Simi Bakare’s unlikely journey toward becoming a college football player for an SEC team ended — ceremonially, anyway — when he signed a letter of intent Wednesday with Missouri.
With pen in hand and a smile on his face, Bakare, an All-Centex running back this past season, recreated his signing during a ceremony inside the cafeteria at Cedar Ridge High School. Boosted by Bakere’s breakout season, the Raiders made school history this past fall, advancing to the Class 6A, Division I state semifinals.
The public ceremony was in contrast to the quiet setting in which Bakare officially signed with the Tigers, whose 2018 recruiting class was ranked 41st nationally by 247Sports. Back on Dec. 20, Bakare sat down at home, away from cameras and crowds, and put his signature on his letter of intent. The private moment was maybe more fitting for a player who began his final high school season in the recruiting shadows, unknown to most FBS programs.
“The sky is still the limit,” Bakare said this week. “I always think I can do better.”
When the Raiders kicked off their 2017 season on Sept. 1, Bakare held zero scholarship offers from FBS programs, and none was showing interest in him, said Cedar Ridge’s head coach, Sam Robinson.
“Someday some college recruiters are going to look back and say, ‘Damn, how did we miss out on him?’ ” Robinson said. “So many times, scouts are not interested in looking at seniors. They figured they did their homework on players when they were sophomores and juniors. Sometimes, though, you’ll have a player burst upon the scene.”
Unlike most top-flight college football recruits, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Bakare was a late bloomer. He clearly made the most of his senior season, rushing for 1,981 yards and 29 touchdowns as the Raiders finished 13-2. He had one fumble in 200 carries. For his efforts, Bakare was named to the American-Statesman’s All-Central Texas second team.
Robinson said a few college programs took notice of Bakare after he opened the season by rushing for nearly 600 yards and eight touchdowns in Cedar Ridge’s first five games. About that time, he committed to Tulane.
By the time Cedar Ridge had qualified for the University Interscholastic League playoffs, Texas Tech and Missouri were showing interest in Bakare. The Tigers eventually offered him a full scholarship, and Bakare became one of the 26 three-star recruits that make up Mizzou’s latest signing class.
“It blew my mind that Tech didn’t make an offer,” Robinson said.
Robinson said Bakare showed glimpses of his potential during his junior season. He rushed for a respectable 674 yards and three touchdowns but missed parts of three games because of various injuries. He also played behind C.J. Rittenhouse, a senior who received the bulk of the carries and was a first-team all-district pick.
After his junior season of football, Bakare became a valuable part of Cedar Ridge’s track and field team. By the time the 2017 football season rolled around, Bakare had improved both his speed and strength.
Robinson said the Missouri coaches liked Bakere’s “size-speed combination and his finishing ability. He runs downhill. When he sees a crease, he can pop it.”
Tigers coaches arranged an in-home visit with Bakare after seeing video of him in action. When Mizzou offered him a scholarship, he knew his life had just changed.
“I was so excited because all of my dreams had come to fruition,” Bakare said. “In my senior year, I felt I was playing for something every game. All I wanted to do was showcase my talent.”
This past season, Missouri finished 7-6 after falling to Texas 33-16 in the Texas Bowl, but beyond an SEC football program, the school also offers an agribusiness management program that intrigues Bakare. “That’s what I’m interested in,” he said during a November interview. “Everybody’s got to eat.”
Between meals, Bakare will be busy, too, with college football. He’ll be joined on campus by incoming freshman linebacker Cameron Wilkins, who made 192 tackles for Del Valle this past season.
“Now,” Bakare said, “I can ball-out in the SEC.”