Photo courtesy of CCU Photography.
Ranked as the No. 1 right-handed pitcher in South Carolina his senior year of high school, Conway native Will Smith is gaining high praise from his coaches and fellow players, and his collegiate athletic career has yet to begin.
Smith was the No. 5 overall prospect in the state for the class of 2019, with a fastball average of almost 95 mph and too many regional and national awards to list.
Head Coach Garry Gilmore said that Will Smith was a promising player and looks forward to seeing him in action.
“He’s one of those wild card guys, for me,” said Gilmore. “If he can assume a role in that bullpen and then be somebody who we can count on to come in and throw two pitches for strikes an inning three or four times a week, that guy will be... well, that’ll be one question mark answered. You know, if he can do that, and so far, this spring he’s been absolutely outstanding.”
Smith seemed to be struggling in the fall but turned it around once spring practices began.
“I tell you what, if you ask him right now, he’d be one to tell you ‘I grew up a whole lot this fall,’” said Gilmore. “There were moments when he questioned himself, he questioned us... and now he’s finally made some adjustments and changes in, kind of, buying into what we are trying to get him to do. He’s gone from a guy who sprayed the ball all over the place on the mound in the fall to a guy throwing a ton of strikes. He’s found a breaking ball that he never had in high school, and it’s a plus breaking ball and he throws it for strikes.”
His teammates have also seen improvement in Smith. Scott Kobos, a redshirt senior pitcher from Charlotte, said, “As for guys that have really stepped up: Will Smith, obviously. He was a big guy coming in here, struggled a bit in the fall, but I see he’s starting to put it together.”
Zach McCambley also mentioned Smith when listing guys who he was excited to see in a game.
Smith attributes his Fall uncertainty to trying to be more like other players instead of himself.
He said he got better by “just relaxing and knowing that I can play my own game. I think I got here, and I tried to change too many things to be better than just the game I played in high school.”
Gilmore and his other coaches seem to have taught him a lot.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is quality strikes thrown in a certain quadrant the whole time. Coach Gilmore harps on throwing low to the knees and stuff like that,” said Smith. “There are stats and stuff that go with that, and how many homeruns we’ve given up above the knees.”
While he was initially entertaining an offer from Furman University during his junior year, Smith quickly shifted his sights to Coastal Carolina.
“I think it’s a great experience, I mean, I love the leadership they have here and everything we’ve done during the fall,” said Smith. “I think we have a good squad this year, it’ll be fun to watch.”
For Smith, the transition from high school to college baseball was a big one, but he is loving every minute of it.
“It’s a huge change, it’s a lot more time consuming,” said Smith. “I’m going to class then coming straight here, I’m here for seven hours a day, but I love it, I love being here, being with everybody that’s here. I know it’s a huge difference for me than I experienced in high school.”
Far from the first Conway baseball player to find success after high school, Smith grew up with Jordan Gore, Grant Holmes, and G.K. Young. His childhood bedroom once belonged to Dock Doyle, who played for CCU from 2005 to 2007.
Smith’s cousin is Jay Causey, a redshirt senior pitching for CCU, who seems to have given him plenty of advice about what it’s like playing college ball in your hometown.
“What he told me most of the time was ‘you just got to get out there and pitch your game,’ ‘you know you’re going to know most of the people in the stands,’ stuff like that,” said Smith. “Whether it’s your mom and dad in there or it’s your best friend from high school, you still have to envision the game and focus before you can worry about all that.”
Smith seems to have a promising freshman season ahead of him.
“I’m probably going to be coming out of the bullpen most of the time, it could change depending on how the season goes,” said Smith.
Coach Gilmore and his teammates think Will Smith will be a player to watch in the 2020 season.
“Every day I’m growing with him, as his confidence grows, I’m growing with him,” said Gilmore.
Will Smith and the Chanticleers will play their home first game at the Brittain Resorts Tournament at Springs Brooks Stadium at 11 A.M. on Feb. 14. Their first season game is at UNC Wilmington at 4 P.M. on Feb. 18.