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2020 left-handed pitcher Luke Baker (Photo: Social Media)

FEATURE: Playing at the Next Level

Playing at the collegiate level as a student-athlete is not easy. The increase in their workload does not compare to what they experienced in high school and it can be overwhelming. They have to balance the lifestyle of a student-athlete that includes two-a-day practices, games, traveling and going to class. The mental and physical toll that these student-athletes experience can come as a surprise for most of them. No one really talks about the transition these 17, 18-year old’s go through. They can encounter the pressure of representing a bigger institution at such a young age. These are the stories of local high school athletes in Gainesville, FL that are going to continue their athletic career at the collegiate level. Each story has a different perspective on how they are preparing to embark on the next chapter of their life.

Alli Green

Alli Green is a senior attending Newberry High School. She is on the varsity lacrosse team and her abilities on the field have led her to commit to Coker College located in South Carolina. She played lacrosse all four years at Newberry.

Coming from a small high school and going away for school for the first time can be challenging. There a lot of expectations for student-athletes to perform well in the classroom and on the field. With that added pressure brings some worries for Green but on the field.

“Most of my worries are just that in college it does get a lot more aggressive and high school is already aggressive as it is, but in college a lot more of the checks (hits) are more aggressive. A lot of the body positioning is a lot more aggressive so mainly just like how aggressive it’s going to be just switching to that sort of worries me.”

Green is not shying away from the competition though. She’s been able to balance school and lacrosse for a few years now and she hasn’t been alone doing so. Green has been able to find success in class and playing lacrosse due to the incredible support she has received from her family and coach. They have been in her corner through high school, especially in the process of going off to school.

“The general advice I’ve gotten from both my coach and parents is go where my heart is. When I do go, give it my all. My parents don’t want me to go out there and think oh I’m not as good as them and then quit. No, they want me to push myself.”

Posted by GHS Lady Canes Lacrosse on Friday, February 22, 2019

Green is as competitive as they come in any sport. She’s no stranger to proving people wrong. Having her birthday in late August means she’s always been the youngest. The same will take place at Coker College. The pressure of going up against older and more experienced athletes will not phase Green. She is ready and open to a new challenge.

Luke Baker

Luke Baker is a junior playing baseball at Buchholz High School. He is a left-handed pitcher and standing at 6’6”, he is a presence on the mound. Baker is committed to playing baseball at the University of Mississippi.

Baker has been on the radar for multiple schools after he competed in tournaments like the PBR Florida Underclass Games, Preseason All-State, and the 2018 PBR Future Games. After appearing in those games, Baker started to receive attention from big programs. During the recruitment process, Baker narrowed his decision to four schools: UCF, Jacksonville, Tulane, and Ole Miss.

He visited all four schools and met the coaches for each team. He explained why he decided to go with Mississippi.

“One of the biggest factors for me was really the coaching staff up at Ole Miss. The coaching staff was really impressive, they showed a lot of respect to me and I just felt like it was a really good place to play.”

The recent success on the diamond and in the recruitment process has been aided by Baker’s high school coaches and teammates.  Many athletes refer to the team they play for as their family away from their actual family. In Baker’s case, the same can said for him.

“There have been top guys who have run through this program (Buchholz) before. The coaches really know what they’re doing. Over these past three years they’ve molded me into the player and person I am. The coaches have got me really disciplined and made me really care about the game.”

Buchholz Baseball players rally before the start of the fourth inning on Wednesday night’s District 3-8A game against Ocala Forest. The Bobcats won 2-1. [Scott LaPeer/ Correspondent]
Being a student-athlete takes up a lot of one’s time. There isn’t much free time when you have to balance such a busy schedule. That type of lifestyle becomes more rigorous at the collegiate level. Classes are bigger in college compared to high school. The classes can be more challenging, and the practices are longer and more frequent. That everyday routine can seem overwhelming for most high school athletes, but Baker is entering the new scenario with an open mind.

“I don’t think it is going to be any easier. I know at Ole Miss they have a lot of good resources for the student athletes which will of course help me, but I still got to do the work. I’m kind of aware of the challenges that come with it so I don’t think it’ll be easy for me, but I think I’ll be able to adjust just based off some of the classes I’ve taken here.”

When it is all said and done at Buchholz high school, Baker will remember the memories he established since his first day on the team. These are teammates that he has grown up with. Each of them has been an integral part of Baker’s next step in his baseball career.

Coach Ron Brooks

The coach plays a key role in every high school athlete’s jump to the collegiate level. Some coaches are viewed as more than just a coach, but also a mentor off the field. Head Coach for the Buchholz baseball team, Ron Brooks, has impacted the lives of his players by teaching them important life lessons and not just how to hit and throw a baseball.

“When I hear a player talk kindly about me not only as a baseball coach but as a person that makes me feel great. That’s why I do what I do. I coach high school baseball, of course I love baseball, but I love being around young adults. I love being around this age group because they are able to be molded and you want to teach them exactly the right way to go about life and to take advantage of every opportunity they have.”

While coaching in high school, coaches are constantly seeing new players enter the program while others are leaving. In a short amount of time, the coach plays a factor in preparing one of his/her players to continue their career.

“When I have players that have aspirations to play at the college level, the biggest thing I tell them is to take advantage of every day. This program has been a tremendous baseball program with a lot of great players that have gone to play college baseball and professional baseball so there’s a lot of tradition to draw from.”

Being a coach or an athlete in the college transition process can be strenuous. After talking to these individuals, the overall consensus to a smooth transition is having a strong support group. Family, friends and coaches make up the backbone that can help prepare and guide these young athletes find success at their new schools.

About Alejandro Aguirre

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