April 17, 2000
By Mike Kreiger, WSU Sports Information
For most students, the road to WSU is just a freeway drive away from the Seattle or Spokane area. For WSU football player Mark Baldwin, the road is a lot longer and more complicated.
Baldwin, a junior who enrolled at WSU at the beginning of spring 2000, has lived in the South his entire life. Born in Savannah, Ga., he grew up in Brandon, Miss., a town he says "is about the size of Pullman." After spending just a few minutes talking with him, it's impossible not to notice the Southern accent of this friendly giant.
For Baldwin, the biggest difference between the South and the Northwest is the climate and landscape.
"It's so cold here," Baldwin said with a laugh. "Another thing is the geography. Mississippi is just kind of flat, but here you've got the mountains. Plus, Pullman has a lot of hills."
Another thing Baldwin misses is the food.
"There's nothing like good old Southern cooking," Baldwin said. "I miss fried chicken, mashed potatoes and fried okra."
Baldwin said Mississippi isn't like it's portrayed in the movies.
"We do wear shoes," Baldwin joked. "Yes, there are some rundown areas, but the place I came from is a nice city."
Despite all the changes Baldwin has had to face in his move to Pullman, the transition hasn't been too difficult.
"I've adjusted," Baldwin said. "I've made some good friends, school's been going well, and everything's been going smoothly."
He was a three-sport star in high school, playing soccer and basketball along with football. Even with all of the success, he had to fight several nagging injuries and illnesses, including an injury to his knee that cost him his entire sophomore season.
"It was just devastating," Baldwin recalled. "That was my first year to play football, but I didn't get to play sports at all. I had to have surgery on my left knee to take out the (damaged) cartilage."
During his junior season, Baldwin missed the fist four football games because he came down with mononucleosis. He returned for four games, but then was forced to miss the last few games due to another knee injury that occurred during practice.
"It just dislocated," Baldwin said about his knee. "It was just kind of sticking on the side, so they had to rush me to the hospital, get me all drugged up and stick it back into place."
Fortunately, Baldwin was healthy for his senior season. He played on both sides of the ball, catching touchdowns as a tight end and sacking quarterbacks as a defensive end. At six-feet-seven-inches tall, Baldwin is a big target for a tight end. He caught 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, not to mention that he made 87 tackles. Baldwin was picked to the All-Metro team for his efforts.
After graduating from Brandon High School, Baldwin attended Hinds Junior College, located in Raymond, Miss. He started for the football team his sophomore year after being a back up during his freshman season.
"It was a great experience there," Baldwin said with a smile. "We were a really tight-knit team with good coaches. It was also really good because we were nationally recognized for football."
Hinds JC is known for it's talented alumni. Twenty-four NFL draft picks have come out of Hinds, including Leon Lett and Marcus Springs. Several alumni, including Grady Jackson of the Oakland Raiders and Mark Smith of the Arizona Cardinals, came back to talk to the team while Baldwin was there.
"Seeing someone who has had so much success from where I was playing gave me something to strive for," Baldwin said.
Although Baldwin didn't get a lot of passes thrown his way, his talents were noticed around the nation. He was named to the JC Gridwire pre-season second team and was a Prep Star Magazine All-American. In addition to his excellence on the field, Baldwin also showed his dedication to academics. He finished junior college with an impressive 3.5 GPA, and credits a large part of his good grades to his parents, James and Monica Baldwin.
"My parents stressed the importance of grades when I was growing up," Baldwin said.
When the conversation about parents' jobs came up, Baldwin's story was always the most interesting because his father is a special agent for U.S. Customs.
"It was cool," Baldwin said. "But he had to travel a lot in the earlier days."
Baldwin had several different colleges to choose from, but the schools recruiting him were mostly in the South. Baldwin kept in contact with WSU kicking coach Jeff Banks, so WSU was high on his list.
"Most of the schools were close to home or in-state," Baldwin said. "Me and my sister have always wanted to get out and see things, so that's part of the reason I decided to come here."
Baldwin is also active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a non-denominational group of Christian athletes, which provides Bible studies and discussions.
"We had a chapter in high school, and in junior college, that I was active in," Baldwin said. "Religion has played a huge role in my life."
Not sure what he wants to do when he graduates from WSU, Baldwin is working on a degree in communication.
"I've just recently developed an interest in communications," Baldwin said. "It seems like an area where I could enjoy the job day-in and day-out."
Baldwin doesn't know exactly what he plans to do after college, but who knows, he could follow the path led by the 24 NFL-playing alumni of Hinds Junior College.