When Hurricane Andrew roared through Homestead, Baldwin and his family were devastated like so many others. The apartment complex they called home was totally destroyed and the family was relocated to Gainesville while Homestead was rebuilt. They spent two years in Gainesville and ever since then, Baldwin has felt a connection to the University of Florida.
Even though he was just a little guy at the time, Baldwin will never forget Andrew and how his entire family felt the full force of this Category Five storm that ended 15 lives in Florida and caused an estimated $25 billion in damage.
"The wind blew the roof off the apartment," Baldwin says. "It was scary, because no one in Homestead worried about it and thought it was just a little hurricane. When it was as big as it was, it really shocked us. Everyone in my family (of seven) ran to the back of the apartment where the roof was still on. It was going on for like 3-4 hours.
"When we finally could go outside, trees were blowing hard and the damage was everywhere. After people settled down from the storm, people were going crazy and stealing food and stuff."
With home nothing but rubble, the government stepped in to help people, even assigning them places to live. Baldwin's family was relocated to Gainesville until Homestead could be rebuilt.
"They [parents] didn't pick Gainesville …, they [the government] told certain people this is where you had to go to get housing," Baldwin said. "Gainesville is where my entire family went. They tried to keep whole families together. I had aunts and uncles and my family went.
Baldwin's father was in the Army at the time. Once he finished his enlistment he set out to move his family back to south Florida. He chose to build his way back into Homestead and the plan was an overwhelming success.
"We lived in Gainesville for two years," Darin said. "It was first and second grade for me. In the middle of second grade we came back. My dad was finally discharged from the Army and he kind of lucked up and started building houses down here. Now he has a lot of houses that he owns and has built."
The experiences this 6-0, 170-pound cornerback had in his youth have had a lasting influence. He discovered this summer that he can handle being out on his own and away from home. He's spent a good portion of this summer on the road at football camps and checking out campuses. He's on a mission to find the best school for the next four years. He's talented enough that he'll get a scholarship to one of the top schools in Division I.
"I have been busy a lot this summer," he said. "I have been to a few camps. I went to the Florida Gators camp. I went to the Bishop Moore Camp. I went to a camp at the University of Miami and I went to the Rutgers camp in Appalachian. The best experience has been getting away from home a lot. I wasn't used to it before but it's really been like living on my own for weeks at a time."
After a standout season in 2004 to go with solid camp performances, the college scouts have done their part by showing plenty of interest. He's got a solid list of favorites and offers from two of his top schools.
"I am looking at the Florida Gators, University of Miami, NC State and Auburn," he said. "The Gators and NC State have offered.
NC STATE: "It's not really a like thing. It is where I can go play because (starting corner) Marcus Hudson will be leaving this year and probably (other starter) A.J. Davis leaving this year too. So, the coaches have been all over me about getting some playing time."
MIAMI: "Everybody down here wants to be a Hurricane, that's just Miami."
FLORIDA: "Oh yeah, I like the Gators. I used to live up there. I feel like home up there too. I have aunts and uncles that still stay there. I am going to be up there this weekend for the 'Friday Night Lights.' I have to take my nieces and nephews back up there and when we are there I am going to the 'Friday Night Lights' thing."
AUBURN: "(Former Miami Southridge safety) Lorenzo Ferguson … we became friends when he played in Miami. He said they don't care if you are a senior or sophomore or whatever. They say if you are good enough you can crack the lineup as a freshman. He will be in the lineup this year and he graduated from high school two years ago. The only reason he didn't play last year is because he hurt his ankle. I like that they will play whoever is better."
There will be no decision any time soon because Darin Baldwin is intent on taking a long, hard look at all of his options. After a nomadic summer, he's ready to patiently go through his check lists to find just what school fits best. This is one young man who is determined that his final decision will be the very best one he can make, and if Gainesville ends up in his future, then it will be proof that some good actually came out of Hurricane Andrew.