Saturday night, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is expected to take home the 2017 Heisman Trophy over Stanford’s Bryce Love and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
For a while, due to eligibility and scholarship concerns, it looked like he wasn’t even going to be in the league this season. His journey to become the best college football player in the country was anything but ordinary.
Mayfield, a native of Austin, TX, was rated a three-star by 247Sports. He was considered the No. 160 player in Texas, with offers from Rice, Florida Atlantic, and New Mexico.
Instead of taking a scholarship in a non-power league, Mayfield decided to take his chances as a walk-on for Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech.
A walk-on is a roster player who’s not on scholarship.
Thanks to an injury to Michael Brewer, the Red Raiders’ expected starting quarterback, Mayfield got the nod for the start in the first game of the 2013 season. As far as we know, this made him the first walk-on true freshman to start as a quarterback in an FBS season opener. He didn’t disappoint, as he threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns as Mayfield led the Red Raiders to a 41-23 win at SMU. Mayfield started his career 5-0 before an injury sidelined him and gave the starting gig to fellow freshman Davis Webb.
Kingsbury stuck with Webb for Texas Tech’s appearance in the 2013 Holiday Bowl. Despite Mayfield’s impressive freshman performance (2,315 yards, 64 percent completions, 12 touchdowns), he enrolled at Oklahoma in January of 2014.
Once again, he became a walk-on.
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops took Mayfield on, but he would have to sit out 2014, due to NCAA eligibility rules. Thanks to a Big 12 rule, Mayfield would also lose a year of eligibility for transferring within the conference, unless Texas Tech waived that penalty. The situation was not pretty between TTU and Mayfield.
Mayfield started for the Sooners in 2015, racking up 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He was awarded the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the best player who began their career as a walk-on (he was a finalist his freshman year in 2013).
In 2016, he threw for 3,965 yards, 40 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, finishing third in Heisman voting behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and the eventual winner Lamar Jackson.
As far as the college football world knew, that would be the end of Mayfield’s career.
In June of 2016, however, the Big 12 faculty athletic representatives voted on what would become known as “the Baker Mayfield Rule.”
Instead of allowing all walk-ons to transfer regardless, the reps amended the original proposal, allowing only walk-ons without written scholarship offers from their original schools to transfer without losing a season of eligibility. If the walk-on elected to transfer after being offered a scholarship from the original school, then the player would face the league's same eligibility restrictions that apply to scholarship players.
Thanks to the approved rule change, college football fans were treated to more Mayfield this season.
He’s amassed 4,340 yards, 41 touchdowns, and thrown just five interceptions this season and was named the Walter Camp Award winner. Soon, the former walk-on will have the Heisman to go with it.