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Hartman has West Lafayette Red Devils’ best interests at heart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Hartman is bringing a mix of old school and new school as the first-year head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.

Hartman comes to the Red Devils after two assistant coach stints totalling seven years at his high school alma mater — McCutcheon.

“Today, they talk about being a player’s coach,” says Hartman. “That’s important. You need vested in these kids not only on the field but off the field.

“You can be strict and have discipline and still be there from a personal standpoint. When they see that you have their best interests (at heart), that’s how you get the most out of them.”

As a Mavericks player and then an assistant, Hartman learned from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“I learned many things, like how to build the program from the bottom up, player personnel, coaching strategy and (fundraising),” says Hartman. “It was a little bit of everything.”

Hartman, who holds a Law and Society degree from Purdue University and is a patrolman for the Lafayette Police Department, appreciates the new IHSAA rules that allow periods of limited contact. During these periods, an unlimited number of players can receive instruction two days a week for two hours at a time.

“I like the change,” says Hartman. “I need as much time as I can with these kids to get ready for that opener in March.”

“A lot is accomplished in those two hours. We’re getting a lot of team stuff done now that wouldn’t be done before March (under the old rules).”

The Red Devils have been practicing in the Cumberland Elementary School gym. Coaches man up to six stations for drill work. After that, everything is cleared out for the team to go over defensive coverages.

Hartman’s varsity staff includes Dan Penale, Dan Walbaum, Brent Talcott, Steve Hartman and Joe Richardson. Former McCutcheon and Lafayette Central Catholic assistant Penale is the pitching coach. Former West Lafayette head coach Walbaum is the hitting coach. Talcott directs the defense. Steve Hartman, Justin’s father, helps with base running and player personal. Richardson is the bench coach.

Bryan Dispennett is the head junior varsity coach and Buck Nelson is the JV assistant. Dispennett has coached all around Tippecanoe County, including at Central Catholic and Lafayette Jeff. Nelson is a former McCutcheon assistant.

Senior catcher Owen Walbaum has committed to play at Purdue.

Upon taking the job, Hartman established West Lafayette travel teams for 9U, 11U, 12U and 14U. They will play in five or six tournaments during the summer — some at the Noblesville (Ind.) Field of Dreams.

“To be competitive and improve, you have to be in those travel leagues,” says Hartman.

These players plus some from West Lafayette Little League serve as the feeder system for the high school.

The Red Devils play home games at Bob Friend Field, which is located adjacent to Cumberland Elementary and West Lafayette Little League.

Hartman has gotten approval to have padding installed in front of both dugouts. A local turf group is improving the surface. An irrigation system is on the way.

Friend, who played at Purdue and pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and New York Mets, attended West Lafayette graduate.

West Lafayette (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western). Burton is now head coach at Twin Lakes.

Each conference team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week.

The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011.

Justin and wife Megan have been married for 10 years. The couple has two children — daughter Chesney (9) and son Koen (8).

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Justin Hartman, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, is entering his first season as head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.

 

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Vernon brings ‘culture change’ to Benton Central Bison baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players are buying what Jon Vernon’s selling at Benton Central Junior-Senior High School in Oxford, Ind.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some good athletes and good players,” says Vernon, who is heading into his fourth season as BC head coach in 2019. “They’ve bought into my system.”

The Bison have improved its record in each of Vernon’s first three seasons in charge, going 10-17 in 2016, 17-9 in 2017 and 19-6 in 2018.

Benton Central lost 9-2 to Western in the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional championship game.

BC bowed out of the state tournament series with a  3-2 loss to Maconaquah on a seventh-inning wild pitch in the first round of the 2018 3A Peru Sectional.

“We changed the culture a little bit,” says Vernon, whose current seniors have been varsity since freshmen year. That group includes three who have signed for college baseball —

Center fielder Payton Hall (University of Southern Indiana), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Alex Stout (Bethel College) and first baseman/left-hander Matt Taylor (Anderson University).

Right-hander Taylor Varnado, BC’s probable No. 1 starting pitcher in 2019 and a third baseman, is expected to sign soon. Junior shortstop Alex Thurston is verbally committed to Valparaiso University.

Vernon says he expects to have about 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring. The JV went 11-6 in 2018.

Benton Central (enrollment of about 580) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

Teams play a home-and-home within their division then a crossover game with the corresponding regular-season placer in the other division.

BC is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

The Bison roam on-campus at Darrell Snodgrass Field, a facility that recently received new fencing and upgraded dugouts and sound system. The worked on the diamond in the fall, doing things like edging.

A unique feature is the sounds of wind turbines. Benton County is home to wind farms.

With all that breeze, Vernon says it is best to be conservative field conditioner in the like in the autumn.

“You put too much stuff down in the fall, it won’t be there in the spring,” says Vernon.

Vernon’s 2019 assistants include Denny Musser and pitching coach Brad Goffinet with the varsity and Tyler Marsh with the junior varsity. Musser, the uncle of former Benton Central and professional left-hander Neal Musser, was a JV coach at BC on the staff of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary DeHaven.

Neal Musser pitched 18 games for the 2007 and 2008 Kansas City Royals.

The southpaw was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

Goffinet pitched at Indianapolis Marshall High School and Butler University in the 1970’s. Marsh is a former North Newton High School assistant.

