Charlie Brewer igniting hopes at Baylor for turnaround
WACO, Texas — Three years ago, then-Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was chatting about one of his favorite subjects — Lake Travis High School football. To that point, Mayfield’s Austin, Texas, alma mater had produced four Power 5 starting quarterbacks in a decade.
But in Mayfield’s opinion, one of the best was still on the way.
“Watch out for Charlie Brewer,” he claimed then.
Now — following in the footsteps of Mayfield as an undersized and under-recruited, yet ultra-productive high school state champion — Brewer has made good on Mayfield’s prognostication. And, not only has Brewer already emerged as the starting quarterback at Baylor, he has the Bears believing they could be in for a big bounce-back campaign following a 1-11 finish in coach Matt Rhule’s debut season.
“After seeing him play now, am I surprised now that more people didn’t offer him? Absolutely,” Rhule said. “I know people might have looked at his height. … but he’s a competitor, and he’s certainly big enough. He’s certainly fast.
“And I know we’re lucky to have him.”
Until Rhule was hired at Baylor in December of 2016, Brewer was mired in a situation similar to what Mayfield endured as a high school senior.
Despite totaling 61 touchdowns with only two interceptions on the way to leading Lake Travis to the state title at Texas’ highest classification, Brewer didn’t have a single Power 5 scholarship offer. As a result, he’d committed to SMU and Chad Morris, whose coaching career, coincidentally, had begun at Lake Travis.
“Because Lake Travis had been pretty good, I think teams viewed me as a system guy — that’s the term I heard a lot and that’s what Baker had been told,” Brewer said of Mayfield, whose only offers came from Washington State, Florida Atlantic, New Mexico and Rice, which prompted him to walk on to Texas Tech before ultimately transferring to Oklahoma. “Me and Baker, we’re not the tallest guys at 6-foot, 6-foot-1. So, I think height and the label as a system quarterback were setbacks for both of us.”
That Lake Travis system, however, had developed Todd Reesing, who, despite being 5-foot-11, took Kansas to the 2008 Orange Bowl. It also produced Brewer’s older brother Michael, who started for Texas Tech, then, after transferring to Virginia Tech, was the only quarterback in 2014 to defeat national champion Ohio State.
It also, of course, generated Mayfield, who became the first former walk-on to win the Heisman Trophy before becoming the first former walk-on to go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.
“People always talk about Baker being small growing up, but Charlie was actually the smallest kid we’d ever had in the program in middle school — we didn’t even know where to find the pads and helmet to fit him,” said Lake Travis head coach Hank Carter, who coached both Brewer and Mayfield. “But we knew Charlie was going to be a gamer. He always had a tough, competitive spirit and just understood everything.
“The dude is a competitive sucker, and that’s the thing that was most similar to Baker. … they had that same type of grit.”
When Rhule arrived from Temple, he knew he needed to add a quarterback to round out his first Baylor recruiting class; he also knew that he was late to the table, with the state’s top-rated players at the position, like Sam Ehlinger (Texas) and Shawn Robinson (TCU), already committed to Power 5 programs. Yet the more Rhule, who’d hired Texas high school coaches Joey McGuire, David Wetzel and Shawn Bell, heard about Brewer, from them and others, the more he became intrigued.
Besides his older brother’s achievements, Brewer’s father, Robert, was the 1982 Cotton Bowl MVP as a quarterback for Texas. Brewer’s uncle, Rob Moerschell, was a key player for the Longhorns in the early 1980s. And Brewer’s grandfather, Charles, was one of Texas’ starting quarterbacks during the 1950s.
It wasn’t just pedigree, though, that impressed Rhule. On top of the unbelievable touchdown-to-interception ratio, Brewer had also broken the national high school single-season completion percentage record, connecting on 77.4 percent of his passes.
Rhule soon went to see Brewer play in person in a playoff game. Except by the time Rhule got there, Lake Travis was up so big Brewer had already been taken out of the game.
“But every person I asked, they would talk about him in such a way that meant something to me,” Rhule said. “How much of a winner he was. And what a competitor he was. That just stood out.”
Without seeing him in that playoff game, Rhule offered Brewer the scholarship. And, without taking an official visit to Waco, Brewer flipped his commitment from SMU to Baylor.
“I just always enjoyed the Big 12, it’s always been my favorite conference,” Brewer said. “And just getting the opportunity, even though it was later, I just felt like I couldn’t pass it up.”
The Bears are sure glad he didn’t.
After waiting behind Anu Solomon, then Zach Smith last year, Brewer finally got his chance in the fourth quarter against West Virginia, with the Bears down 38-13 and seemingly headed for another loss.
Brewer, however, turned mop-up duty into a furious Baylor rally. Mimicking Mayfield, Brewer dodged incoming pass-rushers to either dash for a first down or locate open receivers downfield. On just his third snap, Brewer found Trestan Ebner for a 52-yard touchdown pass to ignite the comeback. After another quick 10 points, he suddenly had the ball again with a chance to send the game to overtime.
“He just had a certain something, he knows how to play quarterback,” Rhule said.
“We have the ball at the 5, we’re down eight. He gets sacked, I have to call timeout. It’s the worst, most devastating play call by us. And he walks over and goes, ‘You know I got this, right?’ It was like a movie. He winks at me like, you need to calm down. The next play, he throws a touchdown.”
Brewer was sacked on the game-tying two-point try. But even as they lost the game, the Bears had found their quarterback of the future.
“It was definitely exciting, he brought energy to the field, he brought a new excitement to what was going on, with his mobility and not being afraid of contact,” said Baylor quarterback coach Glenn Thomas. “That was good to see, and. … a seed for future things to come.”
Brewer went on to finish his first season with 11 touchdowns and only four picks, while completing 68 percent of his passes. Among returning Big 12 quarterbacks, none had a better adjusted completion rate (accounting for drops, throwaways, batted passes and plays when the quarterback is hit) in 2017 than Brewer, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now, with a half-season of experience in his pocket, the Bears are banking that, playing behind what should be an improved offensive line along with a potentially explosive receiving corps, Brewer could surge into the top tier of Big 12 quarterbacks.
“We won’t have to ask him to do quite as much, and I think that will allow them to do a lot more,” Rhule said. “Improving everything around him is going to let him flourish even more.”
Years ago, Mayfield envisioned Brewer flourishing in college when others didn’t.
Mayfield proved his doubters wrong and now, as he predicted, Brewer is doing the same.