Baker Mayfield’s story feels a little like something concocted by the scriptwriters of the television show “Friday Night Lights.” A state champion quarterback from the heart of Texas. Gets only a few scholarship offers from non-BCS schools. Walks on at in-state school Texas Tech.
And in his first months on campus, he wins the starting job and throws for 413 yards and five touchdowns in his freshman debut, a season-opening victory over SMU.
“He’s got just a charisma about him on the field,” Texas Tech co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, a former Red Raiders quarterback, said after the game against SMU.
But before Mayfield was the walk-on darling of college football, before he was set to make his fifth start of the season at 11 a.m. Saturday at Kansas, he was just another star quarterback from the Lake Travis High quarterback factory, a lineage that began last decade in Austin with former KU star Todd Reesing.
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If there’s another high school in the country that’s produced quarterbacks like Lake Travis, former Cavaliers coach Jeff Dicus would like to see it. Reesing went off to Kansas. Garrett Gilbert headed to Texas — before transferring to SMU. And next came Texas Tech sophomore Michael Brewer, whose back injury actually opened the door for Mayfield to step into the starting lineup this fall.
“Most all the guys have grown up in Lake Travis,” Reesing says. “And they weren’t guys that moved there in the middle of high school just for football. So they really have been home-grown products.”
The run of great quarterbacks, though, started with Reesing, who as a freshman watched one of Dicus’ early Lake Travis teams go 0-10.
“The program was in shambles,” Reesing says.
Dicus implemented a spread-offense scheme. Reesing took over as a junior. And the rest, which included five straight Texas state titles, was pretty much history. In those early days, as the program began to take off, kids like Mayfield and Brewer would come to games and watch Reesing and Gilbert chuck the ball all over the field.
“We wanted to throw the football around,” says Dicus, who left the program in 2007 after posting a 45-15 record in five years. “We implemented it. Kids did a lot of throwing on their own, and you know, one thing led to the next: You get three kids out there throwing, then more. Then you have some success.”
In some ways, Mayfield’s rise in Lubbock isn’t all that different from Reesing’s path to Kansas. Both ran variations of the spread in high school. Both were ignored by the in-state powers in Texas. And both experienced close to instant success in the Big 12. Reesing, of course, led Kansas to the Orange Bowl after the 2007 season. And Mayfield, despite being replaced by back-up Davis Webb in the Red Raiders’ 33-7 victory over Texas State, has now thrown for 1,140 yards and eight touchdowns in four games. It’s no secret why No. 20 Texas Tech is a perfect 4-0.
“He’s kind of like a gunslinger out there,” Cumbie said after Mayfield’s debut. “There wasn’t a time you looked out there and he looked like a freshman. He wasn’t wide-eyed at all. The moment wasn’t too big for him.”
On Saturday, Mayfield will try to continue the success against the KU defense, and Reesing will be watching. These days, Reesing is back in Austin, working in finance for Dimensional Fund Advisors, a growing investment firm started by KU alum David Booth. It’s easy, of course, to mention that there are plenty of Texas high schools that produce plenty of college quarterbacks. There’s no secret potion at Lake Travis. But there is something about the place, Reesing says, that could produce a story like Mayfield’s.
“I talked to guys when I went to Kansas, and they never watched film in high school,” Reesing says. “I remember spending tons of time in high school with my head coach, sitting down, breaking down film. So at Lake Travis, we were doing those kinds of things before you even got to college.”