The name “Collin Hill” probably doesn’t register outside Fort Collins, Colo.
Step into a sports bar in Tuscaloosa, Tallahassee, or Timbuktu, and Dwayne Haskins is a known commodity.
Hill, Colorado State’s quarterback, and Ohio State’s Haskins are in different stratospheres. So when Ryan Day flew to Austin one year ago to offer Matthew Baldwin a scholarship, the then-Colorado State commitment quickly flipped to the Buckeyes.
In a few months, Baldwin, an Ohio State freshman, could become a college football luminary. If Haskins goes pro, which is a near certainty, Baldwin and redshirt freshman Tate Martell will enter the spring as OSU’s top two quarterbacks. Unless, of course, Justin Fields transfers to spoil the party. But on the current roster, there’s only one quarterback who was handpicked by the soon-to-be head coach.
“Ryan Day did a heck of a job,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re sitting there getting ready to play Penn State [in 2017], and he’s coming up to me saying, ‘Hey, let’s watch this kid from Lake Travis.’ I’m ready to pass out, saying it’s 10:30 at night, I’ve got third-down-and-six in my mind, and we’re trying to watch another quarterback? But that’s the way it is. You’re squeezing a recruiting process into a small time frame.”
The Buckeyes had a long-standing commitment from four-star quarterback Emory Jones until both sides agreed to move on. Day knew where to turn: Lake Travis, the same high school that produced Baker Mayfield, Todd Reesing, Garrett Gilbert, Michael Brewer, and Charlie Brewer — six Division I quarterbacks in a dozen years.
Baldwin, who only started for one season, was lightly regarded because of his inexperience. But the three-star recruit completed 71.8 percent of his passes for 3,842 yards, 44 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. He led Lake Travis to the state championship game, where he suffered a torn ACL on the first play of the game.
Fast-forward 12 months, and the knee is 100 percent. After acclimating to college life and rehabilitating his right knee, Baldwin is ready to showcase his skills in a high-profile competition.
“I’m looking forward to competing for the job,” he said. “Whatever I can do to help the team win is really the goal. If that’s me and Tate both playing, or whatever it is. We try and stay focused on what our team is thinking and what our coaches are thinking.”
Martell’s future is perpetually cloudy, with rampant rumors about transferring. They’ve only intensified in recent weeks with news spreading about Fields. Multiple sources told The Blade that Martell reported one day late to fall camp in July and was talked out of transferring by Meyer and Day.
On Sunday, with sunshine bathing the Rose Bowl, Martell was surrounded by reporters when he issued a decree that he would be in Columbus for spring practice and be the starting quarterback in 2019.
However, it’s fair to consider Baldwin the natural favorite if the competition is limited to two. Despite Martell’s emergence in the same season Haskins was a Heisman Trophy finalist, no one’s status diminished more than Martell’s when Meyer announced his retirement. Day’s quarterback philosophy relies heavily on pocket passers, not dual-threat players.
Martell completed 23 of 28 attempts for 269 yards and one touchdown, rushing for 128 yards — 5.8 yards per carry — and two touchdowns.
“Tate is an electric guy,” Baldwin said.
It didn’t take long for Baldwin’s teammates to announce that the Texan was anything but a consolation prize. It started in the summer and continued on Sundays in the fall when underclassmen have their own practice.
“He can absolutely sling it,” senior wide receiver Parris Campbell said. “He’s going to be elite. He’s not a Plan B at all.
“He doesn’t talk a lot, but you see just in the way he carries himself, you can tell he looks like he’s a natural leader. Looks like a natural winner. He has the talent, and the way he throws the ball is incredible.”
In the interim, the 6-foot-3 Baldwin bulked up to 205 pounds, 20 pounds heavier than his high school playing weight. The 2018 season served as an advanced placement course in quarterbacking, with Day and Haskins serving as the professors.
It was Haskins who was assigned as Baldwin’s “big brother,” playing the role of mentor and removing his black stripe. The No. 1 lesson Baldwin learned from observing the record-setting quarterback was the importance of formulating relationships with wide receivers and how it translates to chemistry on the field.
“He’s just been awesome, teaching me how to perform like a pro and how to act like a pro on and off the field.” said Baldwin, who admitted he progressed more mentally than physically this season.
“When you have an injury and you can’t play as much on the field, you have to get better mentally or you’ll get left behind. We had a really complex offense at Lake Travis. But the step up to college is so big. There’s so much more to worry about in college — protections, what the receivers are doing, the defense. You can’t be tentative and second-guess yourself. You just have to go.”
When Ohio State starts its spring semester on Jan. 7, five-star wide receiver Garrett Wilson, a fellow Lake Travis product, will be on campus. Asked how excited he is about Wilson’s arrival, Baldwin flashed a wide smile and said, “10 out of 10. I just can’t wait. We have a great connection.” The Baldwin-Wilson tandem could be the new Cardale Jones-Michael Thomas link.
If Baldwin ascends under Day’s tutelage, quarterback and head coach won’t have to worry about identifying themselves. They’ll be known in college football’s most remote outposts.
“He’s been great. Incredible coach, incredible guy,” Baldwin said. “He’s so meticulous about what he does on the field. But when it’s time to teach us lessons about life, he can do that too. Very thankful for him.”