Right-hander Jayson Best graduated from Benton Central in 1985 and played at Milligan College in Elizabethtown, Tenn., before signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1989. He reached the Double-A level in 1992 and 1993 and hurled for the independent Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards in 1996 and 1997. He was pitching at Goshen College 2000-04 (one season for Todd Bacon and four for Brent Hoober) and Maple Leafs head coach in 2005.

Benton Central baseball is largely fed by travel baseball organizations, including the Lafayette Lightning and Indiana Nitro. In the past, teams have played Pony League and Babe Ruth.

Vernon is a 1989 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School. He played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr.

Turner’s Berries lost 6-2 to Evansville Memorial in the 1989 IHSAA state championship game. Vernon was his left fielder and lead-off hitter. It was the first of Logan’s three straight Final Four appearances. The Berries 7-3 in the state semifinals to eventual champion LaPorte in 1990 and beat Marion for the state title in 1991.

What was it like to play for Turner Sr.?

“It was a great experience,” says Vernon. “He knows more about baseball is his little pinky than I do in my whole body.”

Turner Sr., who was assisted for many years by Larry “Butch” Jones and Rich Wild, established a winning culture and a program.

“You didn’t want to let coach down,” says Vernon. “He trusted his players. A lot of people revere him.”

As a coach, Vernon learned from Turner Sr. that “you always have to play the best players” and it doesn’t matter what they’re family name is what grade they’re in.

“Sometimes that makes people happy and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Vernon. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions.”

After a season of club baseball at the University of Kentucky, Vernon went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Huntington University and master’s degree from Ball State University. He was head baseball coach at Delphi (Ind.) High School from 1994-2000 and assisted Jim Turner Jr. at Logansport for one season in the mid-2000’s and ran Turner’s summer programs.

He picked up pointers on organization and running practice from Turner Jr. Vernon was also head volleyball coach for the Berries.

After a brief stint in Florida, he came back to Indiana. He teaches business and computer classes at Benton Central has been BC’s head volleyball coach for three seasons.

Jon and Diann Vernon have been married for 25 years. They have four children — Matthew, Luke, Kailey and Karlee. Matthew works in finance for Amazon and lives in South Carolina. Luke is a dental student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Kailey is in physician assistant school at Butler University. Karlee is 20 and works in Zionsville, Ind.

ALEXTHURSTONBENTONCENTRALAlex Thurston (right) bats for Benton Central High School. He is a junior in 2019 and a verbal commit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.

MATTTAYLORBENTONCENTRALMatt Taylor (left) catches a ball at first base for Benton Central High School. He has moved on to the baseball team at Anderson University.

PAYTONHALLTAYLORVARNADOALEXTHURSTONMATTTAYLORALEXSTOUTHOOSIERNORTHBenton Central players Payton Hall, Taylor Varnado, Alex Thurston, Matt Taylor and Alex Stout represent Hoosier North in the 2017 Colt Harry Bradway Classic in Lafayette, Ind.

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The Vernon family in Key West, Fla., with spouses and children (from left): Matthew, Emily, Mary Katherine, Mason, Kailey, Karlee, Diann, Aubriel, Jon and Luke.

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Another Benton Central High School baseball signs to play in college (from left): First row — Father David Stout, Benton Central Alex Stout and mother Stephanie Stout. Back row — Bethel College assistant Kiel Boynton, Bethel College head coach Seth Zartman and Benton Central head coach Jon Vernon. (Benton Central Photo)

Westons share faith, fondness for pitching a baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Weston chose “a quarter” and it changed his baseball life.

Weston was a left-handed relief pitcher at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University in the last two weeks of his senior season when he decided to experiment.

The 2013 Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate had been propelling the baseball from a high three-quarter arm slot. On this day in Cougars bullpen in 2017, he decided to drop down. He went from three-quarter to what he calls “a quarter” — a sidearm kind of delivery.

Weston was accurate and the new approach gave the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder some deception.

“It’s a little bit like Chris Sale, but the one I most emulate is Donnie Hart of the (Baltimore) Orioles. He’s a little bit lower even.”

Weston graduated from SAU in the spring of 2017 major in recreation and leisure management and minor in Spanish and went to pitcher for the Beecher (Ill.) Muskies in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League.

A solid starter with the Muskies, he was chosen to start in the league’s all-star game and then signed for the rest of the summer to play in the Detroit Tigers organization.

In five games (three as a starter) with the Gulf Coast League Tigers West, Weston went 2-0 with a 4.50 earned run average, 12 strikeouts and two walks in 24 innings.

He was released by the Tigers in October 2017, but signed with the Chicago White Sox in April 2018.

At the start of extended spring training at the beginning of April, the White Sox were short on pitching so director of player development Chris Getz gave Weston a call and an opportunity to keep pitching as a professional.

“It’s such a cool opportunity to play the game that I love,” says Weston of the pro experience. “It’s a bonus to get paid for it.

“I get to play it at a high level with a lot of great guys.”

He made 32 appearances (all in relief) with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers and Arizona League White Sox and went 2-6 with a 4.87 ERA, 38 strikeouts and six walks in 47 1/3 innings. After a rough start at Great Falls, he had a streak where he gave up just one hit in six games. He was moved to Arizona with an influx of arms from the draft.

