By Divine Edem
“Corey, Corey, Corey,” the crowd roars as screams and cries electrify Cagan Stadium on Sep. 21.
Corey Baird has just scored the second goal for the Cardinal of the match against one of Stanford’s many rivals, Delaware, prolonging the team’s winning streak and securing a much-needed victory. The circumstances will change, but the phrase, “Baird scores”, will be a common refrain by the end of the year to the commentators and scorekeepers at Cagan.
The men’s soccer team had quite the remarkable season, jumping from a season-opening rank of No. 20 to No. 2 and clinching the Pac-12 title. This impressive feat was in part dependent on an influential new addition to the team, Corey Baird. Since his debut on the team, Baird has demonstrated himself as an essential component of the tremendous turnaround in this season of dominance for Stanford men’s soccer.
Baird, a 5-foot-10 freshman midfielder who grew up in Escondido, California, is no stranger to the competitive and demanding nature of high-level soccer. Before his time at Stanford, he played for the U.S. Men’s National Team in both the U-17 and U-20 leagues, traveling to soccer hotbeds such as France and Costa Rica.
“I think it [USMNT] prepared me because of how serious we took it over there and how every practice was a time to get better,” said Baird. “You played with some amazing players for this, so the jump to college wasn’t as big for me as most kids because I’ve been exposed to these environments.”
His rigorous yet crucial time in the most elite of American youth soccer leagues resulted in College Soccer News naming Baird as the top recruit of the class of 2014. He utilized the beginning of the season to fulfill the role of facilitator, assisting on goals by some of the Cardinal’s key veteran players. Once he familiarized himself with the unique style and tactics of the team, he started to make his own mark on the team and the Pac-12.
Making a name for himself included breaking boundaries in both regular and post-season play. He earned the spot as the first player of the Cardinal season to score multiple goals in a game during one of the squad’s most important games at the then-No. 1 UCLA Bruins. As a freshman, Baird finished the season with impressive statistics, putting up four goals and assists. This was enough to tie him for third on the team in these categories, and also put him fourth on the team in points. His swift yet crisp performance on the field was also noted by the Pac-12, who named him their Pac-12 Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks.
“It’s very rewarding. It shows that all the hard work I am putting in has paid off,” said Baird.
But, being a member of one of Stanford’s strongest athletic departments does not mean all play and no work off the field. The attributes of being a student-athlete at such an academically rigorous institution do contain its hardships.
“There are definitely times when the workload at school takes a toll on you and you wish you maybe would have gone somewhere else because it might have been easier, but I think the overall decision was definitely going to be better for me, to challenge myself not just athletically but academically, and I’m enjoying it,” Baird said.
Not only did he express his gratitude for being rewarded Pac-12 Player of the Week, but he also expressed content and satisfaction for the team’s overall achievement of earning the Pac-12 title for the first time since 2001, showing his selfless character towards his team on and off the soccer field.
“The thing that I find more rewarding for me is winning the Pac-12 because then it shows the team effort and how far we’ve come as a team this year,” said Baird.
However, despite all of his successes in his freshman year, Baird continues to remain grounded and humble with his greatest focus being contributing to the continuous development of the team as a whole and building on the more selfless aspects of his game, as exemplified by his assists.
“As a team, we just want to keep playing the way we’ve been playing,” Baird indicated. “Everybody is playing their part. It’s not just a one-person show.”
While his first season on the Farm has been impressive and notable for all the right reasons, Baird’s natural humility will not let him rest. He goes into the latter half of his freshman year as a player who will look to develop along with the program in the seasons to come.
Contact Divine Edem at dedem ‘at’ stanford.edu.