Undrafted Seahawks rookie Doug Baldwin went from Pensacola, Fla., to Stanford on a chance and has ended up being one of the top rookie receivers in the NFL.
RENTON — The undrafted receiver who arrived at Seattle’s training camp with three days’ worth of clothes has caught more passes than all but three rookies in the NFL.
That doesn’t even hint at just how unlikely Doug Baldwin’s journey has been from a talent-rich portion of the Florida panhandle to the NFL. It’s a story that involves a former NFL coach whose daughter attended the same high school as Baldwin, a newspaper publisher whose son worked in Stanford’s football program and a whippet-quick receiver who caught their attention eight years ago.
As surprising as it is that Baldwin leads Seattle with 12 receptions, it’s his route to Stanford that’s truly incredible.
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“It’s really unbelievable,” Baldwin said.
The story starts with Kay Stephenson, the former NFL quarterbacks coach who succeeded Chuck Knox as the Bills head coach in 1983. Stephenson lives in Pensacola, Fla., and his daughter, Kasey, attended Gulf Breeze High School, whose football team had a young receiver that caught his eye.
“Doug had that certain, innate receiver ability,” Stephenson said.
There’s more than just height and speed to the position. There’s hand-eye coordination and body control.
“Doug had all of that,” Stephenson said.
He certainly did, thought Kevin Doyle, a newspaper publisher in Pensacola who has become good friends with Stephenson. Doyle has a football pedigree himself, having covered the NFL as a reporter, and his son, Matt, worked in Stanford’s football office. Doyle sat alongside Stephenson for one of Baldwin’s games, and felt compelled to call his son, saying he should look into this dynamo wide receiver who just so happened to have an impeccable academic portfolio.
Pensacola is a fertile ground for football talent. There are 11 players in the NFL now who come from one of the area’s high schools, but Baldwin wasn’t highly sought after by colleges. If the Cardinal hadn’t come calling, the next most likely landing spot was Louisiana-Lafayette.
It wasn’t until Baldwin’s junior year that he learned exactly how Stanford’s coaches found out about him. It wasn’t until the day before last season’s Orange Bowl that Baldwin met Kevin Doyle for the first time. It was in the lobby at the hotel, and Baldwin gave the man a hug.
Baldwin played four seasons with the Cardinal, appeared in 44 games and caught nine touchdowns his senior season. There were 28 receivers that were chosen in the draft, but Baldwin was not one of them.
He may have been underestimated, but he was not unwanted. He was as coveted an undrafted rookie free agent as there was in the league, someone the Seahawks felt fortunate to sign. Bobby Engram with speed, that was the comparison that was cited.
“We had really high hopes for him exactly in the role that we’re playing him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a really natural football player. Things come easy to him.”
Well, easy isn’t exactly the right word to describe carving out a niche as a 5-foot-10 slot receiver in this league. But through four games, Baldwin has shown an ability to not only produce, but to weather the punishment that comes his way.
“I think you have to have a bit of an anger-management issue, to be honest with you,” Baldwin said. “Usually, slot guys are a lot smaller and quicker, but at the same time you have to go in there and block linebackers and safeties, and so you have to be aggressive.”
Baldwin has that fire. He has for years, actually. Seahawks rookie cornerback Richard Sherman was a roommate at Stanford. In fact, he jokingly calls Baldwin his son, and he’s seen the edge that Baldwin brings to the game.
“He has been kind of a guy that has been looked over his whole career,” Sherman said. “I think it has put a little fuel in him.”
Well, to be fair, Baldwin wasn’t entirely overlooked. There was a former NFL coach and a newspaper publisher who saw his potential back in Florida, and while he arrived at training camp with minimal luggage, the way he’s played through the first four games shows he’s not going to be leaving Seattle any time soon.
• S Kam Chancellor did not practice Wednesday because of the thigh bruise that forced him to miss Sunday’s game against Atlanta. Carroll said he hopes Chancellor will be available for Sunday’s game against the Giants.
• TE Zach Miller (knee) and WR Mike Williams (concussion) also missed practice, but the Seahawks still hold out hope they will be back. LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring) and DL Anthony Hargrove (hamstring) sat out practice.
• CB Byron Maxwell (ankle) returned to practice after missing the last three games.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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