Saturday, February 21, 2015

From second string to signing day

As a former baseball coach who counseled players about college recruiting, I often told eager kids that "if you're good, scouts and coaches will find you." It sounds too simple, but I still believe that if you separate yourself on the field, someone will take an interest.

But Riverside High School baseball player Mason Dwinnell's situation was more complicated. Riverside has a long history of success, and many of the college-bound athletes that made the program successful played the same position as Mason. Despite a willingness to learn new positions, he spent much of his high school career supporting his older and more talented teammates from the dugout. In other words, he couldn't get on the field, so scouts and coaches couldn't see him.

During the past two high school seasons Mason's backed up two catchers, three infielders and three pitchers now playing at scholarship programs. It would have been easy for him to feel sorry for himself, give up on his dream or transfer to another school. But instead of making excuses, he made his own opportunities.

Mason's circumstances were unique, and so was his plan to earn a spot on a college roster. When we began working together during the summer of 2013 I challenged him to become the strongest player on his high school team by the spring of 2015. There was a good chance he wouldn't start until his senior year, so he needed to do everything in his power to prepare for that opportunity.

Two years later, as his senior season begins, he's added 60 pounds to his bench max, 110 to his squat and 130 to his deadlift, all while gaining only five pounds of bodyweight.  Mason's now as strong as any player in his conference. And best of all, he's already locked up a roster spot at Shenandoah University for next year.

When I look back at what Mason accomplished during our time working together, I notice three important habits that separated him from his peers.

First, he showed up. Plenty of players hit the weight room during the winter, but Mason made strength a year-round priority. That meant lifting around practice and game schedules and performing bodyweight routines when he couldn't get to a gym. It also meant lifting heavy some days and going light on others. Regardless, he found a way to make himself a better athlete every time he trained, and a series of small improvements added up over time.

Second, he kept adding weight to the bar. Perhaps the most fundamental training rule of the iron game, Mason was never satisfied and pushed hard to keep adding plates, even after his numbers surpassed the other baseball players on my record board. Nailing reps with two, three and four 45s on each side of the bar was a great motivator, and he's anxious to see the difference the added strength makes on the field.

Finally, he never strayed from his goals. During our time working together Mason got his driver's license, finished four semesters of high school, broke up with his longtime girlfriend and gave up wrestling to focus on baseball. Some college coaches didn't return his calls, and many others did only to say they weren't interested. There were plenty of opportunities for him to lose focus and reevaluate his goals, but he knew what he wanted, pursued it and delivered.

His accomplishments are remarkable, and we haven't even seen what he can do on the field yet. Congratulations to Mason and his family, and enjoy your home field's short porch this spring!

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