- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Baker Mayfield was passed up by countless college recruiters during his senior year of high school. Now the true freshman walk-on likely will be a Big 12 starting quarterback.
His precipitous rise at Texas Tech became perhaps the most surprising fall camp storyline in the league this month. Mayfield and true freshman Davis Webb split snaps in practice while expected starter Michael Brewer is sidelined with a back injury.
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has called Brewer’s injury a “day-to-day” issue, but the starting quarterback for Tech’s season opener at SMU on Thursday is expected to be the walk-on.
In a few short weeks Mayfield has gone from unheralded newcomer to Tech’s first freshman starting quarterback in nearly 30 years. Even his own high school coach never could have seen that coming.
“I don’t know what I expected, to be honest,” Lake Travis High School coach Hank Carter said Monday. “But Baker is a player. He’s a competitor. Baker has gotten an opportunity here, and that’s what it’s all about. He has a chance here to make the most of it, and it sounds like that’s what he’s doing.”
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound freshman starred at powerhouse Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, and had a 25-2 record in his two season as a starter. He threw for 6,255 yards and 67 touchdowns in two years, but that wasn’t enough to warrant serious attention from recruiters.
In fact, Carter summed up the process Mayfield endured to end up at Texas Tech with two words: bad luck.
He received offers from Washington State after his junior year, but before he could visit the Cougars accepted a commitment from another quarterback. Same thing happened with Rice.
“The rest of that spring, he had probably 20 to 25 big-time Division I programs looking at him and coming back to look again,” Carter said. “For whatever reason, the big guys just didn’t pull the trigger after that.”
Mayfield had offers from FAU and New Mexico but put all his hopes on landing an offer from TCU. That never came, and the Frogs ended up signing Temple (Texas) quarterback Zach Allen. So Mayfield looked into his options as a walk-on.
The decision, Carter said, came down to Texas Tech or Texas. He chose the Red Raiders because of his relationship with Eric Morris, who left Washington State to join Kingsbury’s staff, and the fact that Tech’s offense better resembled what he ran at Lake Travis.
“Even though I love those guys on the Tech coaching staff, I wasn’t real fired up that he was going to a place where there was going to be a redshirt sophomore as the probable starter and another scholarship kid in the same class as Baker,” Carter said.
Webb, a graduate of Prosper (Texas) High, also had the advantage of enrolling early and participating in spring practices. Tech’s post-spring depth chart listed Brewer “or” Webb as the starter.
But Mayfield made a strong push. Being quarterback No. 1 at Lake Travis, a school that won five straight state championships from 2007 to 2011, gave him a proper education in handling expectations and pressure.
“I think it’s a pretty neat story. I hope Baker goes in there and he’s able to show and give them confidence that he can get it done,” Carter said. “We have all the confidence in the world in him. He’s a great kid, such a smart and tough competitor. That would be the thing I’d say about Baker. He welcomes the underdog role and he always has.”
Mayfield was a late bloomer who stood 5-5 when he began his freshman year, but he had an arm, a knack for leadership and plenty of energy.
“We always said, ‘Man, if that Baker Mayfield ever hits a growing spurt, he’d be something else,’” Carter said. "And then one day he did."
Still, this situation is bittersweet for Carter and his coaching staff. Mayfield’s near-unprecedented opportunity arose only because Brewer, his predecessor and friend at Lake Travis, is injured.
“It’s exciting, but I’ve got two kids in this thing,” Carter said. “I’m disappointed for Michael because he’s worked so hard when he’s been there. College fans can be kind of flavor of the week, but I’m sure the coaching staff would want Michael to get back.
“I think the prospects of looking at two true freshman quarterbacks going to SMU is not something they’d be real fired up about.”
Seeing Mayfield earn the start at SMU is an exciting for Carter, though. His first start will come against another Lake Travis legend: Garrett Gilbert.
His former coach knew Mayfield was going to have a difficult task in beating Webb for the starting job, but he was alwasys confident Mayfield could pull this off and make some history.
“If it’s a matter of who’s going to pick up the system quicker and handle the big stage, he’s been in those situations before,” Carter said. “I know it’s not the same thing, but heck, he doesn’t know any different. He’ll jump in there and compete."
7hBrandon Chatmon and Max Olson