SALADO — The Salado cafeteria filled up Thursday afternoon with family, friends and teammates who gathered to watch as senior Jacob Wilk signed his national letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Arkansas, an NCAA Division I school.
Arkansas’ players are known for success in baseball at both the collegiate and professional level. They came in second in the SEC West this season, behind LSU, with a 42-17 overall record.
For the first time in six years, the Razorbacks made the top 25 NCAA Division I baseball list coming in at No. 20.
Head coach Dave Von Horn’s 2017 recruiting class was ranked No. 3, coming in behind Vanderbilt and Florida but ranked higher than Arizona State and South Carolina.
There’s a long list of former and current MLB players who once wore a Razorbacks jerseys, including two who participated in the World Series this season — Houston Astros’ pitcher Dallas Keuchel and Los Angeles Dodgers’ second baseman Logan Forsythe.
“That just goes to show you the type of program they have,” Wilk said, “and that’d be awesome to do one day, hopefully.”
Wilk is a two sport athlete playing football and baseball for the Eagles, including throwing a no-hitter in his second varsity start and a shutout
game versus Lampasas last season.
He played football his freshman year but the season didn’t go so well and instead decided to focus on baseball his sophomore year where the team made it to state and he was first recruited.
Then coach Alan Haire came to take charge of the football team.
“He’s a very great man and I appreciate him,” Wilk said.
Wilk also recalls passing Haire in the hallway every day on his way to grab his lunch from the locker room. He said Haire didn’t know who he was but he knew who the coach was.
“He’d always ask me, ‘You should come out, try, give it a shot’ or whatever and I started talking to him more in the hallway,” Wilk said.
With a little extra push from his best friend, he went out for the team his junior year and loved it.
“Salado’s season last year was very rough,” he said. “And last year 7-5 doesn’t sound good for some schools but that was very good.
“I knew in eighth grade that when our grade was going to be seniors that we’d be pretty good, so this year, and we’re not done yet, hopefully.”
The Eagles’ football team is currently playing Bellville on Saturday in the Conference 4A, Division II playoffs.
“Work hard every day and live right and be all-around good people,” Wilk said. “It’s working out for us and we’re playing third round at Alamodome so that’s pretty cool, I’m looking forward to it.”
With a cafeteria full of both football and baseball teammates to witness him sign his national letter of intent, Jacob’s mother Kristi Wilk believes the boys’ bond is the key to victory.
“It’s just a testament to the closeness of the teams he plays on and the way the boys are together,” Kristi said, “and also one of the reasons why there’s so much success in football and baseball since we’ve been here because of the way the boys are together, they’re very supportive and very happy for each other so it’s exciting.”
Haire shared in the excitement with a few words of wisdom before Jacob signed and made sure him, and his fellow teammates, realize that life is about more than just the game.
“In your heart you get so excited about their future and what it’s going to do for them so therefore, all their hard work, all their time they’ve invested into being better pays off,” Haire said. “And you just hope a little bit of what they learned here, they’ll carry off with them into the big time and still make good decisions.
“But still understand that games come and go but who you are remains the same so we just hope he has a good experience at college with playing collegiate athletics but also use that as an avenue to further your education and become a better person in society.”
While the opportunity to play baseball at the next level is on the horizon, as playing in the SEC is similar to minor leagues according to Jacob, Arkansas appeals to him for another reason.
“First off, it has what I want to do later in life other than sports,” Jacob said. “I’m going to go there and major in kinesiology.”
While there’s still time before he graduates, it’s never too early for advice.
“Two things we control- your effort and your attitude so if you give great effort and keep a good attitude great things will happen,” Haire said.
“Seize every opportunity,” Kristi said, “and don’t let anything pass you by.”