Baldwin Ready For Impact

As Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy raced into the record books as a fantastic freshman last season, he was lauded by former Panthers legend Tony Dorsett as the only player who made an initial impact similar to his in the 1970s.

It was more than three decades between Dorsett's and LeSean McCoy's performances for the University of Pittsburgh, but McCoy believed that a current Panthers freshman could make an even bigger impact this season.

Jonathan Baldwin, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound wideout, had a strong camp and will play in his first college game when Pitt plays host to Bowling Green Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

"Wow ... God has blessed him with great size and ability,'' McCoy said. "The kid's 6-6 and is put-together. He has a 40-inch vertical jump. He makes catches that are unreal, so I think he'll have a better year as a freshman than I did. Coach is going to give him an opportunity.

"Coach Wannstedt, when you show him that you can play, he's going to give you a shot. And with Jonathan, I'm very confident in him, and so is the team. We're very confident in his ability, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up as the go-to guy, the No. 1 guy.''

Fifth-year senior Derek Kinder was that guy before a season-ending knee injury during the 2007 preseason. Kinder appears to be all the way back from that, as it's been about 13 months since the injury, but he also endorsed Baldwin.

"Baldwin is a superb athlete,'' Kinder said. "I can definitely see him getting on the field and making plays for us. He's shown the ability to make plays, and hopefully he'll get a chance to show what he can do.''

The man who will make that call, ultimately, is Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. He was effusive in praising him during camp, but was more tempered this week.

"I think he's different, but ... he's been consistent since he's been here,'' Wannstedt said. "I was impressed with him since we first had him at our camp, and that doesn't deal with the ability level on top of it. There's great potential there. How much he plays, I don't know, and that's what I told him.

"I don't know when or how or how much, so we'll play that by ear. We've got to go out to try to win this game, but I do have confidence in him. He's close to being ready, and there's certain things that he does real well right now.''

What Baldwin can do, obviously, is be a threat in the red zone at the very least. That's especially the case against Bowling Green, which does not have a defensive back who is taller than six feet. To Baldwin's credit, he has not been brash, but humble with a quiet confidence.

"I'm very excited to get out there and play in my first game,'' Baldwin said. "I'm getting there, but I'm still working hard on a couple things that I need to sharpen up on. It's a big transition, coming from high school, but I keep learning as much as possible. And I'm getting better all the time.

"I just have to keep working hard and listen to my coaches and players that are here longer than me. If I do that, things should work out for me. We have a lot of talent at receiver, so all I can do is watch what they do and try to do the things that they do. And the competition there makes everybody better.''

Baldwin was a scholastic All-American, but he believed it still was a big step for him to college football.

"It's a lot different from high school,'' Baldwin said. "When I got a route in high school, I had to run it. But in college, depending on the coverage, I might have to break off a route and change it up to beat a certain coverage. So, that's been a big difference for me. (But) my first game will be a great experience.

"I've been looking forward to getting on the field since I got here. I'm not really surprised by what happened for me during camp, because I know what I'm capable of. But by the same thing, I have to keep working hard and going what the coaches tell me to be successful here at Pitt.''

Baldwin developed a close personal relationship with Freedom Area graduate John Challis, who recently lost a two-year battle with cancer, and offered the following comments about his friend.

"I went to see him a few times, and we hung out,'' Baldwin said. "I really don't think about him being gone. I think of him being here in spirit, and I think about him every day. I'll come up with something for the season for him. But I don't have anything yet.''

If early returns on Baldwin are correct, the results will be spectacular.

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