For The Best

FAYETTEVILLE -- Frustrated by a Big 12 Conference rule pertaining to intra-conference transfers, all Jess Todd could think to do was call his buddy from junior college.

It was mid-July of last year when Todd picked up the phone and dialed Jeff Nutt. A few days earlier, the Big 12 ruled that Todd couldn't follow through with his oral commitment to Texas. He had attended Texas Tech for a few days as a freshman, and the Red Raiders wouldn't release him. They wouldn't allow him to pitch for Texas, even though nearly two years had passed since he stepped foot in Lubbock. Suddenly, Todd, a junior college all-American, was back on the market. All kinds of schools -- a Who's Who of college baseball's traditional powers -- inquired about him. Arizona State, Florida State, Miami, Long Beach State, USC. Those schools all put out feelers. But Todd could only think of Nutt, his two-year teammate at Navarro (Texas) College who already committed to Arkansas. "After all the Texas stuff fell apart, he gave me a call one morning," Nutt recalled. "He said he wasn't going to Texas, and he wondered if I could find out about getting him into Arkansas. "I was like, 'Yeah!' I picked up the phone right after I hung up, called Coach (Todd) Butler and Coach (Dave) Van Horn, and 'Boom,' they got the deal done." Todd took a few moments earlier this week, pausing from his preparations for this weekend's NCAA Regional, to reflect on his strange route to Fayetteville. At the time of all this drama, Todd wasn't so sure of his future at Arkansas. He was comfortable with Nutt and Sean Jones, another one of his Navarro teammates. And he remembered the Arkansas coaching staff, the group of coaches who initially recruited him out of Kilgore (Texas) High. But everything was happening so fast. First, he thought he was going to be a Longhorn. Then, he had bundles of cash promised to him by Major League Baseball scouts, hoping to sign him to a free-agent deal. "He had scouts calling him, offering him $150,000," Van Horn said. "Then, they offered $175,000. Then, when he's finally here, when he's pulling into the driveway, they offer him $200,000. "What I really like about Jess is, he goes, 'Where were you in June?' That's when I knew he was my type of guy. Now, he's probably quadrupled his worth." For several weeks, before choosing Arkansas, Todd felt like he might as well shut his eyes and fire a dart at a map of the United States. The subsequent events occurred so swiftly that he almost had to crash on Nutt's couch when he first got to Fayetteville. "It was just getting nerve-wracking because I didn't know where I was going to end up," Todd said. "East coast, West coast, Midwest. I just had so many options. It was making my head spin. I just had no clue. It was great to commit to somewhere and just do it. "I got here two days before school started, found a place to live and started classes." Ever since, Todd has felt like fate brought him to Arkansas. After spending part of the season in the bullpen, he has now found his niche as a starter. He now leads the Razorbacks in earned run average and strikeout, and he was named a second-team all-American. Plus, he loves his teammates. He cherishes his coaches. And, he craves the opportunity at a National Championship. "This is where I was supposed to end up," Todd said. "I just feel it. It was a weird way to get here. But, it happened for the best." JESS TODD Postion: Right-handed pitcher Class: Junior Height: 6-0 Weight: 213 Hometown: Kilgore, Texas Junior College: Navarro (Texas) College Notables: Holds team-highs in earned run average (2.49) and strikeouts (124) ... Struck out 17 batters, including the first nine, in his three-hit shutout of South Carolina last Thursday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament ... Named to the first team of the all-SEC team and to the second team of Collegiate Baseball's All-America team ... Earned all-conference honors after all four of his seasons at Kilgore High.

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