UM transfer receiver Daylen Baldwin shows he's set to step in and contribute
Ann Arbor — As Daylen Baldwin approached the microphone to speak to reporters during a weekly news conference after practice Tuesday night, a media member made a terrific save of his tumbling recording equipment.
“It’s a great catch,” Baldwin said, smiling, commenting on the reporter's quick hands. “Took some notes from me, didn’t you?”
Baldwin’s introduction to Michigan fans came in the season opener when backup quarterback J.J. McCarthy, avoided the rush, ran to his right and threw across the field to the 6-foot-2, 219-pound transfer receiver for a 69-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter.
He hasn’t been in Ann Arbor that long, having arrived a week-and-a-half before the start of preseason camp after transferring from Jackson State. At JSU he led the SWAC with 540 yards on 27 catches and seven touchdowns in the spring six-game season. But Baldwin, a Southfield-native who attended Waterford Mott, had been here long enough to know that McCarthy is, what he called, a playmaker and risk taker.
“I saw him kinda look at me, and I’m like, ‘He's probably gonna throw this ball,’ so I started leaning over to go across the field,” Baldwin said, describing the touchdown reception. “All I see, the ball just pop on this side, and I said, ‘Oh, this is perfect,’ so I just nodded him off, caught it and took off.”
Earlier in the opener against Western Michigan, leading receiver and captain Ronnie Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury. In the Wolverines’ next game last Saturday against Washington, starting quarterback Cade McNamara was 7-of-15 for 44 yards while the Wolverines relied on the rushing attack, accumulating 343 yards on 56 carries and scoring four touchdowns.
It wasn’t the type of game receivers dream of, but it also was evidence of other demands for playing the position.
“When we run the ball like that and we’re asked to block, we’ve got to make sure we block,” said Baldwin, who says he is at about 95% healed from an ankle issue that nagged him heading into the season. “That’s how I look at it. We can’t be like, ‘Oh, we want the ball more.’ Let’s make sure we execute what’s being asked of us. Don’t beg for the ball. I’ve been taught that since a kid — don’t beg for the ball, execute what’s asked of you, everything will play itself out.”
In Bell’s absence, Baldwin believes he will play a more significant role. Cornelius Johnson, who had a 33-yard reception against Washington, also is expected to be relied on.
“I can do everything, if you ask me,” Baldwin said, when asked to describe his skillset. “Plays down the field, short plays, taking them the distance. I feel like I can do a little bit of everything, honestly. Sure hands, definitely a big thing for me.”
Baldwin has quickly acclimated to Michigan and his new teammates, but it has been a journey, or as he describes, a process. Along the way, he has learned that when things aren’t going his way, to be consistent and keep working.
“I struggle with every process, but with no struggle is no growth,” Baldwin said. “You’ve got to struggle before you can grow.”
He began his career at Morgan State in 2017, and the process nearly became unhinged his second year there.
“I didn’t think I was going to be playing football still,” Baldwin, 21, said. “I’m like, “This is kinda coming to an end.’ I’m two years in, I didn’t really have any stats for real, and I’m like, ‘OK, it’s coming to an end.’”
Morgan State may have been a dead end, but he found doors open for him at Jackson State, where he transferred and redshirted his first season. The pandemic delayed the season until this spring when he had his breakout performance and caught the attention of several Division I programs.
“I just kept working, kept grinding, just having faith when there’s nothing there,” he said. “You’re just working every day, just praying something happens.”
Michigan happened for him, and he took it all in the first time he emerged from the Michigan Stadium tunnel with his teammates. He joined them running toward the Go Blue banner at midfield.
“I hit the banner, then I just started looking around like, whoa,” Baldwin said. “I don’t really get nervous on the field at all, so I wouldn’t say (I was) nervous, but it was just like a happy, like I felt this is somewhere I belong. I felt a sense of belonging, like I’m exactly where I need to be right now.”
But this isn’t his final destination. It’s another leg of his journey, that he says he thinks about every day. Baldwin says he tells himself that while he never knows what the next day holds, he has already been through the worst. Struggle leads to growth, as he said, and he is focused on improving, the voice in his head reminding him that life is full of twists and turns.
“Now I’m here at a place like Michigan, it’s about just staying with the process,” he said. “It has worked this far, don’t stop now. Don’t become complacent, don’t get lazy. Keep taking the same steps you were taking when nobody knew who you were. Now, you’re at a bigger school, you’re doing better, keep the same things going. I feel that’s going to help me be successful here and take me to the next level.”
And somewhere, opposing defensive coordinators are taking notes.