Baldwin got the chance to shine because of an undisclosed injury to receiver Chris Owusu. He didn't disappoint, catching four passes for a career-high 111 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinal's season-opening 52-17 football victory over Sacramento State last Saturday.
He hopes to continue that kind of success this Saturday when the 25th-ranked Cardinal (1-0) travels to the Rose Bowl to meet UCLA (0-1) in the Pac-10 Conference opener for both teams at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN).
If Baldwin had his druthers, though, he'd be playing for Johnny Dawkins and the Stanford basketball team.
"Basketball has always been my first love," he said. "Unfortunately I was not good enough to do anything with it."
His basketball skills were certainly transferable to both football and track and field, and he was good enough to earn all-area recognition on the hardcourt while playing for Gulf Breeze High in Florida.
"I played all five positions in high school and I was usually the guy who could jump the highest," Baldwin said. "I like to play defense."
He was pretty good at blocking shots and mixing it up for rebounds, and for slamming the ball through the hoop.
In track and field he achieved a height of 6-4 in the high jump and a length of 21-10 in the long jump.
His skills coalesce on the gridiron, where he can run, jump, grab the ball and mix it up downfield, much like a high jumping power forward.
He was a quarterback at the Pop Warner level "but I ran the ball most of the time."
Baldwin was limited to four catches (three in one game alone) for 78 yards total in seven games last year after seeing significant action his first two years.
"There were a lot of things going on," Baldwin said. "My mental state was in shambles, I was dealing with injuries, and I had more of a negative attitude."
Baldwin was Stanford's most versatile big-play threat two years ago, gaining at least 35 yards on a play a team-high six times — two receiving, two rushing and two on punt returns. His 61-yard touchdown reception against Washington was the season high.
The 81-yard touchdown pass he caught from Andrew Luck against the Hornets last Saturday stands a good chance of being the longest play from scrimmage this season.
Owusu emerged as a deep threat last year, meaning Baldwin was pushed to the back burner. Not that he minded so much.
"It's always exciting to make big plays," Baldwin said. "Chris is an amazing asset and we miss him. I just wanted to step in and hopefully the offense doesn't miss a beat. We have Andrew Luck, Owen Marecic. Those guys make me happy even without all the wide receivers."
Owusu missed the Sacramento State game with an apparent right foot injury. Linebacker Shayne Skov also missed the game with an undisclosed injury.
"I'm excited to see what we can do when Chris gets back," said Baldwin, who was named the team's Offensive Player of the Game.
Producing a career-high in his first game of the season "means everything to me," he said. "As long as I could stand in there I had faith it would come put positive at the other end."
It also means a lot to the Cardinal, which hasn't always had a deep receiving corps.
"He's always been a good competitor for us," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said of Baldwin. "In 2008, we had Baldwin and (Ryan) Whalen from start to finish and there were no other receivers. They both played tough, through things and have been valuable members of the team."
Sophomore running back Stepfan Taylor was also an integral part of the passing game, hauling in a 59-yard touchdown pass and rushing for 21 yards as duties were split among five backs.
"Running backs want to get into a rhythm," Taylor said. "But with all these backs, it makes us compete."
If he listened to his friends, Taylor might still be playing football at TCU or Texas Tech. Instead he listened to high school counselor, Ms. Doctor, who asked him to take a look at Stanford.
"I took one trip and fell in place with the place," said Taylor.
Notes: Menlo School grad Jerry Rice, Jr. is in his second year as a walk-on at UCLA. The redshirt freshman is listed on the depth chart for Saturday's game. He's still seeking his first collegiate reception . . . The Bruins have won 23 of the past 32 games played at the Rose Bowl while Stanford has a seven-game losing streak inside the Pasadena landmark, the last six to UCLA and the 2000 Rose Bowl to Wisconsin. Stanford is 4-11 overall at the Rose Bowl . . . The Cardinal has averaged 20.3 points a game against the Bruins under Harbaugh after averaging 13.2 in its five previous games.