November 14, 2013 10:30:33 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
Will Golsan and Taylor Stafford were born to have the moment they experienced Wednesday afternoon when they signed National Letters of Intent with Ole Miss and Mississippi State in a ceremony in the school library.
The ceremony was the realization of a dream for the New Hope High School baseball standouts, who dreamed to play in the Southeastern Conference ever since they could remember.
Dressed in bow ties representing the rival schools, Golsan and Stafford couldn't hide their smiles as the current teammates signed to become future rivals.
Golsan, the Class 5A Player of the Year, has wanted to play for Ole Miss since he was 7 years old. It took him less than a day after Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco offered him a scholarship for him to be commit to his dream school.
"Ole Miss is a special place to me and my family, and it's a place that couldn't wait to say yes to," Golsan said. "There was never a conversation with my parents about whether if this was OK for me or needed to be explored any further. They had the same attitude I did when they offered: Why wait any longer?"
Golsan, a right-handed hitting and throwing shortstop, hit a team-high .541 with 18 doubles, three home runs, and 21 RBIs last season. He also was 3-0 with a 0.81 ERA and 44 strikeouts. Golsan looks to be a middle-infield prospect in what the Rebels hope is another top-10 nationally ranked recruiting class.
"We're very excited to have Will join our program," Bianco said in a statement submitted to The Dispatch. "He's a talented athlete from a storied and successful high school program. He's rated as the top middle infielder in the state."
New Hope High baseball coach Lee Boyd is convinced Golsan will fit Bianco's style of play because his competitiveness helped him become one of the best players in the state of Mississippi.
"Will is a late-bloomer prospect in reality, and not enough people know that about him," Boyd said. "Last year, we knew he would be a good player for us a leader in this special junior class. Did we think he'd hit .540 and play a flawless shortstop? No. Who could've thought or dreamt that?"
Stafford, a 5-foot-9 outfielder/pitcher, showed MSU coaches he could handle SEC pitching at the school's Labor Day camp. His performance ensured The Dispatch's 2013 co-Player of the Year (with Golsan) a spot at his dream school. Stafford, who has all the characteristics and body type of a coach John Cohen recruit, hit .476 with one home run and 38 RBIs. He also was 8-0 with a 2.10 ERA.
Even if Stafford hadn't received a scholarship offer from MSU in September from MSU, he said he would have been content on waiting out the MSU coaches to see if he would get a chance to become a Bulldog.
"There was no doubt where I wanted to go to college, and everybody knew that from the moment I could start getting recruited," Stafford said.
Stafford's mother, Pam, works as a business manager in MSU's research and curriculum unit after working for years in the school's enrollment office. The Stafford family lived in Starkville until moving closer to Columbus prior to Taylor's seventh-grade year. She assured everybody her son didn't need permission from the family to attend MSU.
"There's a sense of relief knowing he's going to the school he's always dreamed of being at, so how could a mother want anymore for her son?" Pam Stafford said. "Taylor began to walk at 9 months, and I'm convinced those were steps toward playing baseball at Dudy Noble Field."
Cohen declined to comment about his early signees, citing a new policy not to comment until the players enroll at the university in the summer.
Stafford, who remembers being on Dudy Noble Field as early as a 5 years old, said he told the coaches he'd accepted the minute MSU pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Butch Thompson made him a scholarship offer.
Stafford said Thompson and Cohen have told him he could follow a similar career path as senior center fielder C.T. Bradford, who has a similar body type and has some of the same skills as Stafford.
"They immediately put in front of me what they called 'C.T. Bradford role' for myself at Mississippi State," Stafford said. "They told me upfront they're going to be losing three outfielders next year and that I can earn playing time if I work hard enough."
Stafford has the athleticism to play outfield in a big ballpark like Dudy Noble Field. On the mound, the left-hander has been clocked at 87-88 mph.
"Taylor is a kid that will immediately come in and prove he can handle center field at a place like Dudy Noble because it takes a scouting and coaching eye to watch how he goes and attacks a baseball defensively," Boyd said. "He may not wow you with his measurements, but he more than makes up for that with his baseball instincts and ability to play smooth defense like he was born to do it."
After making it to the College World Series national championship series last spring, MSU received commitments from five players ranked in the top 500 in the country by Perfect Game national scouting service. All of those commitments, from Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and California, signed NLIs Wednesday.
Despite signing with rival schools, Golsan and Stafford said their time at New Hope has helped prepare them for the next level.
"There's no doubt in my mind that whatever I'm asked to do at Mississippi State will not be a shock to my system because of how hard we work at New Hope," Taylor Stafford said. "Coach Boyd stresses work ethic, weight training, and fundamentals, and that's what leads us to being the best program in the state year in and year out."
Now that they've made finalized their college plans, Golsan and Stafford will try to defend the state championship rings they wore to the ceremony. They had their teammates watch them sign their NLIs, but will need their help to put another Class 5A state championship banner up at Trojan Field.
"I think being able to put this behind them will allow them to concentrate on the goal of being the leaders of the defending state champions, and that's the one thing I love about both of them, they're willingness to put everything aside for the betterment of the team," Boyd said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.