Despite having the high school baseball season cut short, the Forrest County AHS baseball team will have three players joining college programs.
Luke Odom, Blake Polk and Ethan Watts were finally able to celebrate their accomplishment in a signing ceremony on Tuesday night.
For Odom, the journey to play college baseball had been difficult. In the last two seasons, Odom played in 10 high school games after being ruled ineligible in his junior season and then losing his senior season to the pandemic.
“It was frustrating,” Odom said. “It took me a while to get through it because baseball is something that I really love. Baseball is my life, and to have it taken away for two years in a row sucked. But it’s just part of life. You just have to roll with the punches.”
Last summer, Odom took the initiative and opted to play in every summer tournament and showcase he could in order to gain attention from college scouts.
“I worked my tail off in the summer,” Odom said. “In the summer, there was no off days. I went from tournament to tournament and state to state. I traveled all over the place just playing ball and trying to get that exposure and get seen. It was a lot of showcase baseball. Any opportunity that I saw I tried to take advantage of.”
Odom eventually earned the opportunity and was offered a scholarship to sign with East Central Community College to pitch and play the outfield.
“I’ve got to give Luke a lot of credit,” FCAHS coach Gatlin Steelman said. “For not getting to play his junior season, he made the decision to get his name out there last summer, and he worked hard to go to East Central. For someone who didn’t get to play many games, he’s meant a ton to our program because of how he went about his business every single day. He knew that he wasn’t getting to play last year and didn’t miss a day of practice.”
Four-year starter Blake Polk will be joining Mississippi Delta Community College as a preferred walk-on to play the infield and pitch. According to Steelman, the pandemic hurt Polk in earning a scholarship due to the larger college rosters.
“They have a new coach there, and I sent him some videos and tried to get his name out there,” Steelman said. “He deserves to play somewhere. He’s been a starter for us for four years and played some as an eighth grader. The coronavirus really got him with college having to deal with high roster numbers. In my opinion, they are getting a steal with him as a walk-on.”
In his senior year, Polk was hitting .500 and logged four doubles and a home run in the shortened year. In the last three seasons as a pitcher, Polk recorded 69.1 innings and struck out 92 batters.
Prior to the season’s abrupt end that caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, East Central CC held a 10-8 overall record while Mississippi Delta CC held a 7-7 overall record.
Lastly, Ethan Watts will also be furthering his career with the newly added Southeastern Baptist College baseball program. The program last week offered Watts a roster spot to play the infield and pitch. In his career, Watts played in 25 games and held a career batting average of .284.
“I like the school,” Watts said. “It’s a good little Christian school, and I feel like I’d be more connected academically with the professors. As far as baseball goes, I just wanted to further my career any way I could, and they gave me the most legitimate opportunity.”
Each player gives credit to Steelman for helping further their careers as well as playing a large role in each of their lives.
“I’ve been with Coach Gat since I was in the seventh grade,” Polk said. “He’s a big part of why I’m going to play baseball at the next level. I believe if I didn’t have him that I wouldn’t be going.”
At the same time, each player also agreed that Steelman also played a large role in helping their respective goals of playing college baseball.
“Coach Gat worked his tail off to get me and Blake and Nate some recognition because not a lot of people hear about what’s going on at the farm in Forrest County,” Odom said. “Coach Gat is a really good guy and a really good coach. He worked really hard for us.”