IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Luke Baldwin is wildly enthusiastic about football.
Which impresses his coach — thoroughly.
“He’s a kid that needs football as much as football needs him,” says Highland Park High School head football coach Joe Horeni. “If he’s not playing football, what’s he going to do? Play chess?
“And there’s nothing wrong with chess,” the coach adds.
But Baldwin, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound safety, plays football with an unapologetic passion and checkmate precision.
“He’s 100 percent dialed in,” says Horeni. “He’s what you want in a high school football player. He makes the most of every second that he’s out there.
“He embraces the game,” the coach adds. “Has fun with it.”
A pumped-up Baldwin gave it his all in HP’s 27-14 victory over host Vernon Hills on Sept. 22. The two-year starter helped to set the tone in this CSL North battle, when he came up with a critical pass breakup at the goal line on a fourth-and-short call late in the first quarter.
“A great play,” says Horeni. “He’s always out there flying around.”
Baldwin wanted the interception. He settled for the pass breakup.
“We were in man coverage,” Baldwin says. “I saw him run the out route, and I jumped it.”
Baldwin also had a PB late in the second quarter on a sideline toss by Vernon Hills quarterback Derek Jarrell. He played that one to perfection.
“I’m better at tackling, but I had a chance to make a play on the ball there,” says Baldwin. “I gave it my best effort.”
Baldwin went into the game at Vernon Hills flying high after coming up with arguably his best game ever against Prospect a week earlier. In the 31-7 victory over the Knights, Baldwin made 11 tackles, broke up three passes, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.
Thus, Baldwin was bursting at the seams to get going against the Cougars. On a game-opening pooch kick by Damien Campos, he accelerated down the left sideline and nearly beat everyone to the ball.
“I was flying downfield,” says Baldwin. “Their return man picked it up a split second before I got there.”
Not bad for a player dealing with some obvious pain. He’s got turf toe — and a little bit of a limp to go with it.
“That injury is as annoying as heck,” says Horeni. “You treat it and it’s fine. And then, a play later it gets inflamed.”
Baldwin also is dealing with a sprained left ankle, which he sustained against Hersey in Week Three.
“Yeah, my feet are going through a lot right now,” he says. “I’m just trying to play through it.”
Baldwin, who also plays baseball at the school, doesn’t want his football life to end. He’s put together a profile on the NCSA (Next College Student Athlete) Recruiting website. He’s drawn some interest.
“I’m trying to do whatever it takes to play at the next level,” says Baldwin, who plans to study sports journalism or health and wellness in college.
“Just want to do something in sports,” he says.