Proud big brother foresaw Budda Baker’s NFL potential at an early age

After more than seven years in prison, Robert Baker is enjoying the buildup to this week’s NFL draft. Budda Baker, the Huskies’ star safety, is a potential late first-round draft pick.

Guys at work like to joke around with Robert Baker.

“Hey man,” they’ve been saying lately. “Why are you working so hard when your brother is going to the NFL?”

Robert shakes his head. “He’s going to the NFL — I’m not,” he shoots back. “I have to work.”

After spending seven years and two months in prison for first-degree robbery, Robert insists he isn’t taking for granted his new lease on life. And after missing out on so many seminal moments in his little brother’s football career — all those state championships Budda Baker won at Bellevue, his rise as an All-American at the University of Washington — Robert is enjoying the buildup to this week’s NFL draft.

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Big brother says he always saw this potential endgame for Budda.

“I knew for a fact when he was younger that he was going to be something special,” Robert, 28, says.

He was right. Budda, 21, perhaps the most versatile defensive back in the draft, is expected to be selected late in the first round Thursday night or early in the second round Friday.

“You know,” Robert says, “a lot of times I beat myself up about what happened, but I don’t sit here and go, ‘What if?’ I’ve stayed focused. At the end of the day, I look at him and I’m just very thankful. I don’t try to make my situation abut my brother, but he’s learned and he’s seen what to do and what not to do because of what I went through.”

Almost immediately after his release from prison last fall, Robert got a job busing tables at a downtown Bellevue restaurant. After seven months on the job, he proudly noted he promoted to server — “which usually takes about a year and a half,” he says.

“Now,” he adds with a laugh, “I tell my boss I’m trying to be the manager. I work , I grind, do what I gotta do.”

The Bakers are planning a draft party for family and friends Thursday, and Budda says he has a pretty good feeling he could go late in the first round. John Ross III and Kevin King are generally projected to go sometime in the first round too, and if that comes to fruition it would be just the second time in program history that three Huskies are selected in the same first round (joining Danny Shelton, Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson in 2015).

Budda is mostly looking forward to having the uncertainty of the draft process over with.

“I’ve enjoyed it all,” he says, “but it’s definitely stressful. … For me, it’s a matter of getting my foot in the door. I know I’m going to get chosen; it’s just a matter of who and where.”

The one knock against Budda is his size. He was measured at 5-feet-10 and 195 pounds at the NFL combine.

“If Baker…

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