January 21, 2011 10:53:00 AM
Jared Shelton isn''t the player he used to be.
Growing up, Shelton wasn''t the biggest player on his teams, which made him realize he needed to do more than just work hard in practice.
Shelton''s body eventually cooperated and helped him mature from a 5-foot-3, 130-pound freshman into a 5-11, 175-pound upperclassman.
But Shelton still knew he had to do more, so he dedicated himself in the weight room in hopes of boosting his skills.
Shelton, a senior middle infielder, realized the fruits of his labors Thursday when he signed a scholarship to play baseball at Wallace State Community College.
"I always had the dream to play baseball in college," Shelton said. "I started lifting weights my 10th-grade year, and that was the biggest thing that helped me. If I didn''t lift weights I don''t think this opportunity would be here."
Shelton said lifting weights has improved his arm strength and endurance. He said his improved conditioning has provided a lift late in games and in critical situations.
"It makes you tougher," Shelton said. "When other guys get worn down at the end of the game, you are getting stronger as it goes on. If you make yourself do that every day, practices are easier and games area easier. Everything is easier when you are strong."
Wallace State Community College is in Hanceville, Ala., which is 60 miles south of Huntsville. The Lions compete in Division I of the Alabama Community College Conference and the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Coach Randy Putman has guided the Lions to seven ACCC state championships, six Southeastern Regional Championships, and six World Series appearances. Wallace State went 26-22 last season despite being hit hard by injuries.
Wallace State C.C. coach Randy Putman, who signed New Hope pitcher Jake Smith last January, hopes the addition of Shelton to his program will open a pipeline to a school that has a solid baseball tradition.
"Jared is a good athlete," Putman said. "He is a baseball player and he likes to play. He can play anywhere in the infield. You don''t have to have guys who are 6-foot-3, 210 (pounds). You take guys who are baseball players that enjoy playing the game. If you get those kind of guys you will have a chance to compete and do some good things."
Putman said Shelton attended a tryout at Wallace State in October and at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He said pitching coach Logan Green saw Shelton at the workout at Samford and was impressed. From there, he said the Lions decided to offer Shelton a scholarship while he was still on campus.
"Good middle infielders are hard to come by, so we are excited about having him," Putman said.
New Hope baseball coach Lee Boyd said Shelton isn''t a player he would have to tell to work hard outside of practice. He said Shelton took the initiative to do additional weight training outside of the work the team does to grow even stronger. He said the investment has improved Shelton''s speed and his strength.
Last season, Shelton hit .263 with one home run, 14 RBIs, and eight stolen bases. He figures to move from second base to shortstop this season with the graduation of Philip Tice.
"Jared is just a versatile player," Boyd said. "When he was younger, he won''t tell you this, but he caught some. I am trying to work him on the mound some this year. ... He has the ability to play several positions if he gets the reps, and I am sure that is important for any college if they are lacking someone at a spot."
Like pitcher Dillon Hawkins, who committed Tuesday to play baseball at East Mississippi C.C., Boyd said Shelton also has plenty of room to grow into his body, which also will help his game.
"If he can put on the right kind of weight and keep his speed where it is and increase his arm strength, he will have a chance to be successful," Boyd said. "Offensively, he has worked pretty hard to get his swing down. He has added a drag bunt to his game last year, which brought his average up a couple of points."
Shelton hopes another year of high school ball and an offseason before he goes to college will help him grow even stronger and more confident that he will be able to make the transition to the next level.
"When I was little I couldn''t play shortstop because I was small, so I played second base," Shelton said. "Now I am not a second baseman. I am a shortstop. ... I should do all right. It is up to me."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.