Joey Baughman’s athletic ability has been seen for a long time, but the Wadsworth graduate’s leadership grew roots when he was 10.
The Grizzlies were fresh off a Division I title in wrestling and came to visit Baughman and the rest of his fourth-grade class at Franklin Elementary School.
Knowing Baughman’s athletic prowess even back then, the wrestlers gave him words of advice.
That advice not only made him a leader, it turned him into the 2018 Gazette Senior Male Athlete of the Year.
“I still remember to this day them coming to my school and telling me stuff that I was telling kids this year,” Baughman said. “That was one of the big reasons I was so involved in sports. I wanted to be like them. They were so cool to me. It’s cool to be like that to the younger generation now.”
Baughman, who had a Division I college wrestling scholarship to Virginia but ultimately turned it down to accept a D-I offer to play football at Elon University in North Carolina, also was very chill with his teammates, and that showed on the football field and wrestling mat.
The Gazette MVP in football, Baughman became the first player from Medina County to be named Mr. Football in the 31-year history of the award. On the mat, Baughman became the area’s ninth wrestler to place four times at state (2nd in 2016 and 2017, 3rd in 2018, 5th in 2014).
“Joey was very much a leader by example,” Wadsworth football coach Justin Todd said. “He’s not the most verbal kid. He’s very, very humble. A kid of his status, with all the accolades he’s had, could easily be the other way, but that’s just not his character. It’s not his personality or upbringing, so when Joey did talk, everybody shut up and everybody listened, because when he says something, it’s important.”
The same thing was said on the mat, as Baughman picked up 154 career wins, which rank 15th in county history and would have been much higher if he hadn’t sat out a portion of last season after football.
“He just had that quiet confidence that just made everyone want to perform for and with him,” former Grizzlies wrestling coach John Gramuglia said. “You wanted to jump on board with him. As a leader, he doesn’t make you feel bad if you couldn’t do it.
“People just liked to be around him. He had charisma. It made it easy to join his endeavors. That’s why he is at that level. Anything he does, he just does pretty easily.”
That level on the football field actually started immediately following his junior season of wrestling. Rather than hit the offseason wrestling circuit like he had in the past, Baughman got back with the football team to see what he could do as the returning starter at quarterback.
“The last four or five games of Joey’s junior year, we got a taste of what he could be,” Todd said. “He made as big of a jump between one year and the other as any kid I’ve ever coached. We thought he had a chance to be really good.
“When I met with him after his junior year to do our exit interview I said, ‘Joey, for us to accomplish our goals you have to take another step. My personal goal for you is to be the Division II Offensive Player of the Year.’ I didn’t know how big of a reality that was, but as we all saw, it was very realistic. Once he got out of wrestling and I saw him throw with his players and saw his understanding of the offense, that just all went to another level.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound standout did things never seen in the county in leading the Grizzlies to a D-II, Region 6 semifinal and 11-1 record.
Baughman broke county season records for total offense (4,593) and total touchdowns (56). He broke game records for passing yards (416, Oct. 6, 2017 vs. North Royalton) and total offense (520, Oct. 27, 2017 vs. Hudson) while finishing with 1,533 yards rushing and 3,060 yards passing. He ended his career with 2,780 yards and 31 touchdowns rushing and passed for 4,703 yards and 51 touchdowns.
“Years from now, people will look back upon his career as maybe the best in Wadsworth history,” Todd said.
Baughman also has supporters in second-team All-Ohioan Mitchell Blackburn and honorable mention all-state pick Christian Szalay, receivers who reaped benefits from their standout quarterback.
“As kids, we would go to Jim Ballard, his quarterback trainer, and you could just tell he was one of the good quarterbacks,” Blackburn said. “He’s mobile. He’s got a good arm. His accuracy is like no other. I always knew he had it in him, but it just clicked for him over the summer. He said, ‘You know what? I’m going to take over. Let’s do it. I only have one more year left.’ That’s how it happened. I feel like that’s what made him an elite quarterback.”
Blackburn led the county in catches (79), yards (1,180) and receiving touchdowns (17). Right behind him was Szalay with 67 catches, 962 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns.
“I knew I had a chance at making a play because he was going to put the ball right where I wanted it,” Szalay said. “I knew even if he didn’t throw it, he’d make a play with his feet as well. He was poised when we were facing adversity and everybody took after him. We pretty much did what he did and kept our composure, because he kept his composure throughout all of our games.”
It made his teammates happy.
It drove his opponents nuts.
“He’s definitely one of the special ones,” North Royalton coach Nick Ciulli said. “If you tried to rush him, he could run away from you. If you sat back, he was very accurate. When you are game-planning him, you really don’t worry about stopping as much as you do controlling him. You can rein him in because stopping him just doesn’t happen.”
The same went for the mats, where Baughman was a beast. A four-time Suburban League and Wadsworth Sectional champion, Baughman also was a three-time district champion. His teams finished third (2017-18), fourth (2016-17), fifth (2014-15) and seventh (2015-16) at state in D-I.
“He was always top of the group,” Wadsworth state champion heavyweight Jordan Earnest said. “He was always someone you looked up to or tried to base your work ethic around to see if you were doing enough to be where he was at. You were usually following him because he knew the right thing to do and what the right thing was.”
That right thing brought three SL team titles and a runner-up finish, as Wadsworth finished last season ranked 18th in the nation by Intermatwrestle.com.
“We had complete confidence in him,” Earnest said. “Whenever we hit Joey’s weight class, we knew it was a sealed deal and we could close up any team from then on. Just knowing Joey would always come through in matches was huge for us. I always wanted to compete and do what he was able to do. I wanted to close it out and get it done for the team.”
Baughman has already gone off to Elon, where he hopes to shine bright as the Phoenix’s starting quarterback. While the next step has begun, don’t be surprised to see him back in Wadsworth talking to the next generation of MVPs.
“I just get more satisfaction out of younger players asking me questions about how I did things,” he said. “It was really cool to know they looked up to me.”
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