By STEVE KRAH
Adam Kowalski is getting a chance to make his mark as a college baseball coach. He is months into his job as an assistant at NCAA Division III and Upper Midwest Athletic Conference member Northland College in Ashland, Wis.
Working for head coach and Northland alum Jeremy Snow, Kowalski is in charge of the LumberJacks pitchers.
It’s a different path than Kowalski was on just a few years go when he stepped away from the college world as a player after a discouraging first experience.
The pitcher from Arlington Heights, Ill., lost his passion.
And that doesn’t work for the 6-foot-4 right-hander.
“I’m not the kind of guy who does not want to do something unless I’m totally devoted to it,” says Kowalski, who spent his first year out of Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, where he played for Jeff Grybash and graduated in 2013, on the roster at North Park University in Chicago but did not get into a game. “It was a wake-up call at North Park that set the tone for me personally: You need to figure yourself out.”
Kowalski was prepared for a life outside of baseball. Then found himself back on a diamond in men’s league and decided to give the college game another try.
He spent 2015-16 at Harper College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division III school in Palatine, Ill. He appeared in nine games (five starts) for Hawks head coach Cliff Brown with one win and three complete games.
Kowalski decided to transfer to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he spent his first season on the Tech developmental squad following a summer in the Indiana Summer Summer Collegiate League season with the Fort Wayne Kekiongas managed by then-Tech assistant Pat Collins-Bride.
The summer of 2018, Kowalski played with the Kyle Floyd-managed Saginaw (Mich.) Sugar Beets then the 2019 campaign with the Tech varsity and recently finished the course work for a Criminal Justice degree from school.
In the Summit City with the Kip McWilliams-coached Warriors, Kowalski’s baseball fire stoked.
The big righty struck out 10 in 9 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and was an Ultimate Warrior nominee in 2019. Tech went to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
It’s that connection with McWilliams and others at Tech that helped him get on the coaching staff of Steve Jaksa at NCAA Division II Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State University in University Center, Mich., as a volunteer for 2019-20 and land his current role on the banks of Lake Superior. He arrived on-campus at Northland this fall.
“It’s not what you know or who you know, it’s who knows you,” says Kowalski, 25. “If not for my time of Indiana Tech and that period of growth, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It helps to have those types of guys in your corner and speaking for who you are and has seen you put in the work.
“There are people who made me realize who I am and what I can do. I’m very grateful for staff at Indiana Tech, my former teammates, the people I competed against. I now have chance to be a major part of changing a program.”
It’s not lost on Kowalski that he’s starting a coaching job in the middle of a global pandemic.
“It’s an interesting time,” says Kowalski. “I sincerely things will clear up and we can return back to the things we love to do.
“We got through a full fall season — with mainly instrasquads. We were just beginning our off-season training when everything shut down.
It started out with student-athletes in a hybrid — some online classes and some in-person — then only those with prior approval were allowed to stay on-campus.
Kowalski says the LumberJacks were beginning to develop a team identity when they were told to go home.
“It’s a day-to-day process and our guys have done a tremendous job every day we get to practice together,” says Kowalski. “These are smart players. We were teaching some of the bigger concepts and faster-moving practices were becoming ingrained.”
Like at Indiana Tech, Kowalski sees player development at Northland as a personalized experience.
“We’re not trying to create carbon copies,” says Kowalski. “We want everyone to maximize their strengths while improving their weaknesses.”
A Kinesthetic or hands-on learner, Kowalski uses YouTube videos and other resources to take in concepts that he passes on to his players.
He’s also using things he’s learned about Driveline and Ground Force Sports (makers of the King of the Hill training device) and using it to make his LumberJacks better.
While there are a few volunteers, much of the coaching load falls to Kowalski and Snow. The latter is a 2010 NC graduate and spent 2019-20 as an assistant at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima after four seasons as head coach at Lourdes University in Sylvania. Both are NAIA members.
Snow and Kowalski have been busy with recruiting players to the school located 70 miles east of Duluth, Minn. and 260 miles northwest of Appleton, Wis. Ashland is a town of about 8,000 and fishing and hunting is popular with residents and Northland baseball players. When Snow was a player, they put a deer stand on a foul pole and brought down an animal with a bow.
Though he grew up in a metro environment and has never hunted, Kowalski has been taking a hunting safety course.