Dec. 28, 2010
MIAMI SHORES, Fla. - When a series of events conspired to shake Doug Baldwin's enthusiasm for the game of football, he came to life-changing realization.
"I was asking `why,'" he said. "I should have been asking `how.'"
There may not be a more roundabout path to the Orange Bowl than the one traveled by the Stanford receiver.
After a sterling sophomore season in which he caught 23 passes, Baldwin caught only four passes as a junior. Now, as a senior, he has 56. Those numbers would make greater sense if Baldwin had suffered a catastrophic injury in 2009, but that didn't happen. Instead, a trying year left him with a choice - stay or go.
The fact that Baldwin remained is a vital reason why Stanford carries an 11-1 record and has earned a Jan. 3 BCS bowl matchup with Virginia Tech. With fellow receivers Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu sidelined at times with injuries during the season, Baldwin was the one constant producer at the position.
He not only led the team in receptions, but scored nine touchdowns and gained 824 yards. The transformation is more remarkable when considering how far Baldwin had come in a single year.
"I remember coming home from practice one night and going back to my dorm," he said. "The situation with football was so negative."
Baldwin was on the verge of quitting the game.
"What can I do to still go to school and not play football?" he asked his mother, Cindy, 2,000 miles away in Pensacola, Fla.
A turn of events that stemmed from a combination of injuries and criticism had drawn Baldwin to this point.
"A lot of people don't understand the intense pressure of this lifestyle," Baldwin said. "Every athlete that goes through adversity has to deal with it. Every athlete goes through it."
Confidence was not the issue. Coping was.
"My mental state was just in shambles," he said earlier this season. "I think I had more of a negative attitude than I needed to have. You never want to have a negative attitude, but my mental state was not all there."
On Tuesday, Baldwin said, "I had a hard time figuring out what I was doing wrong."
With prayer and much support from his family - including Cindy and his father, Doug Sr., a police officer -- and teammates such as Austin Yancy and Richard Sherman, Baldwin realized the question should be turned back toward himself.
"Control what you can control," was the message. "And let go of the rest."
The competitiveness was never in question, and that continues to drive Baldwin this week as he intends to write the perfect ending to his Stanford career, in front of family and friends from his home state.
But regardless of the outcome, the season has already been a success - an intensely personal one. That has been evident weeks ago when he was asked what this season has meant to him.
"Everything, to be honest with you," he said.
An inner belief had been confirmed.
"No matter how bad things may have been," he said, "with my faith in God, things will come out positive in the end."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics