Today's Husky Legend: Mike Baldassin

Nov. 8, 2008

By Matt Winter

Out of Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., Mike Baldassin was not thebiggest of recruits -- literally and figuratively. Despite earning team MVP andAll-City football honors, only smaller schools and junior colleges recruited himdue to his small stature. He originally signed to play football at the Universityof Puget Sound, but it was a spot in the East-West All-Star game at the end of thesummer that would change his football future forever.

Baldassin, who also was an All-State third baseman on the baseballdiamond, bulked up to 195 pounds by the game's start, and a strong performanceimpressed several Pac-10 schools, including Washington. It wasn't long beforeBaldassin had signed with the Huskies and showed up to play in 1973 for headcoach Jim Owens.

Baldassin arrived on the UW campus and made an immediate impact. Hisfreshman season in 1973 was just the second year that freshmen were allowedto play with the varsity team, and Baldassin took advantage of it, earning avarsity letter with his play on special teams. He learned early on that he wouldhave to take advantage of other things to make up for his lack of size.

'I knew I wasn't going to beat people up physically, so I knew I had to getreally good with technique,' said Baldassin. 'I listened to the coaches heavily.I learned how to use leverage and angles, as well as speed and quickness tomy advantage.'

Something else life-changing happened to Baldassin that year. From thefirst day of practice, he befriended fellow freshman linebacker Mike Rohrbach.Despite competing directly for playing time, the two Mikes bonded closelythrough their strong Christian faith. It was Rohrbach who first introducedBaldassin to a group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes -- anorganization that brought together Christian athletes from all over the country.

'I just learned what it meant to be a Christian and how to be a Christianathlete,' Baldassin says of the Fellowship. 'Everyone thinks of Christians asmilquetoast guys, but these guys were tough, and I wanted to be like them.'

Baldassin brought that pride with him to the football field in 1974, CoachOwens' last year. The sophomore linebacker again earned a letter fromcontinued success on special teams, and eventually earned the starting job forthe season-ending 24-17 Apple Cup victory.

'When you're finally in a big-time game, you learn really quickly how bigthat rivalry is from the older players and coaches,' Baldassin explains. 'It wasthe Super Bowl for us -- and Jim Owens' last game. We wanted to play wellfor him.'

Junior year brought big change for Baldassin and the rest of the Huskies asnew head coach Don James brought a new mentality to Montlake.

'We learned really quickly that the intensity level got picked up 100percent,' Baldassin remembers. 'The bar was raised so high. Excellence wasdemanded and they accepted no less.'

Baldassin was the everyday starter at middle linebacker as a junior in 1975and in charge of calling the signals on defense. He remembers what it took tolearn complex defensive game plans week after week.

'When I'd go to classes, I'd spend the hour studying the schemes,' heexplains. 'The middle linebacker has to know everything with the opposingoffense, so I'd spend class writing and rewriting all of the schemes because Ididn't want to have any mental mistakes.'

That year, Baldassin led the team with 138 tackles as the Dawgs finishedwith a 6-5 record and a 28-27 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup.Heading into his senior year in 1976, Baldassin was met with the honorof being elected co-captain and the responsibility of directing a defense withhardly any varsity experience.

'A lot of those guys ended up being great football players. They wereyoung guys, but they were hungry guys,' Baldassin explains of a defense thatincluded future Husky greats Michael Jackson and Nesby Glasgow. 'I wantedto show them what Husky defense was. I believed that Husky defense wasmean and tough -- us outhitting the other team. I wanted to show the guys thatthe other team knew they were going to get whacked by us.'

Baldassin led by voice and example in 1976, using his leadership to helpestablish the first organized, on-field prayer after a game. Following weektwo's game against Colorado, Baldassin and Rohrbach met with a couple of theBuffalo players they knew through the Fellowship and had a prayer in the endzone, starting a post-game tradition that still exists today.

Baldassin finished his senior season with a national-best 200 tackles, amark that still ranks fourth all-time in school history. The Huskies finished 1976with a 5-6 record, a disappointing mark that was silver-lined with victories overMinnesota (led by QB Tony Dungy) and Washington State (Baldassin's thirdstraight Apple Cup victory). In addition to co-captain, Baldassin was honoredwith the Huskies Most Improved Player and Guy Flaherty Most InspirationalPlayer Award. His 386 career tackles still ranks sixth all-time in Husky history.

Baldassin went undrafted but was signed to the free-agent contract by SanFrancisco 49ers, where he played from 1977-79 and served as special teamscaptain for the first two years.

He then became a police officer in Oakland and Seattle, and while inOakland was awarded the Medal of Valor (the department's highest award).After law-enforcement, he became a teacher and coach at Bellarmine PrepHigh School, where he served as head football coach from 1996-2002. In thoseseven years, he won three league championships, earned four state playoffappearances, and compiled multiple Coach of the Year honors.

Now retired, Baldassin lives with his wife of 28 years, Mary, a former All-American rower at the UW. They have four kids -- daughters Jessica, Corrine,and Kaylee, as well as his son Beau.

'I learned about perseverance more than anything,' Baldassin says of histime as a Husky. 'When you play college football there's nothing but adversity.You have to go to class, practice, and you're beat up. It's hard you have to showup and bring it every day. You have to persevere everyday.'

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