The first year of college creates indelible memories for teenagers across the country. For Marcus Baugh, the recollections were for all the wrong reasons.
Before his freshman season even began, Baugh was cited for underage drinking. The July incident put the thought of transferring into the Southern California native’s mind and squarely in head coach Urban Meyer’s crosshairs, ultimately resulting in being redshirted.
A suspect attitude and poor work ethic also contributed to Baugh’s stay on the coaches “no values” list, he said. But something clicked during preparation for the Orange Bowl. After months of practice and rebuilding his standing on the team, Baugh had his black stripe removed thanks to a recommendation by teammate Ryan Shazier.
“That felt good,” Baugh said.
But it wouldn’t last. In January, there was another alcohol-related incident. This time Baugh’s status on the team was in serious jeopardy. Trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose. In an instant, all the goodwill Baugh accumulated was reduced to rubble.
“I felt like I earned [the coaches trust] back, and then I lost it all again. It was rough,” Baugh said. “It definitely opened my eyes. I’m out of chances. I have to do this. After my second incident, I thought I was gone.”
Instead, he was handed an indefinite suspension and removed from team activities. Baugh gave himself another suspension – no more going out. He concentrated on academics and football, the two pillars that brought him 2,211 miles to Ohio State.
Grades weren’t an issue when spring practice began. By then, Baugh was focused on showcasing the skills that earned him dozens of scholarship offers, among them Ohio State, Florida, UCLA, Miami, Tennessee and Ole Miss. Those overtures came after he recorded over 1,200 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons at J.W. North High School.
Baugh’s 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame and accompanying speed and pass-catching ability makes him the prototypical Urban Meyer tight end. Flashes of the versatility Meyer craves was exhibited throughout the spring. On student appreciation day, Baugh had two touchdowns and more than 100 receiving yards.
“I’m just trying to show coach I can play hard,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t play so hard. I’m just trying to show him what I can do now, how much I bring to the table.”
“I’m just doing what they want me to do. I’m just trying to show that I am not a bad person.”– Marcus Baugh
The coaches are aware of everything Baugh brings. But a series of good practices don’t act as a miracle maker. When Meyer found out Baugh spoke to reporters, he was less than pleased. At Ohio State, you earn the right to talk to the media and Baugh hasn’t earned that right, Meyer said.
Tight ends coach Tim Hinton was Baugh’s lifeline when he hit rock bottom. Hinton offered Baugh encouragement and urged him to improve himself on and off the field. How one reacts to adversity fully forms their character.
“He was my biggest supporter,” Baugh said.
Said Hinton: “He certainly learned a lot of adult lessons. The expectations at Ohio State and the fan base and the administration are very high. The nice thing is that Marcus has a clear understanding that there are expectations in this program. He knows what’s expected of him. He knows how to handle his life. Every day we work to improve who he is as a person and make sure that he lives up to the expectations at Ohio State.”
In July, there wasn’t much communication between Baugh and Meyer. Baugh got the message, though, when he was suspended and lost in grant-in-aid. After the second incident, Meyer was more involved.
“Marcus had some issues,” he said last week. “He’s one foot in, one foot out right now. His effort has been really good. He’s trying to do things the right way. But to say he’s out of the woods – no.”
An injury to Jeff Heuerman gave Baugh added reps, even snaps with the first-team offense. He took the opportunity to highlight mismatches against the defense and run open down the middle of the field. When most improved players are talked about, Baugh’s name shoots near the top.
But Heuerman and Nick Vannett will factor into the offensive game plan during the season, leaving Baugh wanting more. His status is of no worry to himself. Baugh chooses to spend his time improving his blocking and understanding of the playbook.
“They’ve all helped me,” Baugh said. “We came together as a unit this spring. We’re functioning at a high level, pushing each other to go harder and fix mistakes.
“I feel good. Maybe I can get some playing time this season. But that’s all up to [Coach Meyer]. I’m just out here doing what I can do. I’m happy with whatever I get. I just want to help the team out in any way.”
Blocking at the point of attack will come with experience, which breeds consistency. Baugh’s determined to make all of it part of his strengths. There are chances to develop every day and letting them pass by can be the difference in a career not taking off.
When Heuerman departs after 2014, Baugh will be waiting to break out. Of course, staying out of trouble will dictate his status.
“I’m just doing what they want me to do,” Baugh said. “I’m just trying to show that I am not a bad person.”