By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Of the approximate 100,000 youngsters who play high school football every year, only 215 of them will make an National Football League roster.
Then, assuming things are equal in the NFL — and they’re not— a player on any NFL roster has a 1 in 16 chance to be on one of the two teams playing in a Super Bowl.
“It’s the pinnacle of what everybody who plays football plays for,” Clovis native Hank Baskett III said Wednesday.
So when hometown favorite Baskett, a receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, steps on the turf Sunday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, the fourth-year pro will be doing what few organized football players will ever do and no other Clovis native has done before.
But then again, the 2001 Clovis High graduate has always been beating the odds.
“He’s always been a fighter,” longtime Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said. “It’s a challenge for him to do things.”
Henry Randall Baskett first came to the Clovis Wildcat football squad as a sophomore. Four games later, he was the starting quarterback. The first two starters got injured, said Roanhaus, who recently finished his 32nd season guiding the Wildcats from the sidelines.
“It’s pretty tough to step up as a sophomore and play quarterback for the Clovis Wildcats,” said Roanhaus, a coach known for his toughness on quarterbacks. “But he handled it mentally and physically.”
That wasn’t enough to earn the “NFL bound” stamp, though.
“As a sophomore in high school, you couldn’t foresee him being in the NFL,” Roanhaus said, who remembered facing NFL-bound New Mexicans such as Jim Everett and Timmy Smith. “I thought in the ’80s, Mickey Reeves at Roswell had a chance to do that. The way (La Cueva junior Ronnie) Daniels kid ran on us this year, that came to mind.”
Just as injury put Baskett at quarterback, an ankle injury was what Roanhaus called “divine intervention” halfway into his senior year.
The injury robbed Baskett of his mobility, but he could still line up on the outside and run simple receiver patterns.
“He was a natural athlete,” Roanhaus said of Baskett, who still holds New Mexico’s state high jump record. “He could move in a straight line and beat other kids down the field.”
A few months after the switch in positions, Baskett was signing a letter of intent with the University of New Mexico. At UNM, Baskett finished second in all-time in touchdown catches (17), third in receiving yards (2,288) and fourth in catches (140).
That’s why his agent, Jim Ivler, was surprised when Baskett — ranked second among all college senior receivers by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. — was undrafted in 2005.
“Nobody could give me an answer,” Ivler said. “The draft gods weren’t with us that day.”
Baskett was picked up as a free agent by the Minnesota Vikings. Three weeks later, the unheard of happened, Ivler said, as the Philadelphia Eagles traded former third-round pick Billy McMullen for the undrafted Baskett.
In his three-plus years with Philadelphia, Baskett became the second player in NFL history with two receptions of 85-plus yards in one season in 2007, and helped the Eagles reach the 2009 NFC Championship game.
It was enough to get him a one-year, $1.545 million tender offer for this season. But nothing’s guaranteed in the NFL.
“It’s not even a day-by-day business, it’s a play-by-play business,” Ivler said. “Opportunities are granted and taken away in a single play.”
The Eagles cut Baskett two weeks into the season to make room for quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick. Ivler said the Colts were one of many teams who quickly called.
“It’s an exciting thing to go with Peyton Manning,” Ivler said, “and have them want you there.”
Baskett has garnered a lot of attention this season. Not for his four catches for 28 yards with the Colts, but for his marriage to former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson, their roles on the E! reality show “Kendra” (first season now available on DVD) and the birth of the couple’s first child in December.
Hank Baskett IV will join Wilkinson in a luxury box at Sunday’s game.
“If they create a book about the best year ever, they have to look at me,” Baskett told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Get married, have your first child, now playing in the Super Bowl. That’s my personal life peaking with my professional life peaking.”
Baskett’s career numbers include 76 receptions for 1,080 yards and six scores. Back home, Roanhaus is hoping for at least one more score for Baskett in Miami.
“I hope he gets in the ballgame and catches one; he’s excited,” Roanhaus said. “I’m hoping Peyton Manning plays well so he can win.”
Coming Sunday: Baskett talks about his time with the Colts, and what’s next for the Clovis native.
Liveblog: Staff Writer Kevin Wilson will be liveblogging the Super Bowl from a Clovis restaurant. Check for his perspectives and submit questions at cnjonline.com