Weston, who turned 24 on Dec. 13 is now back in Valparaiso and juggling a busy schedule. He is working 40 or more hours a week while planning a February wedding and working out five or six days a week to get ready for spring training in March.

He is at the gym in Valparaiso most days, but occasionally drives over to the Chicago to work out with White Sox director of strength and conditioning Allen Thomas.

Right now, Weston is mostly lifting weights. He will begin throwing soon.

Weston met fiancee Amy Kanyer at Liberty Bible Church in Chesterton, Ind.

“We dated all this year long distance,” says Weston. “She’s learning quick (about the pro baseball lifestyle). She’s super supportive. I’m very appreciative of that.

“My mom did it for I don’t know how many years.”

Drew’s mother is Lisa Weston. Her husband of nearly 35 years (their anniversary is Dec. 31) is Mickey Weston, who played pro ball from 1982-96. A right-handed pitcher out of Eastern Michigan University, Mickey appeared in 23 games in the majors with the Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. He went 1-2 with a 7.15 ERA, 11 strikeouts and 19 walks in 44 innings.

Since 1996, Mickey Weston has been the executive director for Unlimited Potential Inc., an organization founded by Tom Roy (now chaplain and co-head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) whose vision is to “work to reach, teach, and train baseball players for the purpose of sending them out to make disciples of Jesus who love God passionately and love others radically.”

A key Bible passage for UPI is Acts 1:8: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

“We want to get them outside of themselves,” says Mickey of the ballplayers that come in contact with UPI. “The game of baseball can make us fairly selfish folks.

“This gets the ballplayers to think of others more highly than themselves.”

He notes that former White Sox right-handed reliever Scott Linebrink is now building wells around the world with Water Mission.

Mickey has worked in partnership with missionaries in more than 40 countries. This off-season, teams are going to South Africa, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala and Germany.

As a youngster, Drew accompanied his father on some trips. His first as a professional player came last fall in Germany.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Drew. “We got to teach kids about baseball and teach kids about Jesus.”

The group went from town to town and taught baseball skills.

“We met afterwards in dugout and talked about why we love the game and why we love Jesus,” says Drew. “It’s a cool segue opportunity.”

Drew was born in Detroit in 1994. When Mickey became UPI executive director, he moved his family to the headquarters in Winona Lake. Drew grew up playing ball around Warsaw.

Drew is the third of Mickey and Weston’s four children.

Eldest daughter Erica Harrigan and husband Rob live in Indianapolis where she works for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and he in human resources for Indiana University Health.

Second daughter Kayla Aanderud is an OBGYN resident in Michigan. Her husband, Brian, is the U.S. Army Special Forces.

Youngest daughter Marissa Weston is a violinist in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh after graduating from the Jacobs School of Music at IU. Lisa, Erica, Kayla and Drew also play instruments.

When UPI founder Roy handed over White Sox chaplain duties to Mickey Weston and Bryan Hickerson, the two made the commute from north central Indiana to Chicago. To cut down on the commute, the Westons relocated to Valparaiso in 2008 when Drew was entering the eighth grade.

It’s 50 minutes from Valpo to Guaranteed Rate Field. Through Baseball Chapel, Mickey offers services to home and away players plus the umpires. Lisa serves the wives.

Drew played at Valparaiso High School. Dave Coyle was then the Vikings head coach. Current Valparaiso head coach Todd Evans was an assistant.

The lesson that young Weston learned from Coyle was to “really persevere.”

“He had a football mentality,” Weston says of Coyle. “To overcome adversity, that was kind of his thing.”

Mickey Weston has always been his son’s personal pitching coach.

“He’d talk to me about about how I did and how I could do better,” says Drew. “It’s cool to have him in my corner, encouraging me.”

Mickey was asked to assess his son’s pitching strengths.

“It’s control and being able to change speeds,” says Mickey. “He’s able to locate really well and he has movement.

“I didn’t allow him to throw a curveball until he was about 16 and it really forced him to develop his change-up.”

Mickey’s own baseball stock rose when he developed a sinker. It was his third year in Double-A. He was pitching in the bullpen in Tulsa.

“The ball came off my finger and dropped off the table,” says Mickey. “(Former major league right-hander) Glenn Abbott was my pitching coach and had been working with me.

“Less than a year and I was in the big leagues.”

Mickey Weston was a sinker/slider pitcher who created a lot of movement and hovered between 88 and 92 mph while inducing ground balls with his right-handed deliveries.

Ambidextrous as a toddler, Drew Weston fell in love with sister Kayla’s mitt. He wore it all the time. He even slept with it. As a result, he became the third lefty in the Weston household, joining Kayla and his mother.

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Drew Weston pitched from a high three-quarter arm angle for much of his career at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University. He later dropped down and is now pitching professionally in the Chicago White Sox system. (Spring Arbor University Photo)

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Drew Weston, a graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Spring Arbor (Mich.) University, pitched for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in 2018. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Drew Weston (left) and father Mickey Weston share a moment when Drew was with the Detroit Tigers organization in 2018.

