But as the ball sailed 10 yards into the stands at Richland Northeast, South Aiken coach Jeremy West knew something was wrong. Again.
As it turned out, Baldwin had broken his passing hand earlier in the game. It came on the third play of the first contest of the 2012 season, and it would force him to miss more than half the season. Again.
As a sophomore in 2011, Baldwin played 3 ½ games before he broke his collarbone and missed the remainder of the season.
“I think he was in shock a little bit, because it happened again,” West said. “But he’s mature for his age and he’s got good family support. Knowing he had a chance coming back, that gave him some hope. If it had been another season-ending injury, then I don’t know how he could handle it.”
At 6-foot-5, 232 pounds, Baldwin looks like a quarterback. With Baldwin’s size and goatee, West said the senior looks like a college sophomore.
Then there’s his arm. Baldwin can throw it almost 70 yards, with his longest in a game soaring for more than 50 yards.
“He’s got an arm that comes around once in a lifetime,” West said. “I’d just like to see it more.”
Baldwin is completely healthy now. He said he’s not wasting time thinking about another injury happening, or about his collegiate future.
Big-time colleges such as Clemson, Louisiana State and Tennessee are interested in him, and he’s received a grayshirt offer from South Carolina. Baldwin has also played well in 7-on-7s, but more game action might be needed to add more scholarship offers.
Not that Baldwin’s return is just about earning scholarships.
“I’m not playing for that,” Baldwin said. “I’m playing for the team, and everything else will fall into place.”
Baldwin comes from an athletic family. His mom is 5-foot-11, he said. His dad is 6-2, and was a linebacker/defensive end at Delaware. His brothers also played on the line, with both attending South Aiken.
Baldwin’s father, Ken, said the family was trying to stay positive during the injuries.
Though Baldwin internalized his feelings, Ken Baldwin knew his son was probably bothered more than he let on. But from the outside, Baldwin kept looking forward.
“We encouraged him to not give up,” Baldwin’s father said. “And he never expressed, ‘I’ve had enough.’ It was, ‘I can’t wait to get back.’ ”
Baldwin returned from his broken hand against Dutch Fork in the Thoroughbreds’ seventh game. He was a little rusty, but Baldwin got better as South Aiken went on to beat Lexington and Aiken in two of its last four games.
The slinger got his strong arm in part by playing baseball when he was young, and by middle school Baldwin’s future was set at quarterback. In seventh grade, the starting running back, former South Aiken teammate DeAndre Schoultz, got hurt. The starting quarterback moved to running back to fill the empty spot. That left the quarterback position open for Baldwin.
Baldwin’s arm has always been impressive, going back to when he was South Aiken’s ball boy.
Today, with Baldwin behind center, South Aiken has a quarterback who can deliver the deep ball, forcing defensive backs to stay with the Thoroughbreds’ receivers.
In some high school offenses, the passing game is more of a glorified run, with short passes and screens. They do work, but at South Aiken, with Baldwin, defenses are less likely to stuff the box.
It makes a difference: the past two seasons, when Baldwin starts and finishes a game, the Thoroughbreds have gone 4-4. Otherwise, South Aiken is 0-14.
This season, Baldwin and the Thoroughbreds are hoping for a different story.
West wants Baldwin to shine so he can help the team, improve his collegiate prospects and disprove any questions about Baldwin’s toughness.
“I don’t want anyone thinking he’s not tough,” West said. “The things that have happened ... you see him play, he puts his shoulder down when he runs, he’ll stay in the pocket to throw and take a shot, so it’s not he’s not tough. It’s just freak accidents.”
In a perfect world, Baldwin stays healthy and reaches his goal for 2,000-plus yards, throwing passes to Jordan Scott, Matt Albertson, Rasool Clemons, Will Holbrook and others.
“I hope things turn around for him. It would be good for all of us,” West said. “His luck’s got to change sooner or later.”