Jared Baldwin looked grateful Friday afternoon. His smile exploded with every word he spoke. His eyes surveyed every aspect of each room he entered as if he was trying to soak in all the moments of the day for his own personal memory highlight reel.
He wanted to be there. He believed he belonged there. He didn't appear nervous, apprehensive or overwhelmed by the moment.
Baldwin, a North Carolina A&T track and field standout, accepted the inaugural MEAC Man of the Year award Friday at the 2012 Football Press Luncheon held at the Sheraton Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va. It marked the third time an Aggie has won MEAC Woman or Man of the Year as Baldwin joined softball's Renecia Lovelace (2006) and women's track and field's Loreal Smith (2009).
As Baldwin made his acceptance speech in front of the hundreds gathered to usher in the kickoff of the 2012 MEAC football season, his excitement was even more apparent.
All the gratitude he had for the people who helped him get to the podium to accept the award ran out of the Aggies triple and long jumper's mouth like a effortless sprint down the runway. His parents, the coach who recruited him - Roy "Spaceman" Thompson, the current coaching staff and the A&T Athletics department, all received a thank you with a smile.
Never was there a hint of entitlement from Baldwin, which was refreshing. The enthusiasm erupting through every Baldwin movement came from a man who was being rewarded for having an effective plan. This is how Baldwin, who grew up in Greensboro, saw it coming together when he first had the vision at Mendenhall Middle School. And it felt great!
Keep God first. Learn the skills it takes to be an engineer in college. Compete collegiately in track and field. Volunteer in the community. Enjoy college. Graduate with honors. Start working in your field immediately after graduation. The MEAC Man of the Year award was an unexpected treat at the end of this journey.
"I love being here," he said before the luncheon. "I love being in the moment. There are a lot of people here, so it looks like a big deal. To have a chance to speak in front of this many people is an honor. When your achievements and accomplishments are recognized by so many people it proves hard work pays off. It encourages you to keep working hard."
Before stopping off to collect his Man of the Year award, Baldwin was also rewarded with a cruise. In a few weeks, he will start work at The Boeing Company in St. Louis. He then plans to obtain an advanced degree under a program Boeing provides for its employees.
The strategy for getting here started with Baldwin's parents, Earl and Jean Baldwin. Baldwin said their role in it was love and setting an example. Both his parents went to college, which had a tremendous influence over Baldwin. He knew in middle school, he wanted to go to college to be an engineer. To put more on his impressionable mind, Baldwin had a brother and sister attend college with his brother earning a postgraduate degree at the University of Southern California.
Track and field became a part of the plan when he developed a love for the sport at an early age. Recruiters began to call, including a few inquiries from N.C. State, a school known for engineering and having top flight athletic programs. A&T's "Spaceman" also came knocking. He didn't have the facilities or the national reputation of N.C. State, but what he had was years of experience in coaching All-American jumpers, and oh yes, it didn't hurt that he worked at the top school for producing minority engineers.
"They had a great pedigree, especially with jumpers," said Baldwin, who graduated from A&T in May with a 3.43 grade point average. "The engineering program was just so impressive, I truly believed I could get where I wanted to go by attending A&T. Plus, I'm not one to go home much, so I felt like I could still have the college experience even though I was going to school in my hometown."
Baldwin's blueprint began to show flaws, however. After two years, Thompson retired. In an instance, the jump coach who was going to make him All-American was gone. In his place was uncertainty. Baldwin was hoping for a smooth transition, but he said it didn't turn out that way. The retirement left him and his teammates wondering about the future of the program.
"We (as a team) had to make a lot of adjustments," said Baldwin. "My mindset never changed. There are always going to be distractions, detours and detractors along the way. For me, going to college was always about getting my degree. You never know when athletics will be taken away from you. I knew my academics were going to take me further in life."
Track and field hasn't been bad to him either. Baldwin settled in with Katrina Allen as his jumps coach. In February, he won the MEAC indoor long jump championship and captured third place in the triple jump. During the outdoor season, he qualified for the triple jump at the NCAA Division I East Regional Preliminary Round on his last jump in a Last Chance Meet at A&T's Irwin Belk Track.
Even when the plan doesn't go smoothly, there are still lessons to be gained.
"It is all a part of growing up," said Baldwin. "Things like that make you stronger. I've always put academics before athletics, so I was able to focus."
His track and field future is unclear. There is a part of him that still wants to compete, but it still comes in distant second to furthering his career. He will train when time permits, but as for now, he can't make a full commitment to competing again.
He is still thankful for the opportunity track and field gave him to compete while seeing his plan come to fruition on an athletic scholarship. He excited for what his future plans hold because of where he was on Friday afternoon in Norfolk, Va. It worked. The plan worked.