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The first Florida team to woo Bucs QB Baker Mayfield

“I probably watched his film as much as any recruit I’ve ever watched. ... Is there something there?”
 
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield was undersized and underrecruited in high school.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield was undersized and underrecruited in high school. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 15, 2023

Long before Baker Mayfield was a Bucs quarterback, the No. 1 overall pick and a Heisman Trophy winner, he was an overlooked recruit one Florida staff thought it could sign.

Florida Atlantic.

“Boy, I probably watched his film as much as any recruit I’ve ever watched,” said Brian Wright, the Owls’ offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the time. “You kept going back. Is there something there?”

Mayfield’s film landed on Wright’s desk thanks to running backs coach Kerry Dixon, a Texas native who still recruited his home state. As Wright studied it, he quickly determined that, yes, there was something there with the three-star talent. Wright saw someone with a strong, accurate arm who was athletic and tough — a winner who led Lake Travis High to the state championship as a junior.

That led to another question, which Wright asked Dixon: “Are you sure we have a shot at him?”

Baker Mayfield led Lake Travis High to a Texas high school state championship.
Baker Mayfield led Lake Travis High to a Texas high school state championship. [ TONY GUTIERREZ | AP (2011) ]

The answer, surprisingly, was yes. Wright wondered what he was missing. There was no issue with Mayfield’s grades. No back story that should scare off a college. As Wright got to know him, he found Mayfield to be a smart, good kid.

Just short. Mayfield later measured 6 feeet, ⅝ inches at the NFL’s scouting combine.

“In the eyes of everybody else, that was an issue,” said Wright, now the head coach at Division-II Pittsburg (Kansas) State. “In my eyes, that was never an issue because the ability, the competitiveness, how driven the young man is, is really going to show success for that person. I just feel like he was so driven and so competitive that there were no limitations.”

Florida Atlantic ended up being one of only a handful of schools to see Mayfield that way. His other scholarship offers were New Mexico, Rice, Army and Washington State.

The Owls recruited Mayfield hard. Even Wright’s oldest son, then-9-year-old Jake, talked on the phone with Mayfield.

During one of Wright’s visits to Texas, Mayfield asked whether the Owls would take one of his close friends as a walk-on. “Absolutely,” Wright replied.

“I was like, ‘Does this mean you’re coming?’” Wright said. “I don’t know if he gave me a total yes, but it sure sounded good, like we were about to get him.”

Baker Mayfield was the Browns' No. 1 overall pick after starring at Oklahoma.
Baker Mayfield was the Browns' No. 1 overall pick after starring at Oklahoma. [ Times (2019) ]

They did not. Though Mayfield has said he almost accepted the offer at Florida Atlantic, the Owls never got him to visit campus. Mayfield instead walked on at Texas Tech and started seven games as a freshman, then transferred to Oklahoma and won the 2017 Heisman Trophy.

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Six-plus years after Wright started recruiting him, Mayfield was drafted first by the Browns — the favorite team of Wright, an Ohio native

“I was all excited about that,” Wright said. “Now I’m not excited that we don’t have him.”

The Bucs do, finally putting Mayfield on a Florida roster.

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