The things that originally attracted Josh Baldwin to the U.S. Naval Academy quickly became the things that turned him off.
After going to Navy’s Plebe Summer, which Baldwin described as a “mini boot camp,” for two weeks, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound North Stafford graduate has decided to take his football talents to Appalachian State instead.
Baldwin, a strong student in high school, praised the Navy’s well-rounded focus when he committed in February. But when he arrived for Navy’s freshman orientation program on June 28, he quickly discovered he wasn’t happy. After about two weeks, he left Navy on good terms and returned home to look for a new opportunity.
“It just wasn’t for me,” Baldwin said of Navy. “I just wanted to focus on college and football. They’re mainly focused on trying to get you focused on your career. I guess [I went for] the wrong reason, but I just want to play football.”
Released from his agreement with the Midshipmen and not bound by NCAA rules on transferring because Navy does not sign its players to letters-of-intent, Baldwin began the search for a new school. His timing made finding a scholarship difficult. By July, teams have usually used their scholarship allotment, filled their rosters and are preparing to start the season.
“The [main] problem,” said Baldwin, “was finding a place that had the money.”
Baldwin said Virginia, Tennessee and James Madison were among a number of schools that asked him to walk on. He declined those offers, he said, because he would have had to pay his own way for a year or more and because of the stigma attached to walk-ons. He said he didn’t want to be treated like he was just on a team to be a backup.
The situation was stressful, Baldwin said, because he wasn’t sure it would work out.
Enter Western Carolina and Appalachian State, two schools in the western panhandle of North Carolina. Baldwin said he visited both this week, and each had an opening for him. He preferred the atmosphere in the town of Boone, where Appalachian State is located, over the Western Carolina setting.
Baldwin, who reports Wednesday and starts football practice August 10, was also impressed on his visit when he saw Mountaineer football players working out together without coaches present.
Baldwin caught an area-best 84 passes for 1,036 yards and 10 touchdowns as a North Stafford senior. Navy had entertained the idea of playing him at strong safety, but Appalachian State definitely wants Baldwin to play receiver, he said.
“I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” Baldwin said.
The Mountaineers were 9-4 and made the NCAA Division I-AA quarterfinals last season. A third-place finisher in the Southern Conference last season, they were chosen by both coaches and media to win the conference this year.
Appalachian State opens August 31 at Marshall.