CNJ file photo Hank Baskett’s 464 yards receiving last season were the second-most for an undrafted NFL rookie in the last decade. Baskett and the Philadelphia Eagles open the 2007 NFL season today against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
By Jon Marks: CNJ correspondent
PHILADELPHIA — All things considered, unlike what W.C. Fields wanted put on his tombstone, Hank Baskett would rather be in Clovis than Philadelphia.
Nothing against the City of Brotherly Love, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and Betsy Ross sewed a red, white and blue flag for George Washington. But it’s not the same as being back home, where the former Clovis High standout could spend hours by the lake fishing for trout and jet-skiing, or just lay back, hang with his friends and take it easy.
The problem is there’s no NFL team in Clovis or anywhere else in New Mexico, so this is where he’s set up shop, about to begin his second season at wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I miss Clovis, trust me,” said the just-turned 25-year-old Baskett, who’ll rotate with fellow second-year man Jason Avant as slot receiver in Eagles coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense. “I can live in a big city.
“It’s just I like the space out there and having family and friends. As soon as the off-season came, I ran back home. I spent pretty much the entire time there.”
But the homecoming came to an end when training camp beckoned in July; a chance for Baskett to pick up where he left off last season when he caught 22 passes for 464 yards and two touchdowns (87 and 89-yard bombs, respectively). That’s the second-most yards for an undrafted rookie in the last decade and ranked fourth overall among rookies.
Yet, if there’s one thing Baskett has already learned in his brief life in the NFL, it’s not to rest on his laurels. Success one year is hardly a guarantee for the next.
“There’s more comfort from the standpoint where you know the offense a lot better,” said Baskett, whose roster spot was never in question, though his role on the team may change due to Avant’s development. “It’s not learning everything at once. Now you can come in and actually play instead of having to think about everything.
“Your first year you’re still trying to get used to everything. It’s definitely hard on you.”
Now, though, he’s at least been around the NFL block once.
Reflecting on his first season, Baskett for the most part had no complaints.
“First off, I made the team,” he said proudly, sitting at his locker the other day and looking back for a moment before turning his attention to today’s season opener at Green Bay. “That’s the biggest positive right there.
“I could’ve done better, but that just comes with being a rookie. You’re gonna have mistakes. The TD against Dallas (an 87-yard hookup with Donovan McNabb in the Eagles’ 38-24 win) was definitely the high point of the year.
“That, and helping the team get to the playoffs. I’d say that made my season a success because the team had success.”
That success was tempered, though, when the Eagles fell to the Saints 27-24 in the second round, leaving Baskett & Co. wondering what might have been.
“This off-season took forever,” said Baskett, whose performance was spotty last season other than those two 100-yard plus games. “It’s feels like it’s been a year.”
Wide receiver is one spot where the Eagles have undergone a transformation.
Gone is Donte Stallworth, the team’s top deep threat. Taking over is Kevin Curtis, who’s spent his career caddying for Pro Bowlers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce in St. Louis.
Reggie Brown remains the No. 2 option, with Baskett, Avant and veteran Greg Lewis sharing the rest of the load.
“We’re the utility guys,” smiled Baskett, who also will be busy on special teams, playing on both the punt/punt return and kickoff/kickoff return units. “We have to be versatile in this offense.
“It depends on the package. You just do whatever the coaches ask. That’s a good thing. Anybody we put out there can make plays. If someone goes down and someone needs to step in, everyone has confidence we can all go in here and do the job.”
Baskett among them.
“He’s a big guy who can take a hit,” said Lewis, who dresses next to the former Lobos standout. “He catches the ball over the middle.
“He’s a big target, who has more speed than people realize. Big, fast guys with good hands you can always use.”
Baskett, who caught five balls for 63 yards during the pre-season, four fewer than Avant, enjoys his celebrity status.
“I like being around the fans,” he said. “They talk about some of my catches and how we’re gonna do as a team.
“But I also think that’s one of the reasons I do like going home. When I get home, I can relax and chill and go places.
“Now there’s quite a bit of Eagles fans in Clovis. Before it was straight Cowboys. I’ve been able to be in the right place. The stars are aligned. I feel very fortunate.”
All things considered, the pride of Clovis, knows he’s living in the best of both worlds.