The 37-year-old is set to retire from rugby after the 2024 Paris Olympics

Perry Baker has seen it all.

From facing adversity to being on an NFL roster and then becoming one of the world’s best players in rugby sevens, he remains grateful for every step of his journey thus far. 

“I’m happy in life and I learned a lot from my early beginnings,” Baker said. “Even up until now, it’s an everyday thing to continue learning and getting better. I’m thankful.”

After previously announcing that he will retire from professional rugby sevens following the 2024 Paris Olympics, Baker is soaking up every moment he has left with his team. 

The U.S. placed eighth at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Los Angeles in March. Entering the tournament, the U.S. men were not one of the favorites to win the title despite being the host nation. Still, Baker is seeing progress within the team that can create some momentum heading into the Paris Games. 

“Morale is a bit low after how we finished at the tournament. To us, though, if you look at the standings, you might not see it, but we’re getting better at certain things every time we play. The movement is better, the team is playing better. That’s something that continues to happen after each tournament and we know we’re progressing. As long as we continue to keep fixing things here and there, continue to back one another, we’re only going to get better.”

That mentality of always improving and taking notice of good things when others might not is nothing new to the man known as “Speedstick.”

From the NFL to success in rugby sevens

Baker grew up in a small town on the east coast of Florida (New Smyrna Beach) and described himself as a “knucklehead kind of kid.” 

Before rugby, Baker dreamed of playing football in the NFL. After high school, he played collegiate football at NCAA Division II Fairmont State University. From there, he turned his dreams into reality by signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2011, but his NFL career was cut short after a physical showed he had a knee injury. He was then released by the team. 

Baker continued to keep his pro football dreams alive by playing for the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League from 2012-13. It wasn’t until he was 26 years old that he decided to let go of football, as another opportunity came knocking on his door. 

“My old high school coach connected with me and told me to join the Tiger Academy to play rugby,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think of it much but I made the most out of that opportunity, got another invitation to, sort of, try out for the team that was going to play in the Olympics in 2016. 

“It was cool because I knew I had a genuine shot of playing at the Olympics if I did good. Unfortunately, my first game at the tryouts didn’t go so well, but I was given another shot by Mike Friday and I made my rugby sevens debut under him. After that, everything started to unfold the way I wanted it to and I just continue to be thankful.” 

Baker reveals plans for life after professional rugby

Baker said his decision to hang up his cleats following the Paris Games was not due to how he's feeling physically at age 37.

"I know I can still play this game at the highest level. My body feels great, my movement and technical abilities are all still there, but I feel like my time and attention requires to be put elsewhere,” he said. “I have three boys, one just turned 20 years old, another is 13 and the other is still a baby boy, so I just feel like I need to be more involved in their lives and my wife’s life."

“For the past 10 years and before my wife and I started a family, I have always been traveling to play rugby, and I loved every single minute of it, but now as a father of three boys, my time needs to be put more on them than myself.”

Baker admitted the decision to retire after the 2024 Games was not that difficult considering where the sport has taken him, allowing him to achieve his dreams of playing at the Olympics. But what’s even more important for him, he said, is the impact he is continuing to make off the field. 

“I want to coach the sport, promote it more and just make it more accessible to communities across the country that are not exposed to it. Since playing this sport, I’ve been letting kids know that there’s a way out and there are bigger and better things out there. I’m starting my own rugby league to not only get kids involved but just to also have a place for rugby players, in general, to keep playing."

“For me, that’s the greatest thing an Olympic athlete can do, make a difference in your community, use your platform to make the world and people around you better. My dream goal after I retire is to have the opportunity to coach the national team. I know that is still way down the line, but if I can coach a team or help a player get on the team and win a medal, man, I can already see it and the happiness it brings to me.” 

Baker remains focused on Olympic preparations

Before Baker can fulfill his post-retirement plans, he wants to achieve something that he has not done before – win a medal at the Olympics. 

Getting on the medal stage is the pinnacle of the sport, and despite recent finishes at series tournaments, Baker is confident his team can surprise a few people in Paris. 

“Our goal is to still win a medal, and we know we have the players to do so,” he said. “The team is improving at each tournament, we got a rhythm going but with the Hong Kong sevens tournament coming up, it’s another opportunity to show we have the team to go all the way in Paris.” 

Baker is one of the veteran players on a younger U.S. team compared to recent Olympic outings. He is the all-time leading try scorer for the U.S. and was the first player to earn consecutive World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year awards. With his elite pace and movement, Baker is regarded as one of the best rugby sevens players of all time. Still, the Florida native always puts the team before himself.

“I let my work speak for itself, but I wouldn’t have those sorts of numbers if it wasn’t for my teammates because, at the end of the day, this is a team sport,” he said. “I want to win a medal, but in order to do that, I got to be the best teammate that I can be. That’s going to be my role this summer. Do what I can do out on the field to help my team win, but also make sure I put my teammates in positions where we all can play to the best of our ability as a team.” 

Some of the younger players on the team that Baker believes will do great things at the Paris Games and beyond are Faitala Talapusi, Lucas Lacamp, Noah Brown and Will Chevalier

He admitted he is more excited this time around than in previous Olympic years due to it being his last. 

“I’m going to enjoy every moment and do everything I can to help my team win a medal,” he said. “This is my last one and I’m sure of that. I feel like everything that I have experienced, everything that I have learned, I need to use all of that in Paris. There’s going to be several tough teams in the tournament, but as long as we take care of what we have to, it’s going to be a fun ride.” 

Baker will be 41 years old when the 2028 Olympics are played in Los Angeles. He mentioned that he does not plan to come out of retirement in the future regardless of the state of his physical and mental health. Instead, he wants to let the next generation of rugby sevens players have their moment and build up chemistry for the years after. 

He added that he’d hoped the location of his last Olympic Games would be close to home, specifically Orlando at the ESPN World Wide of Sports Complex. 

“I always said that location has everything! Disney is right there, so there are fun things to do for the family. The summer weather in Florida is great, too. It has everything you need to host the Olympics, and I feel like my family and friends would not have to travel far to watch me play. Either way, I’m going to make my last Olympics the best one yet.”

Rugby at the 2024 Paris Olympics

The men’s rugby tournament kicks off two days prior to the Opening Ceremony with 12 matches of men’s pool-round action. The early start for rugby allows for medals to be awarded on the first day of the Paris Games. All matches will be played inside the host nation’s largest stadium – Stade de France. 

The 2024 Paris Olympics will mark the 100th anniversary of the last time the U.S. men won gold in Olympic rugby, which was at the 1924 Paris Games.