Jack Peel drew everyone’s attention to a projector screen in the University School of Jackson theater, and a video played showing pitcher Ryan Rolison leading his baseball teammates in “If you’re happy and you know it” on a post-victory bus ride.
“He’s not scared to drop a barrier and let you know who he is,” the USJ baseball coach said of Rolison. “To me he’s a lot of fun to be around.”
Peel said it’s a great memory for him because Rolison wanted to share the joy of the moment with those around him.
Wednesday, several of those teammates were present along with other classmates, coaches and family members as Rolison signed his letter of intent to play baseball at Ole Miss. The Rebels have made the last four NCAA tournament and participated in the 2014 College World Series as one of the final eight teams.
“That was a big factor of my decision to go to Ole Miss. I want to go to a team that is winning, and so does everybody else,” Rolison said. “We’ve got a good recruiting class in the 2016 class, so hopefully we can get back to Omaha again.”
Rolison said he and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco “connected” on his first visit to Oxford and he looks forward to competing for a spot in the starting rotation as a freshman. Rolison said he wants to put on some weight and continue working on his changeup to be at his best.
Peel and travel ball coaches Jimmy Carey and Scott Guymon (both of whose sons play for the Bruins) each spoke briefly about Rolison, and along with praising his humility noted stark physical and mental growth between his sophomore and juniors seasons.
Rolison attributed his sharper drive to advice from a pitching coach, David West, based in Memphis.
“It really made me pursue to be greater. Do you just want to be an average pitcher, or do you want to be a great pitcher? So that meant a lot to me and I’ve just been working my hardest ever since,” Rolison said.
Last season’s All-West Tennessee pitcher of the year, the lefty Rolison had a 0.74 ERA last year with 104 strikeouts. Able to reach the low 90s with strong command, he is one of the top pitching prospects in the state of Tennessee and figures to have major league scouts at every game he pitches this spring.
A game last March against Lexington might have been a turning point in Rolison’s career, as several scouts were there to watch Mississippi State-bound Ethan Small and no doubt took note as Rolison outpitched him.
Asked what he’ll do if drafted, Rolison said he and his family would weigh their options.
“The money is going to have to be high because I’m looking forward to getting to Ole Miss,” he said.
In the meantime, the Bruins look to make a third consecutive trip to the Division II-A state tournament. They won the title two years ago but went 0-2 in last year’s event.
“Five of the seniors I’ve been playing with since I was eight years old,” Rolison said. “So to play our last season together is going to be something special.”
Craig Thomas, 425-9634