Bailey Gaither said the assurance of his verbal commitment to play football at San Jose State kept him calm the night before Wednesday’s National Signing Day.
For Jonathan Baldwin, his Paso Robles High teammate, the prospect of signing a National Letter of Intent the following day had the opposite effect.
“I was pretty restless,” the 6-foot-3 tight end said. “I didn’t get too much sleep last night. Pretty anxious to get that thing out there and get going.”
So right when he woke up — at 7:07 a.m., he remembers — Baldwin signed on the dotted line and faxed his commitment to Northern Arizona.
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Later that day, he sat alongside Gaither and Josh Oliver at a table on the Paso Robles High Performing Arts Center stage as the trio was recognized by family, friends, coaches and teammates for signing Division I football scholarships.
“It’s a great honor to be someone who advances to the next level, which is a huge accomplishment,” said Oliver, who will join Gaither at San Jose State. “It’s just a relief — a heavy weight off my shoulders.”
Added Baldwin: “It feels really good to be able to represent this county and this town. It brings me a lot of pride, and hopefully it sets the standard for other guys coming through.”
All three had verbally committed prior to playing vital roles in the Bearcats’ CIF-Southern Section Northern Division championship victory, and for Gaither and Oliver, the thought of their playing careers continuing together is an added bonus.
“Josh and I have been best friends since sixth grade,” said Gaither, The Tribune County Player of the Year who amassed nearly 1,500 receiving yards and scored 30 total touchdowns this season. “It will help me going up there. I’ll be more comfortable knowing somebody, and to have four more years with one of your best friends — it really means a lot to me.”
Baldwin will compete for a spot at tight end from the start with the Lumberjacks, who tied Cal Poly for fifth in the Big Sky Conference with a 5-3 conference mark this past season.
“The pressure’s on, but I just have to push myself,” said Baldwin, who caught a 34-yard touchdown pass in the 13-10 mud-filled Northern Division title win over Newbury Park. “Hit the weights hard, and work through it.”
Oliver initially committed to San Jose State as an “athlete,” meaning his place on either side of the ball had yet to be determined.
But the Northern Division defensive player of the year was listed as a tight end when the Spartans announced the signing on Twitter, with newly hired special teams coach and former Michigan tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno saying Oliver “has the tools to become an elite tight end.”
Gaither figures to push for a starting spot immediately at slot receiver with the Spartans, who finished 3-9 and 2-6 in the Mountain West last year, and the 6-foot-1, 172-pounder with a 4.45 40-yard dash hopes to have a chance returning kickoffs as well.
“I’m going to go up there and work hard,” Gaither said. “Learn all the plays, and expect everything of myself and my abilities.”
Neither Oliver nor Gaither felt any concern about their scholarship status after San Jose State wide receivers coach Terry Malley, who recruited both for more than two years, was fired in January.
The Spartans coaches contacted both soon after to affirm their belief in the two Bearcats, who returned the favor Wednesday by signing letters of intent.
“You can’t beat being two hours away from home,” Oliver said. “It’s far enough where you don’t have to see them every day, but close enough where they can come up every other weekend. It’s a great place.”