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Mickey Weston (left) visits son Drew Weston when Drew was with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system in 2018. Former big league pitcher Mickey is executive director for Unlimited Potential Inc. and works through Baseball Chapel as chaplain for the Chicago White Sox.

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Drew Weston (right) and fiancee Amy Kanyer share a moment during the 2018 baseball season. Drew pitched in the Chicago White Sox system. The couple are to wed in February 2019.

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Dropping his arm angle helped Drew Weston earn a place in professional baseball. He played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Spring Arbor University. First signed by the Detroit Tigers, he is now in the Chicago White Sox system. (Phrake Photography Photo)

 

Indianapolis native McClain helped change athletic training in baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ron McClain was on the forefront of change in athletic training for baseball. The Indianapolis native worked with some of the best players of all-time in a career that went from 1973-2004. He plied his trade with the Indianapolis Indians, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos. He was the National League trainer for the All-Star Game in 1982 (Montreal), 1989 (Anaheim) and 1997 (Cleveland).

A National Athletic Trainers Association member beginning with his college days, McClain helped found the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.

McClain’s accomplishments will be recognized Friday, Jan. 18 at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and awards dinner. It will be held during the IHSBCA State Clinic at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis. Contributor McClain will be inducted along with player Fred “Cy” Williams, coach Pat O’Neil, contributor Bob Schellinger and player Scott Rolen.

McClain grew up on the south side of Indianapolis near the Silver Hills Riding Stables and took an early appreciation of horses. He was also into sports of all kinds. He played varsity football and was a reserve for basketball and baseball at Warren Central High School, where he graduated in 1968.

Combining an interest in athletics and medicine, McClain studied physical education and training at Indiana University and graduated in 1975.

While he was still in college, he was driving a truck as a summer job in 1973 when he learned of the Indians’ need for a trainer and served a few months as a volunteer then turned to IU for the fall semester.

McClain impressed enough that he was invited to serve with the parent Reds in spring training and the Indians during the season in 1974 before again returning to IU in the fall.

From 1975-79, McClain trained for the Reds in spring training and Indians during the season then returned to Cincinnati each September to assist head trainer Larry Starr.

“That was quite a thrill,” says McClain. “It was the Big Red Machine era and I was a fan.”

Johnny Bench and Pete Rose were among his favorite players.

“I really came to admire Joe Morgan,” says McClain.

In his first season in Indianapolis, the team featured Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster and Dan Driessen. Ray Knight came along the next year.

McClain and the elder Griffey shared a birthday (April 10) and were fast friends.

“He was a real genuine guy,” says McClain. “He was just a good guy and a family man.”

Images of Ken Griffey Sr. instructing his tiny son — Ken Griffey Jr. —  are still etched on McClain’s memory.

He also recalls Griffey Sr. and Foster taking him out for ice cream after games.

“It’s hard to find an ice cream shop open at 11 p.m.,” says McClain.

“The best person as a superstar I ever met was Tom Seaver,” says McClain.

Sparky Anderson was the manager for McClain’s first five years he was associated with Cincinnati. John McNamara was Reds skipper in 1979.

Starr and McClain brought strength training into baseball with the addition of Nautilus equipment in 1975.

Players who had gotten where they were within such training were hesitant at first.

McClain says the Reds did not stretch before games in 1974. They did some stretching during spring training then began throwing the baseball.

In 1976, the training staff added long distance running and modified sprints to the spring regimen.

“To a baseball player, long distance means two times around the field (about a half mile),” says McClain. “Everything is so slow to move in baseball. Managers are older ex-players. This is how I did it. Players wanted to conserve their energy.

“Conditioning was at a very low level. By August, a lot of these guys were wilting. They didn’t keep up their strength.”

With Indianapolis, McClain worked with managers Vern Rapp, Jim Snyder and Roy Majtyka.

Rapp after 1975 and joined the coaching staff at Montreal, where they were looking for a trainer with baseball knowledge and experience.

“They were having trouble finding one that wasn’t a hockey trainer,” says McClain. “They were not knowledgeable enough about shoulders and throwing arms in their opinion.

McClain received a referral from Indianapolis general manager Max Schumacher and Reds executive Sheldon “Chief” Bender that helped him land the head trainer position in Montreal and he held that job from 1980 until 2004.

“I aced the interview and got hired,” says McClain. “I spent the next 25 years in the big leagues, which was quite a thrill.”

Expos managers during his tenure were Dick Williams, Jim Fanning, Bill Virdon, Buck Rodgers, Tom Runnells, Felipe Alou, Jeff Torborg and Frank Robinson.

When McClain started in Montreal, the club had just a few pieces of strength equipment.

“I changed all that,” says McClain, who saw 20-by-30 strength training room go in. The Expos did stretches and used free weights as well as Nautilus and Cybex machines for strength training at a time when some teams only had stationary bikes

“Some were slow to get on the bandwagon,” says McClain. “It takes awhile for most teams to abide by good advice. You don’t know if it’s good advice for a few years.”

In June 1980, McClain gave Andre Dawson a simple device which helped his Hall of Fame career.

Dawson had injured his knees in football and had surgery while in high school. They took a beating in baseball, particularly on the hard artificial surface of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

“I was like running on padded cement,” says McClain.

Dawson’s knees really swelled on airplane flights.

