Ozark and Nixa baseball players can get an insider’s perspective on what to expect in the very new world of college recruiting. Both Tigers coach Justin Sundlie and Eagles coach Logan Hughes are former college coaches.
Sundlie was an assistant at Lubbock Christian (Texas) and Hughes an assistant at Drury.
For better or worse, recruiting was undergoing dramatic changes in their final years of college coaching. The combination of college players receiving an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 and the debut of the transfer portal allowed athletes to transfer without sitting out a year.
“It happened my second-to-last year (at Lubbock Christian) and it changed everything,” Sundlie said. “I'm not sure how I feel about it, honestly.”
“I think it's unfortunate,” Hughes said. “From an old-school guy, you want people to (finish) at the school they start at and try to earn a spot, instead of making an excuse and transferring to another place. If you're not playing at one school, that's OK just transfer to another school. I wish it was back like the old days when there were more penalties for transferring.”
There’s no doubt the changes have made it much more difficult for high school standouts to attract the attention of college coaches. It’s become commonplace for rosters to be filled by 22- and 23-year-old juniors and seniors. Freshmen and sophomores are a rarity.
“It all kind of filters down. Everybody I've talked to in college says it's a logjam right now,” Sundlie said. “Look at how many kids are going to jucos because of those fifth-year seniors.”
Most of the best players to come out of Ozark and Nixa in recent seasons are at the juco level. That list includes Jake Skaggs and Evann Long at Fort Scott (Kansas), Blake Mozley at Johnson County (Kansas), Joe Reid at Crowder and Holden Sabor, Caleb Casto and Hunter Tennison at State Fair.
Ozark’s Devyn Wright and Rhett Hayward and Nixa’s Sam Russo and Ryan Retone are also bound for State Fair and the Eagles’ Jaret Nelson is headed to Fort Scott.
“It's tough for high school kids. But it is what it is,” Hughes said. “If you're a college team, you can go get an 18-year-old and he's probably going to be a year or two away or there's a kid who is transferring from Vanderbilt or another four-year school who has got 600 at-bats in his college career. It's obvious which guy you're going to take, the guy with the experience.
“A lot of our guys are going to junior college to play. That's the key, take advantage of an opportunity to play somewhere and prove yourself.”
Ozark senior outfielder Greydon Miller is thankful to have received an offer to play NCAA D-II ball for Lindenwood, after finding spots elsewhere hard to come by.
“The whole summer I went from camp to camp during the weekends for colleges to see and what kind of offers I could get,” Miller said. “With all the COVID extra year and the transfer portal going on, they don't have extra roster spots available. It's hard to find a team right now.
“I'm excited and so grateful for the opportunity I have at Lindenwood,” he added.
Ozark senior Brody Baumann is looking every bit like an NCAA D-II prospect this spring, while starring on the mound and in the batter’s box. He’s going to play NCCAA ball, having committed to College of the Ozarks.
The new world of college recruiting didn’t factor much into Baumann’s college choice.
“I heard things here and there, how certain colleges are picking up fewer people,” Baumann said. “I didn't do too much to put my name out there, I just went to a few camps. I think there was some interest, but I didn't really start looking at colleges until my senior year.
“I really like C of O, the teammates I'll have and the atmosphere there,” he added. “I thought it was a good fit for me.”
If Sundlie was to give any advice to a high school player, it would be to find a place they will play.
“(Baumann) was very happy after his visit to C of O and felt like he was going to be able to go down there and help them,” Sundlie said. “You want to go somewhere when you show up, they're waiting for you and know who you are, that you're not just another name on a list. He's got a chance to go to C of O and contribute immediately. That will be an awesome experience for him.
“Grab on somewhere and find a place to prove yourself,” he added. “College baseball is so much fun. It doesn't matter where you play, it’s a blast.”