Game at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. The game highlights the nation's top high school football players, as selected by ESPN Recruiting. LOREN ELLIOTT  | Times

  12. FSU honors high school player who died in crash


    Seminoles honor player killed in crash

    CITRA — Norcolon Taylor walked onto the stage at Citra's North Marion High and took the empty seat at the end of the long table — the one that was supposed to be for his son.

    Taylor knows his son Johnny would have been signing somewhere Wednesday, if a car crash hadn't killed the 17-year-old in June. But Florida State gave the family something to celebrate....

    MATT BAKER   |   Times
  13. Gators have up-and-down finish to recruiting


    If Florida's 2015 recruiting class was salvaged by a late push that landed two five-star recruits, the Gators' 2016 haul might be defined by its pedestrian finish.

    UF lost two commitments and missed out on two other targets Wednesday, falling from a potential top-five class to as low as No. 19 nationally, according to Rivals.

    Four-star DL Shavar Manuel — formerly of Blake High — spurned Florida and signed with rival Florida State. The Gators then lost three-star CB Aaron Robinson, who flipped to Alabama. The Deerfield Beach product had been committed to UF since June but switched to the Crimson Tide in part, he said, because he didn't receive an in-home visit from Gators coach Jim McElwain....

  14. Tampa native Shavar Manuel flips from Florida Gators to FSU football


    Four-star DL Shavar Manuel has orally committed to Florida State, he announced Wednesday in a video on Bleacher Report.

    The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Manuel became a national name at Blake High, when he was the class of 2016's No. 2 overall recruit as a sophomore. The Under Armour All-American totaled 49 sacks in three seasons at Blake before transferring to Bradenton's IMG Academy for his senior year....

    Shavar Manuel became a national name at Blake High, when he was the class of 2016's No. 2 overall recruit as a sophomore.
  15. FSU football adds two more four-star recruits


    Florida State continues to have a dramatic signing day.

    The Seminoles have landed two more of the country's top 200 prospects - LB Dontavious Jackson and OT Jauan Williams. The four-star prospects join two other signing day commits, five-star DE Brian Burns and four-star DB Carlos Becker.

    "It's a constant up and down," coach Jimbo Fisher said in an interview on ESPNU. "You never know the whole thing."...