“Cabins are pressurized at 10,000 feet,” says McClain. “He would have inflammation (a build up fluid) and it was hard to play the next day.”

McClain gave the outfielder a neoprene compression sleeve and that took care of the swelling and discomfort.

It was also 1980 that the Expos brought in Bill Sellers as a exercise science and nutritional expert.

“It all kind of goes hand-in-hand and now every team has to have a certified chef for the home team and the visiting team,” says McClain. “But it’s a tough thing to get a superior athlete to change their ways. They already think they are the best. They have to fail first.”

It was common for players to insist on being in the lineup even when injuries slowed them down.

“Guys like Dawson and Gary Carter, they will always tell you that they want to play,” says McClain. “They would aggravate things a lot. Especially with soft tissue injuries. They think they can play then the tear in further.”

The Expos had speedsters like Tim Raines, Indianapolis native Rodney Scott and Ron LeFlore.

“They would aggravate injuries and be out an extra week,” says McClain. “You almost have to prove to each guy individually what’s going to happen.

“As a young trainer they didn’t listen to me as much as they did later.”

Players weren’t the only ones to turn a deaf ear to the expert.

“Dick Williams didn’t listen to anybody,” says McClain. “Bill Virdon was a tough one to deal with.”

Later managers like Rodgers and Alou had a better understanding of the role of training in baseball.

McClain says it was the training staff that was dictating to the coaching staff the limits that should be placed on pitchers to keep them healthy.

Bill Sampen, who now lives in central Indiana and runs Samp’s Hack Shack training facilities in Brownsburg and Plainfield where McClain takes 11-year-old grandson Andrew for lessons, pitched for the Expos 1990-92 and was used mostly in long relief.

“You can overwork them pretty easily in that position,” says McClain, noting that attention should be paid to the number of pitches and consecutive days these pitchers throw. (Expos pitching coach) Galen Cisco welcomed stuff like that.

McClain also witnessed the strain put on pitchers’ elbows, wrists and shoulders in throwing the split-finger fastball.

“They snap the elbow really hard,” says McClain. “That’s why there were not throwing it that much now.”

McClain was in the ballpark when history was made July 18, 1999 as David Cone tossed a no-hitter for the Yankees against the visiting Expos on Yogi Berra Day.

“I remember how good he was with a bum shoulder,” says McClain.

It was also in New York that McClain was in the middle of a dust-up that got him suspended for the final seven games in 1997.

McClain, manager Alou and second baseman Mike Lansing were all tossed by plate umpire Larry Vanover after a disputed ninth-inning play at home plate. The Mets beat the Expos 1-0 at Shea Stadium on Sept. 14.

Montreal’s David Segui tried to score on a Darrin Fletcher double. After taking a throw from Rey Ordonez, New York catcher Todd Pratt resulted in an out call. But Expos, including McClain, saw the ball lying on the ground.

At the time, base umpires in the field could not advise the home plate umpire’s call, a rule that changed in 1998. McClain recalls that crew chief Harry Wendelstedt said to Alou within earshot of Vanover: “I can’t tell him if he won’t ask.”

“He still didn’t ask,” says McClain of Vanover. “That wasn’t right.”

Remembering something he saw in a movie, McClain used his finger and thumb to make the shape of an “L” on his forehead and said, “You are a loser and a cheat.”

“My idea was let’s get the call right no matter whose feelings get hurt,” says McClain, who had suspected that the umpires were in a hurry to catch their flight out of town.

McClain enjoyed his time away from the ballpark in Montreal.

“It’s an international city,” says McClain, who lived in a condo there during the season then came back to wife Pamela and daughter Ashley in central Indiana the off-season.

He learned enough French to be passable and also spoke some Spanish, which helped him communicate with Latin players.

McClain got to watch Vladimir Guerrero in the early part of his career.

“He was one great player,” says McClain of the former Expo. “He never did master English. All he wanted to do was to eat, sleep, play baseball and video games.”

McClain notes that Rusty Staub — aka “Le Grande Orange” — already knew French from growing up in New Orleans. Catcher Carter did his best with the language.

He also remembers something of a hometown advantage.

There were many games played in April and September where the temperature was below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius).

“It was always so cold in Montreal,” says McClain. “It hurt the other team. We were more used to it.”

McClain is a classic car enthusiast (he’s owned a 1961 Corvette “Fuelie” and 1934 Ford Victoria). He also enjoys shooting and has taken up golf since retirement. Ron and Pamela McClain reside in Franklin Township on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

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The McClains of Indianapolis — Pamela and Ron — enjoy their travels. Ron McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.

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The McClains of Indianapolis — Pamela and Ron — see the Grand Canyon. Ron McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis visits the Grand Canyon. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.  He also trained for the Indianapolis Indians.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He also trained for the Cincinnati Reds.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He is an Indiana University graduate.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He is a Warren Central High School graduate.

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Two former Montreal Expos — catcher Darrin Fletcher and athletic trainer Ron McClain — meet up. Fletcher played 14 seasons in the big leagues with the Los Angels Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. McClain was with the Expos for 25 years.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain (center) shares a moment with Amy and Bill Sampen at Samp’s Hack Shack in Plainfield, Ind. Indianapolis resident McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. Bill Sampen pitched for the Expos 1990-92.

