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Italian DE Habakkuk Baldonado gets Spartans’ attention
Habakkuk Baldonado’s fortunes took a turn the night before the early signing period while he was fast asleep in Italy.
The Clearwater (Fla.) Academy International senior had returned home for the holidays to spend time with his family. Meanwhile, CAI coach Jesse Chinchar got a phone call from Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.
” ‘We’re interested in [Baldonado],’ ” Chinchar remembered him saying. ” ‘We’re coming down to see him. What’s his plans?’ And from there it kind of took off.”
Baldonado had already seen his recruitment blossom, to an extent. Smaller-division schools had been all over him, and he had received an offer from and taken an official visit to Coastal Carolina. But once he caught Oregon’s eye, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound defensive end took a big step forward.
In his fourth year of football, second at defensive end, and first in the United States, Baldonado demolished a school record with 30 1/2 sacks. But at a school with about 250 students from K-12 and a football team in its second year as an 11-man program, it took a little longer than expected for his name to spread.
“As one coach told me, you can’t really hide a 6-5 guy who moves like that,” Chinchar said. “So the word got out, and now he’s just trying to figure out which ones to visit.”
Nebraska and Oregon look like probable destinations. Central Florida, which offered on Tuesday, could shake things up. And Baldonado said he plans to take an official visit to Michigan State on Jan. 19.
But first he expects to welcome Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten to his host family’s home on Friday, the first day of the new contact period. MSU has not offered but clearly is intrigued.
“I’m in good contact with them,” Baldonado said. “I mainly talk with Coach Staten.”
Chinchar said Staten found out about Baldonado through a friend coaching at a smaller school who realized the Rome native was out of his reach. Staten and Michigan State have a clear need at defensive line to finish out the 2018 class, so he reached out to Baldonado and the talks have progressed steadily.
Baldonado played soccer growing up in Italy and took an interest in mixed martial arts. But when he made the move to Florida in July, it was done largely to play football. That, and to set himself up to study mechanical engineering in college.
“It’s not like we taught him how to be a good athlete,” Chinchar said. “He’s always been a good athlete. We enhanced those things. We got him in the gym. In Italy they don’t have a great weight program, so we put 20 pounds on him.”
Michigan State has several defensive line targets still in play, so it’s unclear whether an offer for Baldonado will come. But with the Spartans putting in effort to visit him in Florida and host him for a visit on campus, he’s proven himself as one to watch.
“Being 6-5, you generally don’t have an athlete of his caliber,” Chinchar said. “You know that people are generally pretty heavy-footed and not as natural, but his game is very smooth, and he’s very explosive.”
2019 prospects offered
The contact period doesn’t start for another two days, but recruiting never really stops. Michigan State has been busy this week evaluating high school juniors.
Two have received offers in the last two days. First was Cedar Ridge (Round Rock, Texas) wide receiver Jaylen Ellis, a 3-star prospect in the 247Sports composite ratings. Ellis has been committed to Baylor since June 15, 2017.
— jaylen ellis 4 (@J4ylenellis) January 9, 2018
Ellis stands 6 feet and ranks 64th in the nation among 2019 wide receivers. Michigan State becomes the second Power 5 team to offer him. He committed to the first one.
And on Wednesday, Michigan State defensive tackles coach Ron Burton went to work recruiting his home state of Virginia. Three-star Indian River (Chesapeake, Va.) defensive tackle Ben Smiley added the Spartans to his long list of offers that include Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Rutgers, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
— Ben Smiley lll #9️⃣ (@BenSmiley9) January 10, 2018
Smiley stands 6-4 and weighs 265 pounds, per 247Sports. He ranks 29th nationally among defensive tackles in the 2019 class.
Michigan State currently has four players committed to its 2019 class, which ranks 11th in the nation. Three of them — Julian Barnett, Dwan Mathis and Spencer Brown — are 4-star recruits from Michigan.
Michigan State basketball signee stat tracker
Several future Michigan State men’s basketball players hit the hardwood on Tuesday, and they all had big performances in wins. Here’s how they performed.
- Four-star Clarkston (Mich.) point guard Foster Loyer went off for 44 points in a win over Troy (Mich.) on the road. The most fascinating part? The final score was 59-54. He scored 74.6 percent of his team’s points. The Wolves could really use the help of Thomas Kithier, a fellow Spartans signee and Clarkston student who was ruled ineligible for the season because of a ruling that his transfer from Macomb (Mich.) Dakota was athletically motivated.
- Three-star wing Aaron Henry helped Ben Davis (Indianapolis) push ahead of Decatur (Ind.) Central early in the first round of the Marion County tournament. He scored 20 points in a 77-53 win, according to IndyStar.
- Four-star Belleville (Mich.) wing Gabe Brown led his team with 19 points in a 70-60 win over Ann Arbor (Mich.) Pioneer, per the Detroit Free Press. After a 1-3 start, the Tigers have won their last two games.
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