Darryl Baldwin came to Ohio State as a coveted defensive end. Michigan offered a scholarship, so did Notre Dame, Michigan State and Penn State. But he chose to stay in state and go to the flagship university.
Four years later, he’s spent his entire career as a backup and half of it on the offensive line. Neither of those situations was expected in 2010. Strange things happen during the course of college football careers. In Baldwin’s case, a coaching change sparked his journey from defense to offense.
“They thought I had more potential on that side of the ball,” he said. “Initially, I didn’t know how I felt about it. I’d never played [offensive line] before. Defense was all I knew. Now, I’m a lot more comfortable. It took me a little while, but I’m really comfortable.”
When your history of playing offensive line is limited to being a pass-catching tight end in high school, lining up across from John Simon can be a wee bit intimidating. In 2012, that event unfolded during practice to which Baldwin recalled being overwhelmed.
“I was like, 'wow, this guy's one of the best.' I just had to do my best to stay in front of him. It'd be really excited to go against him now.”
The fifth-year senior has come a long way. Baldwin’s currently penciled in as the starting right tackle, a position vacated by Taylor Decker’s move to the left side. Baldwin is competing with redshirt freshman Evan Lisle for the starting job. They’re part of a remade offensive line intent on not becoming a liability.
For two seasons, the line has become the strength of an offense that’s putting up video game numbers. Points, yards and highlights come on seemingly every play. Four departing seniors helped create the running lanes for Carlos Hyde and time to throw for Braxton Miller.
“We've had guys rotating in, just trying to see who the starters will be,” Baldwin said. “We’re still not sure yet. But we have a good competition going on. Everyone’s doing a great job. Four new guys are going to have to step in, along with Taylor Decker. We’re going to have to go where they left off. I’m very confident.”
Ed Warinner shares that same sentiment. He called for Baldwin to join his unit two years ago and has observed his steady progression up the depth chart. If Jack Mewhort or Decker had suffered an injury last season, Baldwin would have been the next man up, according to Warinner. And he would’ve been comfortable with that move.
There’s no roadblock impeding Baldwin now.
Said Warinner: “It’s his turn to go.”
Making it to this point is an accomplishment itself. Getting lost in the position change shuffle occurs with regularity in college football. It’s a way for coaching staffs to make sure there are enough bodies, but a player could have zero realistic shot at appearing in a game.
Baldwin underwent those fears during the spring of 2012. In hindsight, he should have understood coaches saw enough value in him that one of their first acts was changing his position. But as your career flashes before your eyes, thinking clearly is on the backburner.
“I wasn’t really getting what I needed to do,” Baldwin recalled. “Now I don't have to worry about that at all. I just have to take care of what I need to do.
“It’s my third year on offense. I’m finally out there with the first unit getting a lot of reps. It’s pretty exciting, actually. I haven’t done it since high school, getting all these reps. I’m really excited for the opportunity I have, really thankful. I just have to make the most of it.”
Ironically, Baldwin now lines up across from Noah Spence and a defensive line that features Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt – three players’ recruitment that set in motion Baldwin’s exile from the defense.
But that feeling of being overwhelming is nonexistent. Baldwin takes his place on the offensive line and does his best to open holes, protect the quarterback and keep Spence and Co. at bay.
An attitude of toughness, aggression and efficiency floods the Ohio State locker room. When the offensive line enters the picture, it’s ratcheted up another notch. They’re programmed by Warinner to succeed and always push forward with maximum effort.
“Our culture is very high effort. We’ve really taken that to heart,” Baldwin said. We’re all high character guys. We just need to be very consistent. That’s what we need to be as an offensive line – develop a consistency and really play well together.
“I know what to expect. I know what I need to do. I just need to be the best I can be. I don’t need to do anything more than that.”