St. Pauls’ Kemarion Baldwin (23) stiffarms Clinton’s Josiah Robinson (4) during an Oct. 14 game at Clinton. Baldwin has been named The Robesonian’s Robeson County Heisman for the third time.
                                 Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

St. Pauls’ Kemarion Baldwin (23) stiffarms Clinton’s Josiah Robinson (4) during an Oct. 14 game at Clinton. Baldwin has been named The Robesonian’s Robeson County Heisman for the third time.

Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

ST. PAULS — The senior season for Kemarion Baldwin might have been the toughest of the St. Pauls running back’s historic career.

The Bulldogs didn’t see as much team success as the previous two campaigns, and on an individual level Baldwin battled a nagging ankle injury for weeks on end.

But Baldwin still turned that into a season with 1,792 yards and 27 touchdowns, and ran to a third-straight Robeson County Heisman award.

“That’s a blessing,” Baldwin said. “All the hard work has paid off.”

Baldwin joins former Fairmont quarterback Julius Caulder as the only three-time county Heisman winners in recent history.

“I think that K.B. encompasses everything that we want a football player to be at St. Pauls High School,” St. Pauls coach Mike Setzer said. “And I saw a lot of people that came to see him on Friday night that didn’t have St. Pauls attire on, so I think he was able to galvanize not just the community, but it was from outside the county that people came to watch him play.”

The near-1,800 yard performance, which came in just 160 carries, gave Baldwin a career total of 5,597 yards. He passed James McDougald’s all-time county rushing record Oct. 7 against Midway, and has the 42nd-most rushing yards in North Carolina High School Athletic Association history.

Baldwin’s 78 career rushing touchdowns is the most in school history; he passed Eric Murphy, now the team’s offensive coordinator, Sept. 23 against Red Springs.

“It’s been a good run,” Baldwin said. “I did a lot of things, make a lot of wrong moves on the field, but the good outweighs the bad. I just want to make sure my teammates from previous years and from this year know that I truly had a blast, and I wouldn’t want to play for nobody else.”

Baldwin’s ankle injury manifested itself over about the last month and a half of the season.

“The ankle injury was just one of those things that you don’t want to have but you’ve got to play through. This was one of those nagging injuries,” Baldwin said. “It really showed that I handle adversity good. I’m not just a football player, but on and off the field, the challenges, it made me grow up even more.”

Playing as much as possible through the injury concerns was one way the 5-foot-9, 215-pound senior showed his leadership, Setzer said.

“He took more of a leadership role. He had to because a lot of the older guys walked out of the building, and he continued to lead through his play,” Setzer said. “It’s extremely exciting for the young man. He continued to put the team on his shoulders and willed us to victories.”

A few weeks away from football have allowed the ankle to heal, and Baldwin is expected to be healthy to participate in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas Dec. 17 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, becoming the first Shrine Bowl player under Setzer’s tutelage in a 20-year coaching career.

That appearance is part of the process and Baldwin moves into the next phase of his football career. He’s currently making official visits to schools which have made scholarship offers for him to play collegiately; Baldwin’s offers include James Madison, Navy and Georgia State at the NCAA Division-I Football Bowl Subdivision level, and he also has Division-I Football Championship Subdivision and Division-II offers, including Campbell, Fayetteville State and Lenoir-Rhyne, among others.

Baldwin says he’s currently “narrowing it down” and “will probably make a decision here soon.”

“They’ve got to have a family atmosphere,” Baldwin said of potential colleges. “And I want to go somewhere that I want to be wanted.”

“He’s got a lot of choices to make,” Setzer said. “I told him enjoy the process and understand the process, and continue to surround himself with great people that can help him make great choices towards the future of K.B.”

As Baldwin prepares for the next level, he’s completed one chapter of his career, and along the way left a tremendous legacy in the St. Pauls program.

“His legacy will be, I hope, to be just another big-time guy to come through to do it the right way,” Setzer said. “We’ve had a lot of kids come through that were able to do it the right way. Not to get ahead of myself, but I hope the kid can stay healthy and continue to be blessed, and I think the kid has an opportunity to play at the highest level of football, if the stars line up and it’s in God’s plan.”

Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.