When Baker Mayfield Was a Walk-On - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because it takes moxie to rise from walk-on to franchise quarterback.

By Nick Fouriezos

When sports fans think of Baker Mayfield, they probably think of the preternaturally confident quarterback who planted an Oklahoma Sooners flag on the Ohio State logo in one of the cockiest moves in college football history. Or that he was a Heisman Trophy winner, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and, now, the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Because of all that moxie, it’s hard to remember that Mayfield’s story is closer to that of Rudy, the ultimate underdog, than to a star quarterback like Peyton Manning, who was highly touted from an early age. Mayfield has had to scrap with every inch of his not-quite-6-foot-1 frame to earn respect on the gridiron, a lowly three-star recruit out of the legendary Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, who was a walk-on for not one but two major Division I programs before getting a chance to start.

His scrappy personality goes back to the sixth grade, when a 5-foot-nothing Mayfield told his health class teacher that he planned on being a professional athlete, only to get lectured on the long odds of achieving such a dream. “OK, I’m sorry, but you didn’t argue with anybody else’s dream. Why are you arguing with mine?” young Baker replied, as he recalls in the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show, hosted by OZY’s co-founder and CEO. “I will never forget Coach Woods.”

She knows I’m stubborn as anybody could get, but when it comes to our relationship, I’ve had to let my guard down and open up.

Baker Mayfield on his wife, Emily

The dream never came easy. Despite winning the 4A state championship, Mayfield received only five Division I scholarship offers. Rather than take them, he made a massive bet on himself, choosing to walk on at Texas Tech. He started five games as the team’s first-ever walk-on true freshman starter, but then an injury knocked him out of the lineup.

By the time Mayfield returned, his starting slot had been handed to someone else, and his scholarship was in question — with future superstar Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. So he took another big risk, choosing not only to transfer but to do so with no guarantee that the football team would take him. In fact, the team didn’t even know Mayfield had arrived. He had picked his childhood favorite: the University of Oklahoma. That’s right, the bitter rival of his hometown University of Texas.

“I just loved stirring it up,” Mayfield says.

His willingness to be a contrarian has manifested itself in other areas of his life. Take his relationship with his wife, Emily, with whom he went on a lunch date before his final college football game and married in 2019 at age 24. “She knows I’m stubborn as anybody could get,” Mayfield says, “but when it comes to our relationship, I’ve had to let my guard down and open up.”

It’s telling that Mayfield’s favorite NBA player is Russell Westbrook, another athlete who has shuffled between Oklahoma and Texas and is known for his no-holds-barred, almost blindingly confident approach to his sport. “I just think when he flips the switch on, he’s not trying to make friends whatsoever on the court,” Mayfield says. “He’s an animal when he steps on there and he’s trying to bury you.”

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