Local Division II player hopes to realize his NFL dreams By: James Mason Issue date: 4/28/06 Section: Sports Many of us have played organized sports at some level and have had dreams of making it to the NFL. Along the way, we all begin to give up on our dreams of playing pro sports at some point or another. Some of us get cut from the JV team, some of us don't make it to varsity. Others are just too small or too short to continue their dream at the collegiate level. Then there are guys like Reggie Bush, who have made it. This weekend, Bush, along with hundreds of others, will be selected in the NFL draft. On April 29, his dream will be realized. Then there are guys like Michael Baldwin, a 6'0", 200-pound hard-hitting safety from Kutztown University. Division II Kutztown isn't exactly a football factory, but that hasn't stopped Baldwin from dreaming. After a stellar career where he racked up honors ranging from Academic All-American to Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year, the North Philly native is a couple of hours away from knowing if his dream will come true. "[Being this close] is teasing me," Baldwin said. "It's like holding a piece of meat in front of a dog, because I want this so bad. But I feel blessed to even be in the position that I'm in." Yet, to be in this position is something that Mike Baldwin didn't truly believe could happen until one of his teammates began to get NFL looks. With his teammate being scouted, he began to wonder why that couldn't be him. "Well, I always had dreams," Baldwin said, "But I never thought I would ever get the same shot that other players from Division I schools got." Baldwin, however, hasn't had the same shot as Division I players. They get to work out for all of the teams twice, at the NFL Combine and at their schools' pro days. Baldwin didn't have that luxury. Instead, he and his agent sent out films to several NFL teams, and he has worked out at other school's pro days. This has been enough to garner some interest from the Eagles, Bears, Dolphins, Saints, Rams, 49ers, Colts, and a few others that have come to see him on film. One can't help but wonder how much more interest he would have garnered if he had a truly fair chance. Despite all of this, Baldwin said that he'd do it all again because of "all of the people I've met and the experiences I had at Kutztown." Michael Baldwin is definitely a guy that should get a look from teams looking to add depth to their secondary or special teams. He's humble enough to admit that players who have experience at the Division I level are often more advanced than him because of the superior training and level of competition, but he also knows that he is a guy that will "bring the wood" to anyone coming down the middle. He describes himself as "an intelligent player who is willing to do anything to win." Baldwin can exceed the typical expectations for safeties, backpedaling and breaking up passes. He sees himself as "a linebacker that has the ability to cover receivers and make plays." That is my definition of what a safety should be. Teams that got a chance to see his highlight tape know that his description of his abilities is exactly what he brings to the table. When I look at the league, I see the safety position as one that lacks depth. Most teams may only have one good safety; some don't have a good safety at all. Yet, many teams still draft guys that are unable to play safety at the NFL level because they ran a fast 40-yard dash or had a good workout. As for Baldwin, he's just looking for an opportunity to play. He doesn't care where it is, he just wants a chance to showcase his ability. But all of the workouts, weightlifting sessions, big plays and accolades, on top of the school work that made him one of the nation's finest scholar athletes, may not be enough. The anticipation has Baldwin nervous, but he's more anxious just to get it over so he can decide whether to pursue his NFL dreams or perhaps go to law school. The uncertainty is taxing on not only on Baldwin, but also his friends and family. John Saunders, a senior at Drexel and a close friend of Baldwin's, told me that if his friend made it to the NFL, "It would mean a lot to all of his friends and family if he did get the opportunity, because not many people get the chance to make it out of the North Philly neighborhood he's from." While it's safe to say that Baldwin will make it out in some capacity, his pro future is up in the air. "If it was meant to happen, it will happen," Baldwin said. On draft day, he won't be one of those guys in attendance in a suit, waiting to hear his name called to shake Paul Tagliabue's hand. He won't be in attendance, nor will he be waiting to hear his name called. He'll be in Detroit, working out for a Canadian team. If he had the chance to watch the draft, he wouldn't, because of the potential of disappointment. As a guy coming out of Kutztown, he's just hoping that a team will ignore the division and school he came from and just give him a chance to prove himself. He sees himself as a diamond in the rough, but he's staring the death of his dreams right in the eye. Many of us have been in his shoes. For some of us, our dreams didn't last past cut day; for others, they didn't even make it past genetics. Then there are the hundreds of other Division I-AA, Division II, Division III and junior college players that are hoping for a chance too. What makes Michael Baldwin different from all of them on draft day? He's hoping that he did enough in his career to prove that he has the ability to take his game to the next level. He's also hoping that NFL scouts will see that the only difference between him and the other safeties in this year's draft is the division they played in. James Mason is a pre-junior majoring in communications. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.