COLUMBUS, Ohio — As a sophomore at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, Matthew Baldwin’s path to high school starter — much less eventual Ohio State signee — was more precarious than ever.
Lake Travis is one of the most talent-rich high school football programs in the country, and in recent years it’s become renowned for its ability to pump out Division I quarterbacks. Beginning with Todd Reesing, who chose Kansas in 2006, the high school has had eight quarterbacks sign with FBS programs in the last 12 recruiting cycles. Recent Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL draft pick Baker Mayfield is the program’s most famous alumnus, but he has plenty of company.
Reesing led Kansas to a record-breaking season that ended in an Orange Bowl win. Garrett Gilbert played for Texas in a BCS championship game and has spent the last four seasons in the NFL. Michael Brewer led Virginia Tech to a 35-21 upset win at Ohio State in 2014. In 2017, Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer was the Big 12 co-offensive freshman of the year.
That success has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with aspiring quarterbacks often moving into the school district to play for the Cavaliers. Baldwin began his time at Lake Travis on the freshman B team, and one year later he approached offensive coordinator Michael Wall to discuss how his high school career might unfold. Charlie Brewer was one year ahead of him, and Wall was blunt about what that meant for Baldwin’s odds of seeing the field.
“I gave him what I call the doctor’s speech,” Wall said. “I don’t give them the best prognosis, I give them the worst-case scenario so they consider every option. I told him he had a Division I kid one year ahead of him, so he’d likely be a backup as a junior and get his one year to shine as a senior.”
Baldwin said he considered moving because the best-case scenario appeared to be one season as the Lake Travis starter. That meant there would be almost no margin for error in his quest to become a college quarterback. By the time he started a game, the top quarterbacks in his class would be committed. There also was the possibility of injury or getting beat out by another quarterback.
But instead of scaring away Baldwin, that talk with Wall steeled his resolve. Over the next two seasons, the obstacles standing between Baldwin and a starting role began to fade away. Other players either didn’t want to risk not winning the job or were passed by Baldwin on the depth chart as he continued to improve.
“A couple kids transferred out his sophomore year, another kid transferred out his junior year because he didn’t want to compete with Matthew,” Wall said. “But Matthew never shied away from that. He wanted to be a starting quarterback at Lake Travis and kept going.”
Baldwin won the job as a senior and took the Cavaliers to the Texas Class 6A Division 1 championship game last December. He exited on the first play with a knee injury, but his talent helped pilot the Cavaliers on their deep playoff run.
Over the course of the season, his accuracy and determination caught the eye of the Ohio State staff as Buckeyes commit Emory Jones continued to take visits to SEC schools.
“I saw a kid that had a chance to leave Lake Travis, and nowadays every kid — I’d say 90 percent of those players leave because they have to go get theirs, and here’s a guy who was loyal to his school,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in December. “It was a great high school, one of my first experiences down there. That’s as good a football as there is in the United States of America. Here he comes in and the kid completes over 70 percent of his passes, takes them to a state championship, and is a monster competitor.”
Looking back, Baldwin recognizes that he risked a lot to stay at Lake Travis. But his gamble paid off and the best-case scenario came to fruition. He stayed healthy, beat out his peers and put together a senior season that ended in a commitment to Ohio State.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Baldwin said. “I could have gotten hurt and then not played at all my senior year and then I probably wouldn’t be playing football in college. So I’m thankful that that didn’t happen.
“But you’ve just got to trust that we have some of the best coaches in the country at my high school back in Austin at Lake Travis. I’m so thankful for them. Really just talking to them and they believed in me and just that kind of confidence they had, and that influenced my confidence to stay in there and having a great senior season.”