We have a great follow up to our previous JUCO article. Thanks to Coach Skyler Barnett with Walters State Community College for spending time with us to learn even more about Junior College baseball.
A quick biography of Coach Barnett... he is entering his first season as the Recruiting Coordinator for the perennially national ranked Walters State Community College. Barnett brings experience to Walters from previous stops where he served as Recruiting Coordinator at Carson Newman University, and assistant coach at Lincoln Memorial University, Austin Peay State University, and most recently East Tennessee State University.
Now to the interview!
Trent: What do you think the biggest misunderstanding is about JUCO baseball?
Coach Barnett: One of the most common misunderstandings about junior college is that kids with bad grades go to junior college. In our case this couldn’t be further from the truth. We have quite a few players in our program that came out of high school with high ACT/SAT test scores and GPA’s. This ultimately helps us in the recruiting process be able to make our college more affordable with packaging academic scholarships to athletes.
Trent: How does the skill level and quality of play compare to other levels of college baseball?
Coach Barnett: I can speak from experience being a coach at NCAA D1, D2, and now Junior College levels. Skill level and quality of play isn’t necessarily predicated on the level of college. Good players and good baseball can be found at all levels, just some programs may have a few more quality players than others.
There are a lot of junior college programs that have a good history of highly skilled players signing with 4 year schools or professional contracts out of their program. I would argue that a number of those junior colleges could compete with any 4 year program in the country.
In our case at Walters State, we have been fortunate to have had a long successful history. That is a testament to Coach Shelton and the program he has built. With this successful history come good players that compete at a high skill level.
In the last 20 Seasons we have had 190 players accepting 4 year school scholarships, 53 players signing with Power 5 Conference schools, and 51 players signing contracts with major league teams.
Trent: What type of player and student is the best fit for a JUCO opportunity?
Coach Barnett: For me, Junior College offers a unique opportunity for Student Athletes chasing a dream.
Everyone has a dream school, and if your dream school doesn’t come knocking in the recruiting process then go to a Junior College that can help get you there.
A lot of times, Junior Colleges have great connections with 4 year schools because of a successful history of 4 year schools recruiting from that school. It opens up a wider variety, and almost better opportunity for a lot of players. Plus, it’s usually cheaper when it’s all said and done.
Trent: What is the primary purpose of the Fall season for your program?
Coach Barnett: One of the best things about Junior College is the Fall season. It gives us as coaches the opportunity to evaluate our team, develop, and get our players exposure to different 4 year programs. It’s really hard at a 4 year school to step right in and play as a freshman. Fall seasons in Junior College allow freshman to get a lot of experience and develop their skills to compete at a high level. Fall seasons are even more valuable now for us with having the ability to play 4 year NCAA D1 programs. This allows our players to compete against these programs and it also allows our players to step on campuses and get evaluated while playing against these programs.
Freshman at 4 year schools may start the spring with just a few intrasquads and maybe a couple scrimmages with other schools that they are allowed to have. Freshman at Junior Colleges could start the spring with over 50 live game at bats, or 20 innings for pitchers already under their belt.
Trent: What does a player have to do in your program to get a chance to move on to play at a 4 year school upon graduation? How often does this happen?
Coach Barnett: The formula for that is the following: maintain eligibility to play at the Junior College Level. Meet academic standards for D1, D2, D3, and NAIA Schools. Lastly perform on the field well enough to be recruited by a 4 year school. I would say that more than a majority of players that meet that formula will move on the play at 4 year schools.
As far as Walters State goes, we have had a great reputation of players moving on to 4 year schools. In Coach Shelton’s 16 year stint as assistant and head coach here, every player that has maintained academic standing has moved on the play at 4 year schools.
Trent: When recruiting, what are some common mistakes that players make that take them off your "interested in" list?
Coach Barnett: Every coach has certain things that rubs them the wrong way. I think some common mistakes players make is how they conduct themselves on social media. Yes, coaches have Twitter and we do see what you like or post.
Another common mistake is how players speak about the coaches they currently play for, be it travel or high school. Players that constantly bash their coaches may give me a clear window into how coachable they are, or about their ability to buy into a program.
Lastly, players that don’t care about winning or losing. I know some players might play 100 games in a summer but each game should matter, especially if you lose, coaches don’t want to see a player acting like a clown after being beaten.
Trent: What are some stories of how a player made it to your "interested in" list at a game where you did NOT come to see them specifically?
Coach Barnett: There are plenty of cases where I have been out to see a game, not expecting much, but pleasantly surprised of how a kid performed and then started to recruit. It’s like we tell our players when recruiters and scouts come watch us at a scrimmage or practice -
Someone’s always watching.
Trent: How do you help players keep their grades up? How hard is it to maintain grades while living up to baseball commitments?
Coach Barnett: We are fortunate at Walters State to have professors that work with all of our student athletes and communicate with them on assignments ahead of time. We as coaches stress the importance of maintaining academic standing to be eligible and to be recruited by 4 year schools. We host study halls weekly and have tutoring available daily. We will even host study halls while we are on the road. Some would argue that it’s almost better to be a student athlete to succeed academically with all the outside help (I.E. professors, tutors, coaches, and peers).
Trent: Last but not least, we have a favorite question from players - what is the food like on your campus?
Coach Barnett: We have a couple different Cafés and restaurants on our campus that are pretty popular with the students. Also, around campus, Morristown Tennessee has plenty of places to eat. There is no shortage of food options.