ARLINGTON, Texas — Thanks to the combination of his college of choice, the position he plays and his home state, Matthew Baldwin is always going to be subject to the comparisons.
It turns out there might be more the Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) quarterback has in common with J.T. Barrett than those straightforward facts, which certainly bodes well for Ohio State based on its last successful recruiting search for a passer in the Lone Star State.
And it’s not just because Baldwin also had his last year in high school end on the sideline as he stood there with an injured knee, the quarterback turned into a bystander after one play as the gritty Cavaliers nearly rallied to win a state championship without him on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
Maybe there are more similarities between them physically beyond a somewhat similar injury history, and time will certainly tell if the approach to the position is the same. But in terms of handling a tough situation with maturity beyond his years, finding a way to be a leader with his pads off and then representing the program as a captain after what had to be one of the lowest points of his career — Baldwin was more than worthy of being mentioned alongside Barrett.
“In practice I would drop back just like I did and I felt fine, I could even sprint out and do some stuff and I felt fine,” Baldwin said. “In the game, I took a dropback, tried to step up in the pocket and in the game your adrenaline is flowing … I wanted to play so hard, maybe I put too much pressure on it.
“It just really stinks to not be able to play [Saturday night] with my guys. I think I could have made an impact, but that wasn’t the biggest reason. I just wanted to be out there on the field one last time with all these guys I’ve been playing with since I was 5 years old. That’s tough.”
Baldwin didn’t get his wish, the Cavaliers didn’t get their state title — and way, way down the priority line, Ohio State won’t get its new Texan in the quarterback room coming in completely healthy. Of course, that didn’t exactly slow down Barrett’s development once upon a time.
Now, unfortunately there wasn’t much to learn about Baldwin’s arm at Jerry World, although everybody around a program that knows quarterbacks raved about the way he can spin the football.
Is Baldwin more of a dual-threat weapon than he might get credit for typically? There was no answer to that, either, because of his balky right knee.
Can he lead a team back in the face of adversity when the stakes are highest? He’s done it before, but he didn’t get to prove it after his first snap in his final game with Lake Travis ended with his knee buckling, a loose football being returned for a touchdown and the training staff helping him off the field and into the locker room.
So, physically, there wasn’t much evidence to support any comparisons to the most prolific touchdown-producer the Big Ten has ever seen. But as for the rest of his makeup, Baldwin certainly passed the Barrett test.
“Gosh, he is such an amazing player and young man, he really is,” Lake Travis coach Hank Carter said. “Obviously, I hate it most for him that he didn’t get a chance to play in a state championship game for more than one play.
“I think it’s a testament to what kind of kid he is that he fought his tail off all week to be able to come out here and have a chance to play, and it just didn’t work out.”
Baldwin did all he could to help his team out, spending extra time in the training room all week, getting fitted for a new knee brace and getting back on the practice field right away to try to be ready for a shot at a state title. All the while, he still had to squeeze in a couple of extra exams in order to graduate early so he could enroll next month at Ohio State.
Does that work ethic sound like somebody else the Buckeyes know?
How about praising his backup for handling the pressure after being thrust into one of the toughest spots imaginable, calling him a player with the chance to be the “best quarterback to come through Lake Travis,” a program that churns out FBS passers like clockwork? Refusing to accept any sympathy for an injury? Going straight to the press conference to represent his team instead of hiding after getting hurt?
That’s leadership DNA. Ohio State has grown used to it, and with one Texas native on the way out after playing in this same stadium next week, it’s going to love the one that’s coming in to try to help replace him.
“I came in prepared to play, I prepared all week to play,” Baldwin said. “Didn’t expect that at all, just a bummer that happened.
“I guess playing the game, your body just goes into a completely different mode.”
Now it has some time to heal.
But the rest of his makeup as a quarterback can’t be questioned at all.