 

Mishawaka Marian grad Rinard adding to his coaching responsibilities for Dixie State baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Exciting things are happening in Bobby Rinard’s baseball world.

Entering his fifth season as an assistant coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, Rinard is now a full-time coach and has added recruiting coordinator to his job description.

Dixie State is an NCAA Division II program and has nine fully-funded scholarships. Rinard is learning how to disperse scholarship money on a roster of about 35, taking into consideration things like the needs of the team and Title IV and other NCAA rules compliance.

At present, 47 percent is the most any one player is getting in terms of a full scholarship.

“There is really no such thing as a full-ride scholarship for a baseball player,” says Rinard. “We carry a fall roster of about 40, which matches our male-to-female student ratio.

“Some guys will be walk-ons and some will have the grades that won’t count toward the nine scholarships.

“The tricky part is that you don’t get a clean slate after each year.”

What the program has to work with is based on who leaves and who returns.

Rinard, a South Bend, Ind., native and 2007 Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate whose father Jeff Rinard ran the Chasing A Dream training facility in Lakeville, Ind., says excitement is also in the air around St. George because Dixie State is exploring moving up to NCAA Division I with its athletic programs.

Information is being gathered through town hall meetings and consultants and a vote to decide is expected at the end of November.

“I hope we do go Division I,” says Rinard, who turned 30 on Nov. 9. “But it could go either way.”

NCAA Division I baseball can give 11.7 fully-funded scholarships and hire two full-time assistant coaches. There is a push to get a third full-timer.

At the D-II level, with a limited recruiting budget, Dixie State keeps to the southwest region and looks for players that fit their style of play.

Trailblazers head coach Chris Pfatenhauer, who has worked at the junior college and D-I levels, favors what Rinard calls the “West Coast” style of baseball. There is an emphasis on speed and athleticism. Batters are expected to be able to lay down a sacrifice or squeeze bunt in a crucial situation.

“We’ll put pressure on the defense,” says Rinard. “But we’re not all runts.”

There are also a few players on the roster with some power.

“We don’t talk about launch angle at all,” says Rinard. “Knowing exit velocity can help guys understand what kind of swing they should be taking to the baseball.

“We want to develop a head-high line drive swing. If you can build a repetitive swing like that, your exit velocity is going to be very good.”

Two major recruiting events that the staff ends are the Arizona Fall Classic in Peoria, Ariz., and Baseball Northwest events in Washington. It’s about a six-hour drive from St. George to the Phoenix area.

“We’re really, really selective with what events we go to,” says Rinard, noting that Las Vegas, Nevada, area is full of talent and is about a two-hour drive from St. George.

Dixie State baseball will be competing in a new conference in the spring of 2019. The Trailblazers were in the Pacific West Conference.

Besides Dixie State, the Pac West had eight baseball-playing schools in California (Academy of Art, Azusa Pacific, Biola, California Baptist, Concordia Irvine, Fresno Pacific, Holy Names and Point Loma Nazarene) and two in Hawaii (Hawaii Hilo and Hawaii Pacific) in 2018.

The Blazers were 25-25 overall and 21-19 in the Pac West.

Following the lead of the DSU football program, baseball is now in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

In addition to Dixie State, RMAC baseball features eight institutions in Colorado (Adams State, Colorado Christian, Colorado Mesa, Colorado State-Pueblo, Colorado School of Mines, Metropolitan State, Regis and Colorado Colorado Springs) and one in New Mexico (New Mexico Highlands).

Pfatenhauer saw the change coming, he wasted no time in purchasing heavy jackets. Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., is 7,543 feet above sea level.

Does the altitude effect pitching? Colorado Mesa had the best team earned run average in the RMAC in 2018 at 4.83. Adams State was last at 9.59.

Dixie State’s staff carried a 6.29 while competing in the Pac West and at 2,500-seat Bruce Hurst Field (former big league pitcher Bruce Hurst is a St. George native and a benefactor), where the fences are 12 feet high from the foul poles to the batter’s eye in center, which extends to 20 feet high. Dimensions are 330 down the lines and 390 to center.

St. George has an elevation of 2,860. Located in the southwestern part of Utah. At one time it was a cotton-growing region (thus the name of the school).

Rinard says the high desert climate is typical of Las Vegas, Nevada. The day-time highs this week (Nov. 11-17) have been in the high 50’s and low 60’s.

“I really don’t remember what it’s like to be cold,” says Rinard, who played two seasons as a righty-swinging outfielder at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz. (2008 and 2009) and two at the University of Arizona (2010 and 2011) before a stint in professional baseball and a season as an undergraduate assistant at Arizona in 2014.

Rinard was selected in the 43rd round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets, but did not sign.

After his two seasons in NCAA Division I baseball with Arizona, he signed with the New York Yankees as a minor league free agent in 2011 and played one season a rookie-level Staten Island.

His independent ball stops came with the Frontier League’s Normal (Ill.) Cornbelters in in 2012 and United League’s Edinburg (Texas) Roadrunners in 2013.

Rinard also works with the Trailblazers’ outfielders and hitters and helps coordinate camps.

“I’m helping with everything,” says Rinard, who plans to join the staff Jan. 3-6 for the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas.

