In a year of minimal motivation, one team is sticking to their studies to ensure their academics are held to the same standard as their expected talent on the field.
Through online classes and other obstacles, the Cougars have risen above the inconsistency and have the grades to prove it. In its fourth year, the IU Kokomo baseball team set a program record for average GPA at 3.25, with an additional 13 players included on the Dean’s list. Head Coach Matt Howard said it’s all a part of building the program into a championship contender.
“I just tell the guys all the time that I think the biggest thing about building a program is building it with championship people. And championship people, they want to pursue excellence both on and off the field,” Howard said. “So I tell all of our teams, the way we know if you’ve bought in is if you do well in the classroom, if you do well in the weight room, if you do well on the field. It’s not just how you do one thing. It’s how you do all things.”
The team recently worked with Team Impact, signing 9-year-old Thomas Satterfield to the program in one of the team’s only organized public event of the fall. Other than adding additional commits and sticking to the weight room, the Cougars have been hitting the books, according to Howard.
In early November, IU Kokomo was listed second behind only IU Southeast as the RSC favorite to win the conference in the 2021 Coaches’ Preseason Poll. This is the first year the Cougars are receiving votes to finish in the top 25 in the country at their level. Since it’s only been four years into the baseball program, those numbers are increasingly promising and show the growth of the team.
Howard said the academic results show the team’s grit and willingness to go the extra mile, especially when things get tough. When they can get back on the diamond, they’ll be ready.
“I’m so proud of their relentlessness through so much adversity and uncertainty. I told them really early on, I said, ‘You know we haven’t had a traditional fall or year to this point. So a real indicator of how bought-in you guys are, and how successful we’re going to be is how you do in the classroom this fall.’ So obviously they took that bull by the horns and said, ‘Hey we want to be great.’ So I’m just really proud of how much they did in a time where there’s not a whole lot to do,” Howard said.
He expects the grind to continue when his team takes the field again, and getting those habits in gear now helps ensure they’ll be ready to compete when the time comes. For Howard, it’s not about being getting ready but about staying ready so that you don’t have to when it’s time to go.
“That’s the cool part is I think we have our most talented group yet as well from a baseball perspective. You know, it’s easy when you have talent to slack in other areas. So I think that’s what we’re most proud of as coaches is that we have a really talented team, but they care about all parts of our program, not just baseball,” Howard said.
IU announced a halt to all athletic practices until mid-January for its regional campuses, and teams can’t return to competition until Feb. 1 at the earliest. It is unclear when the baseball season will begin.
But just speaking with Howard, the energy to get started is contagious. Based on the team’s early returns, the 2021 Cougars will be forced to be reckoned with. Howard said as much and added he doesn’t like being second to IU Southeast in anything.
“The best is yet to come. This team, TEAM4, has a lot more records to break before it’s all said and done,” Howard said.