Defying the odds: N.J. sprinter, 2-sport star claims gold at Meet of Champions

Standing on one side of Max Baker was the No. 1 seed Adrian Taffe — a 6-3, 190-pound Bergen Catholic sophomore.

On another was Don Bosco Prep’s potential future Division I running back Kyle Monangai.

Also toeing the line for Friday’s 100-meter dash final at the Bergen County Meet of Champions was 6-0, 175-pound junior Yosef Mammoun out of Paramus Catholic.

But the always present chip on Baker’s shoulder hardly slowed him down Friday.

Baker, “barely 5-8, barely 165 pounds soaking wet,” he said, raced to Bergen County gold among his non-public counterparts, clocking in at 11.02, topping Mammoun by .06 and Taffe by .16.

The mark doubled as a new personal best and new Ramapo school record, as Baker can now lay claim to being the fastest track athlete to ever roam the halls in Franklin Lakes.

His size was never an issue in football, earning first team All-State honors at wide receiver with 73 catches, 1,143 yards and 16 total touchdowns last fall for Ramapo’s undefeated football team.

So, why would it be any different in track?

“I know when people look at me lined up on the track, they aren’t expecting me to win these races,” Baker said. “But that stuff just makes me work harder. Just grind even harder. It always has. And it paid off today.”

But, really, it’s been paying off for longer than that.

In the past two years, Baker has lined up for final heats at major meets in the 100-meter dash five times, winning four of them, with a hamstring injury costing him the opportunity to compete at the Bergen MOC, state sectionals and the Group 3 meet at the end of the 2018 spring season.

His season-long goal has been to break 11 seconds — which he came within two-hundredths of a second from doing Friday — and make “deep runs” as championship season moves on.

“Reaching the MOC is the goal,” he said. “My hamstring’s feeling healthy and I’m feeling good. Last year I didn’t get the chance to make a run. Now it’s my last chance.”

As for his future after that, Baker said he’s planning on competing in track at UMass next year, but remains interested in the possibility of playing football in college, at some point.

For now, he’ll just be looking to continue defying the odds — no matter the competition around him.