By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Doug Baldwin parlayed his only Division I scholarship offer into a successful college career at Stanford. And when leading the Cardinal in receiving as a senior wasn’t enough for a single NFL team to bother drafting him, he didn’t just win a roster spot as an undrafted free agent, he managed to lead the Seattle Seahawks in receptions and receiving yards as a rookie.
Yet this past offseason, Baldwin had to face what might have been the toughest challenge of his football-playing life.
He had to chill out.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well not for Baldwin. Not for a player who has spent so long busting his butt to prove he’s good enough that he forgot how to stop and catch his breath. And that desire to prove his doubters wrong, that constant belief that somebody is coming along to take this job, that drove Baldwin to work nonstop following his breakout rookie season. The results were hardly what he was hoping for, however.
Instead of coming to training camp in 2012 in the best shape of his life, he showed up with a body that was already starting to break down. A hamstring injury limited him for much of training camp, which meant a lack of practice reps, a lack of time to build a rapport with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, and as a result Baldwin’s numbers fell off significantly in year two.
So this past offseason, the player teammates jokingly call Angry Doug Baldwin (well, maybe they’re only partly joking), realized he had to relax.
“My body is always in a fight or flight state of mind, for whatever reason that’s just how my body is,” said Baldwin, who led Seahawks with 51 catches for 788 yards as a rookie, then saw those numbers drop to 29 catches for 366 yards in 2012. “So for me to actually take time off, relax, get my mind away from football and just calm down was vitally important for my body just to be healthy and for me to come in here in camp and have my body perform to the best of my abilities.
“That was extremely difficult. I don’t like sitting down. I have the undrafted free agent mindset where if I relax, if I don’t work, somebody’s going to catch up with me and ultimately steal my job. So for me to sit down and tell myself I couldn’t do anything, it killed me.”
It killed Baldwin to take a forced break, but veteran teammates like Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant told him it was necessary, and he’s glad they did. With fresh legs, Baldwin looks like he’s ready to recapture his 2011 form, something that would have been big for Seattle under any circumstances, but is especially important with receiver Percy Harvin now expected to miss much of the season.
“Doug looks tremendous out here,” Wilson said. “He can play any position. He can play X, he can play Z, he can play our slot guy obviously. He has so much quickness, so much ability to run by a guy, but also he has the ability to make a guy miss, you know, juke them so bad that they fall down. So to have a guy like that, have a guy who understands the game, can read coverages great, a guy who loves the game, a guy who loves to go in there and block somebody too. He’s an A-plus player and we love to have him.”
Yet even if Baldwin bounces back from a down year, something he’s fully expecting to do, and even if he continues to make teams look bad for passing on him over the course of seven rounds of the draft, he’ll never lose that sizeable chip on his shoulder. And really, who can blame him considering how unlikely a route he took from Pensacola, Fla. to the NFL.
Back in 2011, Baldwin gave a simple explanation for how he ended up at Stanford: “They were the only D-I school that recruited me. The only one.”
But how the Cardinal discovered Baldwin is rather an unlikely story. Had it not been for a former NFL coach and a newspaper publisher, Baldwin’s talents may have never been noticed.
But back when Baldwin was a little-known receiver at Gulf Breeze High School, Kevin Doyle, a former sports writer who became the publisher of the Pensacola News Journal, was at a game along with friend and former Buffalo Bills head coach Kay Stephenson, whose daughter went to the school. Both were impressed with Baldwin, so Doyle called his son Matt, who happened to be Stanford’s director of football operations, and that led to Baldwin making the cross-country journey to the only D-I school that wanted him.
Add to that the fact that Baldwin once again felt unappreciated after his college career when every team in the league ignored him on draft weekend, including a San Francisco 49ers squad that had just hired his college coach, Jim Harbaugh.
“Without a doubt, that’s never going to change,” Baldwin said of the chip on his shoulder. “The fact that 32 teams in the league told me I wasn’t good enough to get drafted, that still resonates with me wherever I go, whether it’s on the practice field, in the meeting rooms or on the game field, I carry that chip with me everywhere I go.”
It’s who Baldwin is now, and it’s who he has been throughout his career.
“He hasn’t changed much,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, who played with Baldwin at Stanford. “That’s the edge he plays with, that’s what makes him intense, that’s what makes him a hell of a ball player.”
So whether Angry Doug Baldwin is actually angry or just passionate, as he contends — “I wouldn’t say angry, I’d just say I’m passionate. Highly competitive, very passionate about what I do. It may come across as though I’m angry sometimes” —don’t look for him to change anytime soon.
Baldwin does, however, admit that turning off that angry/passionate side of him for at least a little while was the best thing he could have done for his career.
“I pushed and stressed myself too much, and ultimately that’s what led to the injuries,” he said. “My body wasn’t able to recover and heal as fast as I would have liked it to, and I think it’s because I put so much stress on myself.”
The offseason is over now, however, so Angry Doug Baldwin is back, which should mean good things for the Seahawks in 2013.
“I don’t know why he’s so angry,” said receiver Golden Tate. “But I like him angry, because he’s angry at the right time — on the field.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.