Slocomb native Brad Baxter, who was recently inducted into the first class of Alabama State University’s Athletics Hall of Fame, has found his peace off the football field.
“I’m focused on the most important things in life now,” Baxter said over the phone Friday afternoon. “I have a brand new grandchild who I am dating today.
“You know, many times we haven’t been able to do things that I can now because you’re so busy. There were other things that you really thought were important, but they weren’t. I think family is the most important thing.”
For the former star, who ran back in Alabama State and in the NFL ranks with the New York Jets (1989-1995), a good day means sharing his Christian faith and quality time with his 20-year-old wife, Debbie, at their home to spend Bonifay, Fla.
“I like to keep my life private because it’s been so many years,” Baxter said. “Aside from my church family, I just like to keep it that way.”
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But two Fridays ago, Baxter was back in the spotlight at the Alabama State campus in Montgomery, where he and 15 others were recognized during an induction ceremony and honored on the football field the following day as Alabama State hosted Florida A&M.
“I’ve been back once since I’ve played,” Baxter said. “It brought back a lot of memories. I am very humbled, honored to be admitted. Everyone treated me and my wife with the utmost dignity.”
The state of Alabama holds a special place in Baxter’s heart.
There he was a three-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) selection as a running back, finishing with a school-record 3,728 career yards and 30 touchdowns.
“It meant the world,” Baxter said of his time at ASU. “I’ve had teammates where we bled together, sweated together, and went out and competed together.”
Football was once the focus of Baxter’s life. From small town Slocomb to state Alabama and then into the pro ranks, Baxter established himself as one of the top fullbacks in the NFL when he signed as a free agent with the Jets after failing to make the Minnesota Vikings draft pick. Made selection in the 11th round in 1989.
“Yeah, it was culture shock,” Baxter said of arriving in New York City. “A country boy from the south. You walk down the street and talk happily. They don’t; They look at you like you’re crazy.
“But I enjoyed it. People have always treated me nicely in New York and I have nothing bad to say about them.”
Baxter became the Jets’ star fullback in 1990, rushing for 539 yards with 124 carries. Perhaps his best season came the following year when he had 11 rushing touchdowns, ranking third in the NFL and leading the AFC. He also rushed for a career-high 666 yards that season while helping the Jets make the playoffs. In 1992, he rushed for 698 yards and six touchdowns and was well established in the NFL.
In seven seasons with the Jets, Baxter rushed for 2,928 yards for 35 touchdowns and was a formidable fullback.
In the off-season, Baxter shipped cattle from Alabama to Texas. It was reported that Baxter fell out of favor with new Jets coach Rich Kotite in 1995 after he showed up late for the first practice session of the season. As the story goes, during one of his cattle trips, Baxter was detained by the Department of Transportation for a required rest period for 12 hours after his logbook noted that he had been traveling non-stop for too long, eventually causing him to miss a scheduled flight to New York for the first day of camp.
Baxter says he was pulled over, but contrary to some reports, he was not late for the start of compulsory practice.
“It was a voluntary mini-camp back then,” Baxter explains. “I was a beginning running back. Everyone else (veterans) went on vacation. You were not paid to come to a volunteer camp.
“My business was my business back then. The thing was, I liked trucks and it wasn’t because of that[incident]that I dropped out of the game.
“It was about them (Jets) wanting to pay less so I could do a job knowing what the job would cost. I wasn’t ready to take less pay because the simple fact is the guy behind me wasn’t ready.”
Baxter’s playing time dwindled under the new system with Kotite as coach and he was fired after the season but has no regrets.
Instead, he has never been happier.
“Tell you what, I’m a saved Christian,” Baxter said. “I believe differently; I think differently Me and my wife go on family outings.
“We believe in faith and family. Just relax and take one day at a time and enjoy life because life is short.”
He credits the senior pastor of the Northside Assembly of God in Bonifay, Ed Bell, with setting him on the right path.
“Everyone has trials and tribulations in their past,” Baxter said. “Many people put God second when He should be first. I thought I was a Christian, but now I really know I am.”
He likes to share his faith with others.
“Don’t be a witness for yourself,” Baxter said. “Be a witness to others and the unbelievers.”
Though Baxter now lives across the state line from Alabama, he still regularly visits his parents – Herman and Bessie Baxter – in Slocomb, a place dear to his heart where he first made his mark as a high school football star.
“That (football) is past tense…I used to do that,” Baxter said. “That was my life back then. I enjoyed it and I was blessed with the talent. But you also have to think about it: I had to start somewhere before I got there, and that was Slocomb.”
He is content with where he is in life.
“I’m not going to make my story sound better than anyone else because it’s no better than anyone else,” Baxter said. “It is what it is and I thank God I am healthy and not working. My wife doesn’t have to work. We just live and have fun and go to church and I love everyone.
“I can do what I want. I try to run a mile every day and I stay active and I’m in pretty decent shape for my age.
“Every day I wake up is a good day. I tell them, ‘If you don’t believe it, try to miss one.’”