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Unfinished business: How Garrett Wilson and Matthew Baldwin found their way to Ohio State

Former Lake Travis High School wide receiver Garrett Wilson catches a pass for the Cavaliers. Wilson is now a freshman wide receiver at Ohio State. Credit: Courtesy of Shelia Parodi

In his first season as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, Ryan Day led the Buckeyes to the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 1 total offense in the Big Ten. The majority of this success came from the ground game, which averaged 243.2 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry.

Even with the success, running quarterback J.T. Barrett and the combination of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, this was not the offense Day wanted to run. It was also not the offense he pitched to five-star wide receiver Garrett Wilson when he visited Austin, Texas.

Day told Wilson he envisioned an Ohio State offense that utilizes its passing game a lot more, one that would use a receiver like Wilson immediately upon arrival.

“Coach Day knew what I wanted in a school, and he pitched that to me,” Wilson said. “He wasn’t lying about it.”

With quarterback Dwayne Haskins at the helm, Ohio State held the No. 2 pass offense in the country, averaging 364.3 yards per game while throwing 51 touchdown passes, 23 more than any other team in the Big Ten.

“Seeing it actually happen, you know, that was even more important,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to see it happen, and once it did, I was excited to play in a couple of years.”

This kind of passing game was what Wilson was used to at Lake Travis High School. It is the passing game in which his quarterback, Matthew Baldwin, thrived.

The stories of Wilson and Baldwin could not be more different.

Lake Travis head coach Hank Carter remembers the first time he ever saw Wilson play. The wide receiver was in sixth grade in a seven-on-seven game.

“[Wilson] caught a touchdown pass and went up and dunked it over the goalpost on our practice field,” Carter said. “To say that I was surprised to see a sixth grader do that would be an understatement.”

To many, Wilson was the future college star, showcasing athleticism, either on the football field or the basketball court, and an ability that allowed him to choose where his future would take him.

Baldwin, on the other hand, had to wait his turn.

While Wilson started at wide receiver during his sophomore season with the Cavaliers, Baldwin sat behind Charlie Brewer, the future starting quarterback at Baylor, waiting until his senior season, his only season as a starting quarterback.

“No one really knew him,” Thomas Jones, community sports editor at the Austin American Statesman, said. “He wasn’t on anyone’s recruiting radar.”

Baldwin came into his senior season with one Division I offer: Colorado State, which he committed to on July 14, 2017.

But as he went through his senior season, completing 71.8 percent of his passes for 3,842 yards with 44 touchdowns and six interceptions, Baldwin showcased a pure passing ability that interested Day and Ohio State, as well as many other programs around the country, Carter said.

To the Lake Travis head coach, who had known and coached Baldwin since third grade, this was not something he was surprised by.

“Matthew can make every throw,” Carter said. “Matthew Baldwin has an NFL arm right now. There are guys in the NFL that don’t throw it any better than Matthew.”

Wilson said Baldwin was everything he wanted in a quarterback, with a “cannon” for an arm and a knowledge of the responsibilities for each member of the offense.

Baldwin also took advantage of Wilson’s athleticism. If he saw Wilson was in single coverage during his junior season, Baldwin would target Wilson every time, Jones said.

“I think that obviously Garrett loves the fact that Matthew will be able to put the ball wherever he wanted to and could stretch the field to him,” Carter said.

With Baldwin at quarterback during the 2017 season, Wilson recorded 96 catches for 1,764 yards, catching a career-high 26 of Baldwin’s 44 touchdown passes.

“He’s the most talented receiver I have ever seen,” Carter said. “I’ve never seen a high school player with the catch radius.”

Off the football field, Carter said Wilson and Baldwin were very close, loved being together and had great respect for what each could do on the field.

Wilson said, with Baldwin, he knew what he was getting himself into.

“I’ve been around him for the last five, six years, and he’s such a hard worker, such a good person. He’s someone I want to be like,” Wilson said. “I feel like if I hang around people like that, that’s who I’m gonna be. I love that kid.”

Even though Lake Travis thrived with Baldwin and Wilson in the offense, finishing with eight wins in 10 games heading into the playoffs, Jones never thought their relationship would continue after the quarterback’s senior season.

“I think everyone knew that Garrett might end up at Ohio State because that’s his family’s roots, but Matthew going to Ohio State …. It stunned a lot of people,” Jones said. “He doesn’t have any ties to Ohio State, and there’s really not an Ohio State pipeline to Lake Travis necessarily.”

But both had a single event that helped drive them to the same college.

After Lake Travis cruised through the 2017 playoffs, beating opponents by an average of 22.6 points, the Cavaliers met Allen High School in the 6A State Championship game.

However, Baldwin got hurt in the title game, his knee buckling as he dropped back for a pass on the first play of the game. Lake Travis lost the title game to Allen 35-33.

“I think there is an understanding that they left a lot on the table,” Jones said. “I think they knew they could win a state championship, and that’s got to be driving them a little bit, knowing they were that close and knowing, really, an injury kept them from winning state together.”

For Wilson, redemption for a group he feels should have won a state title with is what helped him pick Ohio State, to get another shot at a championship with Baldwin.

“I feel like we didn’t end the way we wanted to in high school,” Wilson said. “We ended up losing the state game, and it’s just great to come back up here and get the chance to work with him again and finish the way we want to.”

Wilson had an idea from Baldwin of what life at Ohio State would be like.

During the wide receiver’s senior season at Lake Travis, he said he talked to his quarterback at least twice per week, in which Baldwin gave him advice about what to expect at the collegiate level.

And after watching wide receivers, such as Clemson’s Justyn Ross, thrive in their freshmen season with major programs, Wilson has the same expectation for himself.

And he seems to know what it takes to get there.

“It takes the right situation, but the other important things to it is just you take in every detail that you get. You take coaching well, and you have a good grasp on the playbook. That’s probably the main thing,” Wilson said. “If you know the plays, you put yourself in the best position to play. Learning the playbook probably gives you the best chance to play.”

Carter said his former receiver has the skill to succeed right away, complimenting his timing, ball skills, catch radius and ability to make people miss after the catch.

Wilson’s competitive spirit is one that rivals Baker Mayfield, the Heisman quarterback and No. 1 pick for the Cleveland Browns who went to Lake Travis until 2013, the Lake Travis head coach said.  

He said Wilson is ready to learn and improve, bringing the confidence he had from Texas to Ohio.

“The moment won’t be too big for him,” Carter said. “He will rise to the occasion, and I would imagine that he will immediately, he will add value to the wide receiver room and be an asset to the offense Day One.”

When Day pictured what he wanted his offense to look like during his first season recruiting as the offensive coordinator, he wanted a receiver like Wilson. He wanted a quarterback like Baldwin.

Now, as Day steps up to the head coach position, he has both.

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