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A Novel Ideal

It wasn’t so much a press conference as it was a peek into the home and family that made Jonathan Baldwin an unusual prospect in that he’s as humble as he is talented.

Once the television cameras and tape recorders of the assembled media were turned on him, the Aliquippa receiver simply said, “I’m going to Pitt.”

There was no selecting from several hats – Baldwin doesn’t even own a Pitt cap yet – or putting on a shirt to reveal his college decision. Baldwin eschewed the contrived suspense that so many recruits insist upon and instead opted for something that was rather boring.

And totally refreshing.

“This was just right for us,” Jeffrey Baldwin, Jonathan’s father and a former Pitt defensive lineman from 1981-84, said of his son’s choice. “This was the best thing that could ever happen. We felt like were at home.”

So what better place for Baldwin to announce his college choice than in the living room of his two-story home on Davidson Street? The same place where his trophies are on the mantle and his parents instilled strong values in their son, who is both soft-spoken and direct.

“He was raised to be humble and give it all you’ve got,” said Baldwin’s mother, Tezmalita, who added this caveat: “We always tell him, ‘We’re not halfway your parents.’”

So why the press conference? Well, Baldwin is not your ordinary recruit. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound receiver has been selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl next month in San Antonio. He was coveted by the likes of Florida, Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame. There were several newspapers, television stations and Internet sites interested in where he was going to play college football.

Yet never got caught up in the recruiting game that can consume high school athletes who command such attention.

“Pitt was in the lead the whole time,” Baldwin said. “I just kept it to myself.”

Baldwin has known this since last June, shortly after he attended Pitt’s passing camp. That’s when he knew his relationships with Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, receivers coach Aubrey Hill and, maybe most importantly, Aliquippa native and director of football operations Chris LaSala were for real.

Baldwin could have committed early, but he wanted to explore what other schools had to offer as a comparison and didn’t want recruiting to be a distraction to Aliquippa’s football season. He could have waited longer, donning a Pitt cap on national television at the Army game.

That’s not his style.

And unlike some of the other WPIAL players who have chosen the Panthers in the past two weeks, Baldwin said Pitt’s 13-9 victory over No. 2 West Virginia in the 100th Backyard Brawl had no bearing on his decision.

“I was going to Pitt if they won or lost,” Baldwin said, “so that didn’t change anything.”

That’s why Baldwin is drawing notice as Pitt’s top receiver recruit since Larry Fitzgerald. Although Baldwin more closely resembles a Randy Moss-type physically – with similar size, sprinter’s speed and great leaping ability, as evidence by his basketball prowess – Baldwin identifies with and has been inspired by Fitzgerald.

“I like to hear that,” Baldwin said of the comparisons. “Larry Fitzgerald is one of my favorites. He’s a great receiver but he’s also humble. You won’t catch him taunting anybody.”

Not a bad role model, especially for a Pitt receiver.

&#149 Other items of interest concerning Baldwin:

• Baldwin confirmed that he was the recruit Wannstedt was referring to who called after the West Virginia win and said, “I knew we could do it!”

• Baldwin said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds at Pitt’s camp as a sophomore, so the Panthers told him he needn’t bother run it this past summer.

Find that hard to believe? You shouldn’t, considering Baldwin finished third in the PIAA Class AA 100-meter dash at 11.03 seconds and ran a leg on the Quips’ PIAA champion 400-meter relay team in his first year of competing in track and field.

• After meeting with Wannstedt during his official visit Sunday, Baldwin returned to his hotel and knocked on Norwin wideout Mike Shanahan’s door to personally deliver a message.

“I told him I had just committed to Pitt,” Baldwin said to his long-time Pittsburgh Storm AAU basketball teammate, “and that it was his turn to commit.”

Later that night, Shanahan text-messaged Baldwin back to let him know he was on board. Shanahan had several college basketball offers, as well, and gave strong consideration to playing hoops at Mid-American or Patriot League schools before electing to play football.

That wouldn’t be a bad pair of walk-ons.

• Baldwin had several basketball scholarship offers – Marquette was in hot pursuit – but it isn’t clear whether he will try to play both sports for the Panthers.

“He’s definitely going to walk on,” Jeffrey Baldwin said. “If he fits into the rotation, coach Wannstedt said it’s fine with him.”

But Jonathan Baldwin isn’t so sure.

“It depends on how my football goes,” Jonathan Baldwin said. “I don’t want to be too tired.”

Not that Jamie Dixon would turn down a 6-6 leaper…

• Although Tezmalita Baldwin said the family “had no influence whatsoever” in his decision to pick Pitt, Baldwin said he didn’t want to go far from home so it would “easy for my mom and dad getting to my games. They don’t have to worry about spending an arm and a leg on gas.”

• Jeffrey Baldwin couldn’t contain his happiness. Their home isn’t decorated in Pitt’s blue and gold, but hanging on the living room wall is a plaque honoring the 1984 Fiesta Bowl team and on the mantle is an autographed photo from Chris Doleman and a photo of Baldwin posing with Wannstedt and the Heisman Trophy.

“Pitt has changed a little bit, but the love is still there and that’s what counts,” Jeffrey Baldwin said. “When you’re recruited, coaches basically say the same things. I told him what to expect. It was fascinating and touched our hearts how they all knew me and welcomed my wife and Jonathan like they’d been there for years.”

• Obviously, Baldwin’s size, speed and hands were attractive to college coaches. Aliquippa receivers-secondary coach Sherman McBride said that what separates Baldwin is not only does he have what you can’t teach, but that he’s willing to put in the work to become better.

Don’t discount the Aliquippa-to-Pitt pipeline being a factor, especially because Baldwin looks up to former Quips/Panthers Josh Lay and Darrelle Revis.

“If you think about it, all the Aliquippa players who went to Pitt went to the NFL,” Baldwin said. “Hopefully, it will continue for me.”

Not every Quip has had success at Pitt, so it’s not as simple as that. For every Lay and Revis, there is a Monroe Weekley and Tommie Campbell who were dismissed from the team and transferred. What it comes down to is relationships, and Baldwin trusted his with Pitt.

“I think it was the constant reminder of former Aliquippa players and what they did there,” McBride said. “He’s a humble kid. He knows who’s interested. They showed a lot of interest and made him feel at home.”

With his press conference, Baldwin made it clear that home is where his heart is. Which is good news for Pitt.

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