Although a growing demographic, international college football players are hard to find. According to The Growth of a Game, a Belgian-based company connecting football advocates across Europe, only two active Division I college football players were born in Italy as of 2015. Incoming Pitt commit Habakkuk Baldonado will add to that total next year.
Baldonado, who grew up in Rome, came to the United States to attend Clearwater Academy International in Clearwater, Florida. Although he started playing football much later than most college football prospects, his impressive start has Pitt’s fan base excited for development.
“Anytime you’ve only played one year in the States and only have been in a weight program for one year, your upside is that much higher,” Clearwater head coach Jesse Chinchar told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “He hasn’t even touched his potential yet.”
Listed by 247sports.com as a three-star weak-side defensive end, Baldonado stands at a tall 6 feet 5 inches tall and 230 pounds. He recorded 30.5 sacks in his senior season at Clearwater. He chose Pitt over offers that included Michigan State, Connecticut, Syracuse, Nebraska and Central Florida. Pitt, MSU, and UCF were his final three schools.
“I can say that I’m a rushing WDE,” Baldonado said. “Pass rush is one of my strengths, that’s why I’m the Florida leader in sacks. I will try to bring on the field my attitude and my abilities, and I will like in the beginning to learn everything that I can from the older players.”
Three main factors resulted in his college decision: coaching, location and academics. He said he has developed a close relationship with the Panthers coaching staff and loves the City of Pittsburgh.
“I grew up in a city,” Baldonado said, “so I don’t think that I would be able to live in the middle of nowhere for five years. Pittsburgh is a beautiful City to live in with a beautiful atmosphere.”
The University of Pittsburgh impressed Baldonado with its prestigious academic reputation. He was especially excited about the strength of its mechanical engineering program, through which he intends to pursue his major.
Coming off a 5-7 season and looking forward to a lethal 2018 schedule, the Panthers’ future has some concerned. Baldonado, though, has confidence the team is trending upward.
“I know that the past season has been tough for Pitt,” he said, “even because of some unlucky events, but from what I’ve seen, they’re improving in any field and starting from next year thanks to the great coaches. They are gonna start to improve exponentially, and I’m sure that we will be better every year.”
Baldonado is certainly ready for fall 2018 to arrive. He wants to arrive on campus and get to work: on the gridiron and off.
“I can’t wait to start practicing with the team, on the field and in the gym,” Baldonado said. “I’m really looking forward to being coached by [defensive line] coach [Charlie] Partridge and to improve as much as I can.”
He added, “I can’t wait to move there and start living the college life, meeting new people and start this new great experience.”