With arms and legs that resemble logs and a 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame, Habakkuk Baldonado fits his role as a fierce quarterback hunter.
But Pitt’s junior defensive end is 7,322 kilometers from his hometown of Rome, Italy, and he’s only human.
It is perhaps not surprising that he admits a bit of homesickness “every now and then” which, in fact, wears off almost as quickly as it appears.
Whether it’s Thanksgiving dinner at a teammate’s house, the annual kickball game in Charlie Partridge’s backyard, or just throwing his arm around a young player and helping him cope, Baldonado has found a home in the Pitt football team.
After All-American defensive ends Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver moved to the NFL, Baldonado rose to the top of Pitt’s standings in terms of production and leadership. Although he misses his mother and brother in Rome, he is too busy and too focused to worry about anything other than attacking tackle UMass who will line up in front of him in the opener. from Pitt at 4 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.
He said he was taking the advice of Partridge, his position trainer, who told him to “focus on staying focused on what matters.”
Baldonado has been away from home since 2017 when he moved to the United States to attend Clearwater (Florida) Academy and prepare for college.
Encouraged by his mother, Paola Franceschelli, to have new experiences, he was not afraid to leave the house. “Rather than worrying, I would say excited. I didn’t know what was going to happen, ”he said. “The plan at the beginning with my mom was to go six months and see what happened.”
This plan did not last long.
“I just dived, I went 100%,” he said, “and I left everything I had behind me, I completely immersed myself in this new experience.”
Homesickness is natural, given that he came to Clearwater and Pittsburgh without knowing anyone in those cities. But that changed quickly.
“Now I have a family here. Pitt has become my family. I just called my people and it’s going right away. The older guys in Pittsburgh are really welcoming, ”he said, noting that he befriended Pitt junior defensive linemen and Thomas Jefferson graduates Devin Danielson and Noah Palmer and their families.
“Every Thanksgiving. Every anniversary. They just bring us food or bring us inside their homes.
On the pitch, he recorded four sacks as a backup in 2019, but injuries hampered his progress last year when he missed all but four games. He said after training on Wednesday that he was fully recovered.
“I’m really proud of how he’s recovered physically and I think he’s doing a great job taking care of his body,” Partridge said. “He’s approaching the game like a veteran should.
“He does a great job of mental preparation every day, doing all he can to do whatever he can to steal a game and play with great technique.”
He is also in the process of becoming a leader.
“The credit goes to Haba,” said Partridge, “not only for his ability to teach, but also for his empathy when he sees a young player put himself down. Haba has the ability to sense human emotions, to overcome them. and help them improve them. This leadership style will take him far in football and in life. ”
Baldonado added, “When I see myself in them I remember how I felt when I first got here, not knowing, not talking a lot and leaning towards the older guys.
“I try to lead the defensive linemen in the right direction, teaching the standard to the younger ones and respecting it. ”