Some people grow up wanting to pursue a career as a doctor or lawyer.
Billy Baber found his passion in athletics.
That drive served him well during his time as a three-sport standout at Western Albemarle, then as a college and professional football player.
Last month, Baber became a part of athletic royalty in the commonwealth as he was inducted into the Virginia High School League’s Hall of Fame.
“Since I was a little kid, playing sports is all I ever wanted to do,” Baber said. “I would play pick-up [games] and play anything that had a ball. Being an only child, this was a way for me to be around kids and have competitive interaction.”
Baber channeled those competitive juices throughout his childhood, competing in baseball, basketball, football, soccer and swimming. That all changed by the time he got to middle school.
“By the age of 12, I made a decision to stop swimming and playing soccer and focus on the three I enjoyed the best,” he said. “I really enjoyed the individual competition and the friendships I developed playing sports.”
The decision was a smart one for Baber, who became one of the top athletes ever produced at Western Albemarle High School.
A three-sport standout for the Warriors, Baber earned 11 varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball and earned all-state honors in multiple sports.
On the gridiron, he was a four-year starter for Western at tight end, defensive end and punter. He averaged 22.2 yards a catch and was a first team all-state selection. In addition, he earned the National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete award as a senior and as an honorable mention selection to the Schutt High School All-American football team.
“I loved Friday nights in football and playing under the lights,” Baber said. “There was something about wearing your football jersey to school on game days and discussing the upcoming game with fellow students in the halls and at lunch.”
Virginia High School League executive director John W. “Billy” Haun, Ed.D, who coached Baber in football during his high school career, said his numbers speak for themselves, but statistics don’t capture what he meant to his team.
“Billy was a leader," Haun said in a written statement announcing his enshrinement. "No matter what we were doing — scrimmaging, conditioning, or doing skill work, Billy led the older players and set a great example for the younger players. He led by setting positive examples.”
Baber also was a three-year starter on the Warriors’ basketball and baseball teams.
In basketball, he averaged 17.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game and recorded 18 double-doubles during his senior season at Western. As a junior, he converted all four 3-pointers that either tied the game or won them at the buzzer. Baber finished his career with 1,220 points and 578 rebounds.
“I also enjoyed playing in front of packed gyms on Friday nights,” Baber said. I enjoyed the challenge of playing basketball, as it was not my ‘best’ sport and proving the people wrong. I remember the big games and big moments and wanting to be the one with the ball in my hands on the last possession.”
On the diamond, Baber was an offensive dynamo. His name still appears in numerous offensive categories in the Western Albemarle baseball record book. Baber is the program’s all-time leader in home runs (28) and set the single-season leader in RBI (39). In addition, he ranked second all-time in hits and finished his career with a .412 batting average en route to earning all-state honors as a junior and senior.
“In the 35 years I’ve coached at Western, Billy, in my opinion, is the best all‐around athlete in the history of the school," Western Albemarle baseball coach Skip Hudgins said in a written statement announcing Baber’s enshrinement. "He was a 3‐sport star and you could make an argument that each sport was his best.”
Baber’s accomplishments earned him a scholarship offer to play at his favorite school, the University of Virginia. During the recruiting process, former coach George Welsh told him what set him apart from other athletes had nothing to do with his efforts on the gridiron.
“I remember meeting George Welsh for the first time at my house when he came on a visit to offer me a scholarship,” Baber said. “I remember him telling me that day he had actually only watched a little game tape of me playing football, but what did impress him the most was slipping into a gym one night and watching me play basketball.
"The way I ran the court in transition, moved my feet on defense, used soft hands around the rim and body leverage to rebound. He had seen all he needed to know that I would be a good football player.”
The decision to play for Virginia was an easy one for Baber.
“My father worked at the University of Virginia for 25 years and he took me to every Virginia home football game growing up as a kid,” he said. “When I earned the opportunity to continue playing football at UVa, I was very appreciative and excited to be able to play in front of many family and friends every fall. It had been a life-long dream of mine to play college football in Scott Stadium.”
Baber’s college football career was a productive one. He finished with 54 catches for 544 yards and five touchdowns. He played in every game of his college career and started every game as a senior.
“I was fortunate enough to be healthy and able to play in every game in my college career and with that came many memories,” he said. “One that pops to mind was the first game of my college career versus Auburn in 1997. Running out the tunnel and looking up in the stands and thinking to myself this is really happening. I also remember catching the game-clinching touchdown against BYU in 1999. This was a big game versus two ranked teams on national television.”
In May of 2001, Baber was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, 141st overall, by the Kansas City Chiefs, a day that he still vividly remembers.
“Getting the call from Dick Vermeil right before being drafted and seeing your name come across the bottom of ESPN is a feeling you will never forget,” Baber said. “You do, however, quickly learn that playing in the NFL is a job and you best take every opportunity to stand out. It was hard for me to fathom I was getting paid to do something I loved.”
Baber played four seasons with the Chiefs and split time with the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before retiring after the 2004 season.
He has found memories of his career in the NFL.
“Playing at Arrowhead in the loudest stadium with the best fans in the NFL, was a treat in itself,” Baber said. “I remember the excitement in the air for the entire 2003 season when we started off going 9-0 and finished the regular season at 13-3. We had a home divisional playoff game in Arrowhead versus the Colts and the place was electric. I was blessed to meet a lot of great lifelong friends and start my family here in Kansas City.”
After retirement, Baber remained in Kansas City and started his own sporting goods shop, MB2 Sports in 2006. In addition, Baber now has three daughters, ages, 14, 13 and nine. Baber said they are into all kinds of sports, including swimming, soccer, softball and basketball.
“They keep me busy when I am not working,” he said. “My wife and I are always taking them to and from practice and games. I am helping coach their softball and basketball teams. I am very family-oriented and enjoy spending every free second I can with my wife and kids.”
Baber still has ties to Central Virginia. His mother lives in Crozet and he checks on her daily and gets the scoop on what’s going on in Albemarle County.
Last year, the former Western Albemarle standout received word from the VHSL that he was being considered for the 2019 Hall of Fame Class. His youngest daughter was with him in the kitchen when he opened up the letter.
“I proceeded to tell her that dad was one of the final nominees for election into the VHSL Hall of Fame,” Baber said. “She looked at me with a straight face and said, ‘Dad, if I were you, I wouldn’t get my hopes up’. She never cracked a smile.”
When Baber received confirmation of his induction, he admitted he was extremely grateful. He received a phone call from Haun and shared stories with one another about the three years they spent together and the importance of staying in touch and not going years without taking or seeing one another.
He also exchanged texts with Western basketball coach Darren Maynard and Hudgins and thanked them for their part in getting him into the Hall of Fame.
“It was a great honor to be selected in this particular class with all the outstanding candidates available,” Baber said. “It is something I will always remember and cherish as a symbol for all the hard work and dedication. Given the chance to go back to high school and do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”