By VINCE PELUSO
As a junior, Grand Valley’s Luke Baldwin got a shot to play linebacker for the Mustangs because of an injury to a starter.
Baldwin took off when he got his chance and never left the starting lineup, becoming a starter on both sides of the ball on GV’s back-to-back Northeastern Athletic Conference championship teams.
Now, thanks to seizing his opportunity, Baldwin will get a shot to continue his football career in college when he suits up for Wilmington College next year.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to play (football in college),” he said. “I really wanted to but I was kinda gearing toward wrestling then decided on football because I’ve played it my whole life and love it.”
Baldwin said being able to take advantage of his opportunity and play on two successful teams was a satisfying way to end his career.
“We won the NAC two years in a row and it was exciting,” he said. “I initially didn’t start (as a junior) and the player I played behind got hurt. When he came back Coach decided to play me for the rest of the year because I showed I could play. Then this year I got to play linebacker and start at fullback.”
Baldwin admitted his knowledge of Wilmington was limited at first, but when first-year coach Stacey Hairston called, he decided it was worth taking a look.
“At first I knew nothing about the campus,” he said. “He called me and asked me if I wanted to come play football for him. I told him I wanted to see the campus and when I went there, it felt just like home. It was really nice.
“There’s just a lot of open areas and the places around (the school) just felt like home.”
Baldwin said Hairston and the Fightin’ Quakers, who finished last season 0-10, are looking to build an improved program.
“They just got a new head coach and they’re trying to change stuff,” he said. “They’re trying to put together a better team. I’m going to try and play safety for them this year.”
Baldwin rushed for 254 yards and scored two touchdowns as a senior, but defense is his specialty.
The Mustangs senior recorded 3.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
“I love defense, I’m a defensive kind of guy,” he said.
As a kick returner, Baldwin averaged 13.5 per return and said one of his favorite moments as a player was on a kick return.
“One of my most memorable moments was returning a kick for a touchdown against Jackson-Milton,” he said.
The Mustangs were the hottest team in Ashtabula County in the second half of the season, flipping their 0-5 start into a 5-0 finish to win the NAC and finish 5-5.
Baldwin said that run was a successful experience.
“I loved it, we just started winning and kept winning, it was nice,” he said. “It bonded the team more and we all got along a lot better. After the rough start, we’re the first ever (GV team) to win five games after that start and have a clean sweep through our conference.
“Initially, I don’t think we practiced as hard as we should’ve. We just made mental errors on the field and after that first half of the season we decided we didn’t want to go through that. We were sick of losing and decided to pick up our season and we did.”
Baldwin said two of the most important influences on his football career were coach John Glavickas and assistant coach Clint Nims.
“Coach Nims and Coach G were two really important coaches, in my book,” he said. “Coach G, just the way he runs things and keeps us up and motivated was awesome. Coach Nims, he’s been there pretty much my whole career as my defensive and offensive position coach. He taught me a lot of stuff and I really appreciate that.”
The son of Melissa and Harry Baldwin said his parents were an important part of helping him succeed on the field, and, in picking a college.
“They’ve spent a lot of money on me with cleats and the actual pay to participate,” he said. “Then the countless hours having to pick me up and drive me to practice when I didn’t drive. They always came to all my games and helped motivate me.”
Baldwin said he plans to major in sports management and as he doesn’t play any spring sports he’ll be focused on preparing for the fall over the next few months.
“They’re sending me an offseason package, so I’ll continue to do some lifting and cardio workouts to get my speed up,” he said. “I’m not doing anything in the spring to try and get bigger for football.”