Gators' Kevin O’Sullivan welcomes mentor Leggett back to Gainesville

The Florida Gators hosted a special guest for baseball practice on Friday. Florida’s very successful head coach Kevin O’Sullivan brought back his mentor in former Clemson head coach Jack Leggett to speak and work with his team. With 955 wins and six College World Series appearances under his belt, Leggett has a bunch to offer O’Sullivan’s crew.

“He's one of my best friends,” O’Sullivan said when asked about Leggett before practice on Friday. “We go back a long ways. He gave me an opportunity, I think back in the fall of '97. I was working with the Twins and (Clemson's pitching coach) took off -- I think he took a job at Arizona State -- and I had spent a couple years at Virginia in '96 and '97 and he called out of the blue.

“It was late in the fall, it was probably around August, and I was living in Fort Myers and he offered me a job, I flew up and we've been best of friends ever since. Just excited he's got a chance to come down. Obviously this time of year his juices are flowing and he just wants to kind of be around it a little bit. He left early this morning and I'm excited to spend a weekend with him."

Leggett taught O’Sullivan a ton about the college game and how to build a program. He’s still a guy that O’Sullivan calls on if something new arises.

"There's so much,” he said about learning from Leggett. “I mean, I think, the X’s and O’s on the baseball part of it is one piece, but the emphasis of education and how to conduct yourself on and off the field, how to run a program in a first-class manner from A-Z is really what I pulled away from my experience at Clemson and with Jack. He's been a tremendous resource. He's been a mentor for me. He's been awesome in so many ways. He's been awesome. I lean on him still to this day all the time and he's just been a great resource, a great mentor and I pick his brain all the time."

 

Building the roster…

While the Gators have yet to hit the ultimate goal of winning the national championship, their success as a program has succeeded anything else in the past. While O’Sullivan is regarded as maybe the best pitcher’s coach in college baseball, he has created a roster of big time players all over the field.

One of the key aspects in building a program is using walk-ons.  O’Sullivan says walk-ons are like anyone else on his team in his eyes.

“It's probably difficult for anybody really, scholarship or walk-on,” O’Sullivan said when asked about the life of a walk-on in a program of this stature. “I will say this, we've been really, really fortunate, we've had some really good walk-ons. One year we had four walk-ons that were drafted and signed professionally. So I don't look at our walk-ons any differently than I do our scholarship players, and often times those guys end up being our best players and starters.

“You'd be shocked to know some of the guys that have been recruited walk-ons, so they really make a difference in your program. You're only allowed to have 27 scholarship players so on any given year you have up to 8-9 recruited walk-ons and they make a huge difference in anybody's program."

Baseball has the ridiculous rule of balancing just 11.7 scholarships among the 27 scholarship possibilities. This means O’Sullivan has to spread the scholarships out among the 27 to fil out the roster. Of course this is even harder with the major League baseball Draft that will sometimes pull some of the best players that sign and get them started professionally. It is a lot to juggle for a coach and something he has really had to work at trying to perfect since he arrived at Florida.

"It's a huge juggling act. It's not easy,” O’Sullivan said. “You obviously have to over recruit to a certain degree because of the draft of guys that you're losing on your team and guys that are incoming, but I've been doing it for so long that you kind of know that threshold and where you kind of don't want to go over. But it is very hard.

“It's one thing to be 11.7, but to land on the 27 is not easy. You can always move some scholarship money around, but it's very, very hard to move bodies. So it's not easy, it's not easy, but like I said, it's a thing that you kind of get used to. "

“It takes a few years. I remember when Tim Corbin left for Vanderbilt, I became the recruiting coordinator for Coach Leggett at Clemson and it takes a couple years. And the recruiting process too, it's one thing to sign really good players, but the idea is you've got to get them to school. So early on you have to identify the players that are obviously good enough to play at this level, but one you feel like have a really good chance of going to school and parents who value education and those types of things. So there's a lot that goes into it, but a lot has to do with the type of kids that you recruit."

 

Injury update…

The Gators have a couple of hand injuries that should be on the last days of rehab.  Two-way stars Garrett Milchin and Andrew Baker have missed or been limited, but the prognosis for a return soon looks good.

"Better, better… it's not broken, which is a good thing,” O’Sullivan said of Milchin’s hand which was hit on a comebacker early last week. “Obviously it's swollen so we'll take our time with him, but I would expect he'd be hopefully able to go by next week. But the most important thing is it wasn't broken."

Baker has a shot to start in centerfield and be the closer as well. The talented freshman lefty has been able to pitch, but not field the ball or hit with his injury to his right hand.

"Yeah, I think he gets his stitches out on Tuesday of next week so he'll be ready to go. He'll throw a pen today (Friday). He'll throw another pen on Monday, have somebody catch the ball for him and probably Wednesday when he gets his stitches out we'll have him throw live, have guys stand in there during his pens."


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