Harrell takes talents to Tennessee Wesleyan

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY--A chance to play for a nationally-ranked NAIA collegiate baseball team was just too much for one of the best players in the history of University High to pass up.
   Junior Buc standout Drew Harrell recently signed a letter of intent to play at Tennessee Wesleyan, who won the Appalachian Athletic Conference regular-season title this year and was ranked as high as No. 3 in the country at one time.
   "The program has an outstanding academic program and also on the baseball side of everything, they were ranked third at the end of the regular season this year," Harrell said. "And they have two young coaches who I think will be there for a long time, and will show me the directions that I want to go."
   Harrell was a dominating force on the mound for the Junior Bucs over the last couple of years, but that's not the position he was recruited at.
   Harrell will instead be counted on as a catcher, and to provide hits for the Bulldogs.
   "They signed me as a catcher, and that's pretty much what I've done with all the AAU and all the traveling ball I've had in the summer," he said.
   "That's pretty much what I'm going to do down there. I'll play catcher and probably third base some, but I'll play wherever they want me to."
   Though being a pitcher wasn't his natural position, Harrell showed what a team player he is by stepping to the fore.
   Harrell feels that some things have to be done in order to help the team.
   "I felt like I had to be the leader on the team on and off the field, and that comes a lot with pitching," Harrell said. "I'll do whatever it takes to win, and that's what they needed me to do. I tried my best.
   "I did pretty well. All the hard work in the winter workouts and I guess just the natural ability and the God-given talent that He has given me got me to where I'm at today."
   Pitching all those games in high school could pay off for the recent UH graduate. Harrell feels he will have an advantage behind the plate when he goes to Athens because he is used to pitching.
   "The good news is I know what the pitcher is thinking, because I've been in his shoes before," Harrell said. "I think it gives me a background for the collegiate level. But I'm going to miss it, I'll be honest. I'll miss it."
   Though University High is in the shadows of Science Hill in Johnson City and sometimes doesn't get the recognition it deserves, Harrell helped put UH on the map with his play on the baseball diamond.
   The Junior Bucs did have some big-time success under Harrell, as University High was one of just four Class A teams left standing during the 2002 season when it was all said and done.
   For Harrell, it was a moment he will never forget.
   "That will go down as of right now as my best memory from baseball," he said. "I had fun that year. That was a fun baseball season, and I couldn't have done it without the players that were on the team that year and the coaching staff. I had a wonderful time, and I'll never forget that year."
   Harrell's career also had some trying times. During mid-season this year, University High went through a highly-publicized coaching change.
   But that's also when Harrell, a team captain, decided to show what a leader he was.
   "The captains, myself and Daniel Smith, we sat down and talked about it," Harrell said. "We said that 'this was our season, and that we have to live up to it.' We didn't go as far as we wanted to, but I think I laid the ground for the kids to come. That was my main goal, just to show leadership and give it 110 percent on and off the field, and just show the kids the way I play baseball."
   Harrell will not be the only guy from the Tri-Cities area on Tennessee Wesleyan's baseball team. Former Elizabethton High standout B.J. Miller will join Harrell on the Bulldog roster this fall.
   Harrell is looking forward to playing with a guy that he has a ton of respect for.
   "I've played ball with him since I was in little league," Harrell said. "He's a heck of a ball player and a heck of a person. He's really nice, has great character, and it's going to be a pleasure getting to go and play baseball with him. I can't wait, and I'm glad that I have somebody from our area of East Tennessee all the way down there. Sometimes I might get a little lonely, and it might be nice to talk to somebody and reminisce on good old times of baseball in East Tennessee."
   As Harrell gets ready to make his way to Athens, it's evident that he will never forget not only what University High means to him, but also the entire Northeast Tennessee baseball community.
   "I'm never going to forget what this community has given to me," Harrell said. "The coaches from our district and all the players and coaches from all the districts in our region, I can't thank them enough, especially Mike Ensor at Unaka. I take my hat off to him. He's given me so many compliments, and he's had a part in where I'm at today."