PROVO — During his freshman year at Franklin High in El Paso, Texas, Baylor Romney worked hard, practiced diligently and ascended to third-string quarterback.
On the freshman team.
“He was a pretty late bloomer,” his younger brother, Gunner, said Monday.
Saturday, Baylor Romney will almost certainly make his second start at quarterback for BYU in three games as the streaking Cougars (4-4) play host to Liberty (6-3) at LaVell Edwards Stadium in a 5:30 p.m. clash of college football independents that will be televised nationally by ESPNU.
So who is this redshirt freshman walk-on (still) that began the season third or fourth on the BYU quarterback depth chart and not only guided the Cougars to a 28-25 upset of then-No. 14 Boise State in his first start, but came off the bench last week in relief of starter Jaren Hall and defeated rival Utah State 42-14 at its own stadium?
Coaches and teammates use words and phrases such as “poised,” “unflappable,” “even-keeled,” “calm,” “cool under pressure,” “not easily rattled,” “competitive” and “business-like” to describe the 6-foot-2, 193-pound backup who originally signed with Nevada after a record-setting prep career at Franklin High near the Mexico border.
“He is not bothered by anything,” said BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick. “Pressure doesn’t seem to bother him. He manages the situations like a veteran player. He just kind of has that air about him, where he is a normal guy. But don’t mistake him for (not caring). He is a competitor, a real tough guy.”
He’s also a self-described “man of few words,” declining to spend any time talking about himself when asked to prior to the Boise State game when it was becoming apparent he would get the start against the then-undefeated Broncos.
“They can expect me to be ready,” he said when asked what BYU fans can expect from him.
Baylor’s family — his parents are Jeni and Cade Romney, and he’s a distant relative of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney — originally hailed from one of the Latter-day Saint colonies in Mexico but moved to El Paso prior to Baylor’s freshman year.
Tragedy struck the Mexican town of La Mora — about a two-hour drive away from where Romney grew up — on Monday when nine American citizens (three women and six children) were ambushed and massacred by members of a drug cartel. Baylor was not made available this week to discuss the horrible tragedy or his playing availability on Saturday. He’s been nursing a sore foot and was hobbled a bit last week vs. USU.
“Improving, getting better,” BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said of Baylor’s condition after practice Wednesday. “Not 100% yet, but he’s moving in the right direction.”
Grimes and Roderick said all four QBs, including season starter Zach Wilson and Hall, who left the USU game with concussion-like symptoms for the second time in as many games, “did something” in practice and “took reps,” although neither Wilson nor Hall were padded up when they jogged off the field after the workout.
BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes on the rarity of four QBs on roster with at least one win. He also reiterated the “no starting QB announcement “ for this late-comer. pic.twitter.com/Tl4zHgGhvY— Jay Drew (@drewjay) November 7, 2019
When he last spoke to reporters, after the USU game, Baylor said his foot wasn’t a big concern and “my preparation will be the same whether I am (the starter moving forward), and I will be ready whenever my name is called.”
BYU didn’t call his name when he was throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns in El Paso as a senior in 2014, but the school wasn’t on his radar much, either, he said.
The Romneys eventually moved to Chandler, Arizona, which is where Gunner Romney helped lead his prep team to consecutive state titles and became a highly sought-after recruit as a receiver, along with four-star QB Jacob Conover, another BYU signee who is currently on a mission.
While Baylor was on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Carlsbad, California, Nevada had a coaching change and he wanted to realize a lifelong dream of playing with his brother, so he transferred to BYU as a preferred walk-on.
Baylor got married almost two years ago, just before he enrolled at BYU. His likely backup in Saturday’s game, Joe Critchlow, is also married — to Mitt Romney’s granddaughter, Allie.
Baylor is mature beyond his years, said Gunner, a sophomore who is ahead of Baylor in school but several years younger.
“He is one of the hardest working people I know,” Gunner said. “I think it showed here, too. He started out third string this season. His whole entire life, he’s been working for this, and he’s been consistent in everything he does. That type of work ethic is not going to go unnoticed, and eventually it is going to rise to the top. I think it has really showed with Baylor and all the hard work is paying off.”
Gunner Romney on catching a TD toss from his brother, Baylor, and when the team learned he’d start the second half. pic.twitter.com/Qr9Lq53xA1— Jay Drew (@drewjay) November 4, 2019
Friends say Baylor doesn’t like to talk much or project himself as the face of the program, as BYU’s starting quarterback is often asked to do. But head coach Kalani Sitake said he would be hard-pressed to find a better representative “for what the program is all about” than him.
“He is confident, but he is really humble and he is a great teammate,” Sitake said. “He handles himself with such professionalism; it is amazing. It is nice to know that you can always have that guy ready to roll, and we have a room full of quarterbacks that can play. I am just glad that those guys answer the call whenever their number is up there and they are ready for it.”
Sitake said Baylor remains the same guy he was back in August when he was dueling with Critchlow to be the third-stringer, and few, if any, BYU fans even knew his name.
“It is amazing that Baylor is able to do what he does right now with the limited amount of reps that he’s received from fall camp to now,” Sitake said. “He does a lot of stuff on his own. That takes an extreme amount of discipline and hard work.”
Especially for a late bloomer.
Cougars on the air
Liberty (6-3) at BYU (4-4)
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified La Mora as a Latter-day Saint colony.