It wasn’t the year that Habakkuk Baldonado envisioned when he returned to Pitt for one more ride, and while he still has the ability to exercise his COVID season, Baldonado is very likely headed to the next level.
The East-West Shrine Bowl announced on Twitter that Baldonado accepted an invite to the annual postseason All-Star game — and a week’s worth of work with NFL coaches — intended for NFL hopefuls to showcase their ability.
— East-West Shrine Bowl (@ShrineBowl) December 7, 2022
Baldonado arrived at Pitt as a raw defensive end, towering over the coaching staff at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, and it didn’t take too long to make an impact.
His non-stop motor and ability to soak up every ounce of knowledge from the veteran unit around him led to a breakout season last year.
With a 12-sack, 9-tackle-for-loss campaign last season, leading Pitt in sacks, the NFL Draft buzz arrived with it. He decided to turn down the interest — a potential Day 2 selection — to return for a push at solidifying Day 1 status and repeating as champs.
It hasn’t been the season that Baldonado envisioned when he decided to come back.
Injuries have certainly impacted Baldonado this season, missing full games against Rhode Island, Duke and Miami and a couple of halves here and there, but that still has led to a season of reduced production. He led Pitt in sacks last season, and he recorded just two this season — a half sack against West Virginia, another against Syracuse and a sack against Virginia.
Baldonado recorded 25 tackles (nine solo), five tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups this season. And Pat Narduzzi feels like while Baldonado’s stats haven’t flashed, NFL scouts have still seen his potential impact.
“Haba has been outstanding, and again, sometimes for all these All-Americans, let’s just look at numbers, but I’ve talked to a lot of scouts that walked through here, and they see almost the strips, they see ‘almost,'” Narduzzi said in November. “That’s what they want to see.”
Baldonado has the size, physical tools, football IQ and leadership to be the next Pitt defensive end to make the jump to the next level and succeed. There were questions about what he would decide to do next season, but those appear to be answered.
In four seasons at Pitt, Baldonado recorded 99 tackles (48 solo), 21.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, a forced fumble and two recoveries and two pass breakups. He earned All-ACC honors in 2021.
The Shrine Bowl — which Lucas Krull attended last year — caps a week of preparation and training with NFL coaching staffs. The Feb. 2, 2023 game will be played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada in front of NFL front office members, coaches and scouts.