There’s plenty about Habakkuk Baldonado as an athlete for college coaches to highlight.
There’s his 6-foot-5 height and length, his uncommon athleticism, his 30 1/2 sacks as a senior. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio could have focused on all of that Sunday when he sat the Italian defensive end down in his office. But he didn’t.
“He said he likes me as a person, first of all,” Baldonado recalled, “then he likes me as a football player. He said I’m a good student and they want to pick me because they’re trying to build a program with good people inside of it.”
And so on the final day of his official visit, the Clearwater (Fla.) Academy International senior landed a Michigan State offer. He received the news alongside his mother, who had been flown in from Italy for the visit. Naturally, both got excited.
With that, Michigan State moved to the top of his list alongside Central Florida, Nebraska, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Spartans got his mother’s approval, which may prove crucial.
“She fell in love with the school,” Baldonado said. “She really likes it a lot.”
The visit started out with a Friday night visit to the Breslin Center to see Michigan State’s men’s basketball team run over Indiana. Baldonado never played basketball growing up and knew next to nothing about the program, so it was a completely new experience.
Big time offer and amazing visit at @MSU_Football !!⚔️🏈 Thanks to everyone for the amazing experience @Coach_Staten coach @DantonioMark great people in a special place 🔥💯👑#SpartansWill #goGreen pic.twitter.com/Qcxl7POHIU
— Habakkuk Baldonado (@abba1999) January 22, 2018
“They love their basketball team,” he said. “The stadium was packed. It was a really fun experience. Their basketball team is really good.”
As the only 2018 prospect on campus, Baldonado got all the love and attention he could possibly expect from the coaches from then through the end of the visit.
Michigan State has hired two coaches within the past week, but still does not have a defensive ends coach in the wake of Mark Snyder’s departure for Florida State. There is no reason to be concerned, the staff told Baldonado.
“When I was there, they were interviewing some coaches, and they’re going to let me know as soon as they decide,” he said. “They’re great coaches, so I’m sure they’re gonna choose a good one. I’m not worried about it.”
Baldonado instead focused on the things Michigan State already has to offer. Shown around by running back Connor Heyward as well as the coaches, he saw Spartan Stadium and the “incredible” facilities.
All the walking around in winter weather might have bothered your typical Rome native. But growing up, Baldonado would visit his family in the mountains of Tuscany, so snow and frigid temperatures aren’t an issue.
“I definitely see myself there,” Baldonado said of Michigan State, citing the people he met as what made the Spartans stand out.
While on campus, he got to take a tour of the engineering department with a professor. Before coming to the United States, Baldonado had attended a trade school in Italy to prepare himself to study engineering. He had long been fascinated with cars and motorcycles.
Michigan State’s 2018 class already has an engineering major in wide receiver Ja’Vez Alexander, who enrolled earlier this month. Baldonado found that his career path would be respected and encouraged by the coaches despite how hectic it would make his schedule.
“They totally encourage you to do what you want to do, and be what you want to be, and they’re helping you out as a person,” he said.
Though Michigan State offered and only has a few spots left in its 20-player class, Baldonado didn’t feel pressured to come to a decision. The coaches gave him the knowledge he needed to make an informed choice and left it up to him.
“They’re not the kind of coaches that push you or oblige you to commit,” he said. “They just showed me around, showed me who they were and were like, ‘Now you have the ball at your feet. You can decide. That’s your choice.’ ”
Baldonado doesn’t plan to rush things. With three official visits remaining, he said he will “for sure” visit Nebraska and Pittsburgh and might use the last one on Syracuse or another school if he can.
As for a decision, he plans to take it right up until National Signing Day on Feb. 7. Many grow tired of the recruiting process by the end, but Baldonado’s just started heating up a month ago. He wants to enjoy it while he can.
“I love doing this since it’s my dream,” he said. “My dream was playing college football, so it’s totally fine for me.”