Immediate plans call for Rinard to come back to northern Indiana this weekend to be in the wedding of former Bethel College player and Concord High School baseball coach Walter Lehmann. Rinard and Lehmann played together in high school.

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Bobby Rinard (right) is an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Going into his fifth season with the Trailblazers in 2019, he added recruiting coordinator to his job description last summer. (Dixie State University Photo)

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Bobby Rinard, a Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate who played at Yavapai College and the University of Arizona, is heading into his fifth season as an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, in 2019. (Dixie State University Photo)

Former Lawrence Central righty Montgomery goes pro in Orioles system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.J. Montgomery pitched in his first professional baseball game July 11, 2018 — a one-inning stint for the Gulf Coast League Orioles.

But the 6-foot right-hander has been preparing for pro ball since his sophomore year at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

That was 2013 and Montgomery was primarily a center fielder for then-Bears head coach Matt Buczowski.

Having played in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, South Bend, Ind., native Buczkowski saw potential in young Montgomery.

“Started teaching me what the lifestyle was like and started preparing me for it,” says Montgomery of Buczkowski, who is now head baseball coach at Carmel (Ind.) High School and regularly trades texts with his former player. “I love Coach Butch. He’s a really good friend of mine.”

Buczkowski told Montgomery he needed to put in the time and effort to reach his potential.

“You can’t let anybody out-work with you,” says Montgomery of Buczkowski’s advice.

In his junior year, right-hander Montgomery got more more opportunities and struck out 96 batters in 63 innings with a 1.63 earned run average.

Swinging a potent bat, Montgomery hit .456 with 10 home runs as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stater in his senior year at LC (2015).

As a high school freshmen, Montgomery’s head coach was Dan Roman (now head coach at Brownsburg High School).

Staying loose and having fun were qualities Montgomery took from Roman.

Montgomery, who played football for four years at Lawrence Central, logged two junior college baseball seasons at Northwest Florida State College (2016-17) before landing in NCAA Division I baseball with the University of Central Florida (2018).

As a freshman at Northwest Florida, he made 16 appearances (12 in relief) and went 3-2 with two saves, two complete games and a 2.64 ERA. In 47 2/3 innings, he racked up 56 strikeouts with 10 walks.

Montgomery was selected in the 33rd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants. He opted to stay in college and went back for his second season at Northwest Florida and pitched in 13 games (12 as a starter), going 8-2 with three complete games and a 1.87 ERA. In 82 innings, he fanned 82 and walked 20.

Raiders coach Doug Martin taught his players, including Montgomery, the meaning of work ethic and not getting to bring for one’s breeches.

“In Juco, everything is blue collar,” says Montgomery. “I was told to just stay humble and be the guy you are.”

In his one season at Central Florida, where Greg Lovelady was Knights head coach and Fort Wayne, Ind., native Justin Parker the pitching coach, Montgomery competed in 17 contests (eight as a starter) and was 6-4 with one save, one complete game and a 2.54 ERA. In 63 2/3 innings, he whiffed 74 and walked 21.

“(Lovelady) taught me about the mental game and dealing with failure,” says Montgomery. “Not everything is going to go your way. You deal with it

“You can only control what you can control. After you let go of the ball, you can’t control much unless it’s a come-backer.”

Montgomery credits Parker (who is now pitching coach at Indiana University) for helping him develop his off-speed stuff.

“I’ve always been able to throw hard,” says Montgomery. “(Parker) told me to find my grip and throw it with the same confidence as my fastball.”

Montgomery was chosen in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles. After the one game in the GCL, he moved up to the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds of the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League.

In his first nine games with Aberdeen (all in relief), Montgomery was 1-0 with one save and a 5.56 ERA. in 11 innings, he struck out 13 and walked eight.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Montgomery has touched 97 mph with both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. He usually sits between 92 and 95 mph.

“I attack with the fastball then work in the off-speed (which includes a “circle” change-up, “spike” curveball and slider,” says Montgomery. “I have more control with the four-seam (which tends to have more revolutions than the two-seam).”

In his brief time in pro baseball, Montgomery has witnessed the difference between college and the minors beyond the raised level of talent and athleticism.

“In college, the schedule is more structured,” says Montgomery. “(In pro ball), you do what you need to get ready. It’s on you. It’s your career. It’s up to you whether you succeed or fail.”

Jarrett James Montgomery was born in Indianapolis (his parents are Alan Montgomery and Crystal Walton) and played at Oaklandon Youth Organization and Skiles Test Baseball. He played travel ball from age 13 to 17 with the Indiana Prospects then spent a summer with the Houston (Texas) Banditos.

Older brother Christian Montgomery, who also graduated from Lawrence Central, pitched in the New York Mets system from 2012-16.

After Aberdeen, where Kyle Moore is the manager and Mark Hendrickson the pitching coach, the next links in the Orioles minor league chain are Delmarva (Low-A), Frederick,(High-A), Bowie (Double-A) and Norfolk (Triple-A).

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J.J. Montgomery, a graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis who pitched at Northwest Florida State College and the University of Central Florida, is now with the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds in the Baltimore Orioles organization. (Aberdeen IronBirds Photo)

Ben Davis alum Bear wants his Giants to respect the game of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

David Bear was on the mound when Ben Davis High School won its state baseball championship and he’s now leading the Giants program as head coach.

Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis graduate, pitched seven innings in a semifinal victory against Richmond and three innings of relief in a championship game triumph against Fort Wayne Northrop to wrap up a stellar prep career with a state crown.

Ralph David Bear Jr. left high school with a career 0.61 earned run average with five no-hitters and two perfect games, including three no-no’s and one perfecto as a senior.

“Coach Cox would let me throw 10 innings every three days no matter what,” says Bear, referring to Giants coach Ken Cox, who would be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988 and finished his career with 440 victories. Besides the state title, his team earned seven sectionals, four regionals, two semistates and a state runner-up finish (1980). “I loved doing it.”

Bear cherishes his time with Cox.

“He was a man I dearly loved and one of the most respected coaches I know in the state of Indiana,” says Bear.

A couple weeks after regularly taking the ball for Cox’s Giants, the right-hander was on his way to Johnson City, Tenn., to begin his professional baseball career.

Bear was selected in the 27th round of the 1981 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and played five minor league seasons — starting with rookie-level Johnson City (Tenn.) in 1981 and finishing with High Class-A Miami (Fla.) in 1985.

He appeared in 168 games (20 as a starter) and went 25-21 with a 3.68 earned run average, 193 strikeouts and 145 walks in 363 innings.

His manager at Johnson City was Johnny Lewis, who later became the hitting coach in St. Louis.

“He was a very revered man,” says Bear of Lewis, a former outfielder with Cardinals and New York Mets. “I like the way he ran his team.”

Bear was also appreciative of the way Cardinals minor league pitching instructor Bob Milliken explained the craft. Milliken, who had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a bullpen coach and pitching coach in St. Louis.

The 2018 prep season marked Bear’s 12th on the Ben Davis coaching staff and his third as head coach.

Playing in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central), the Giants went 9-19. MIC teams play each other twice in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with makeup dates on Thursdays and Fridays.

“That is a very tough conference for baseball,” says Bear. “It’s a grinder.

“You better come to play every night. If not, you’ll get your socked knocked off.”

Bear bases his program on concepts like honesty, work, respect and hustle.

“If you’re honest with the kids, you get more out of them,” says Bear, 56. “You also have to believe in them.

“I tell the boys, if you work hard and play the game the right way, good things happen for you. You have to respect it and hustle.”

Reinforcing that message is Bear’s assistant coaches — Kyle Cox and Terrence Davis with the varsity, Kent Spillman with the junior varsity and Robert Jackson with the freshmen. Cox (no relation to Ken Cox) was an IHSBCA North/South All-Star for Ben Davis in 2005.

With nearly 4,400 students, Ben Davis is one of the biggest high schools in Indiana. The graduating class of 2018 alone was over 1,000.

Bear notes that 55 to 60 players come out for baseball and he keeps 14 for the varsity, 14 or 15 for the JV and 15 to 17 for the freshmen. The latter squad tends to be bigger to “give kids a chance to develop.”

At the varsity level, Bear talks to his players about always being ready even if they’re not in the starting lineup.

“You never know when you’re going to get that call,” says Bear. “When you get it, make the best of it.”

Four seniors from 2018 have made commitments to play college baseball. Catcher Zyon Avery is headed to Ohio University. He participated in the IHSBCA North/South Series July 20-22 in South Bend. He is the first Giants all-star since Deaun Williams in 2006.

Going to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne are shortstop/pitcher Tyler Duncan, outfielder/pitcher Garison Poteet and pitcher/second baseman Ian Schilling.

Former Ben Davis players going into their sophomore years as collegians are Logan Butrum at Wabash College and Isaiah Davis at Vincennes University.

Besides Ben Davis, Bear also coaches summer travel ball. This year, he is with the Evoshield Canes Midwest 15U team (The Indiana Outlaws merged with the Canes a few years ago). The current 15U squad has played in tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield and also in Ohio, North Carolina and, last week, the World Wood Bat Association 2012 Grads or 15U National Championship at Perfect Game Park at LakePoint in Cartersville, Ga.

Bear notes that Perfect Game USA has imposed a pitch count rule with a limit of 95 in a day. Since 2017, the IHSAA has also had a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I like the way they do it now,” says Bear. “Kids do a lot of throwing these days.”

Away from baseball, Bear fills up game rooms around Indianapolis in his job with Jay Orner and Sons Billiard Co.

David is the son of the late Ralph David Bear Sr. and Beverly Kay Bear and has three younger siblings — Richard, Rock and Stacey.

Bear’s girlfriend is Gretchen Atkins. He has a son (Coy), daughter (Cassie) and grandson (Bane, 3). Gretchen’s daughter is Stephanie Atkins. The Bear house also has a dog named Bear. The petite pooch is a Yorkshire/Australian Terrier mix.

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David Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis High School graduate, is now the head baseball coach of the Indianapolis-based Giants. (Ben Davis Photo)

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Former Ben Davis High School baseball player C.J. Vaughn (left) meets with Giants head baseball coach David Bear. A 1981 BDHS graduate, Bear came back to his alma mater as an assistant coach and has led the program the past three seasons.