Where Austin Nola wound up as a college baseball player wasn’t by accident.
In fact, it’s hard for him or anybody who has known him a while to imagine LSU’s senior shortstop anywhere but in the Tigers’ purple-and-gold and right in the middle of the Alex Box Stadium diamond – where he’s been a starter from the middle of his freshman season on.
Understanding Nola’s connection to LSU also provides a glimpse into who he is as a person. The Baton Rouge native isn’t just one of the best defensive shortstops in the country and one of the most clutch hitters in the talent-laden SEC. He’s also a person who has become a cornerstone for the LSU program as a role model.
Nola is also one of 10 finalists for the 2012 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. And it doesn’t take a long conversation to understand why he has become as well known for his off-the-field deeds as he is for what he does with his glove or a bat.
There is the 3.21 GPA and a spot on the SEC Academic Honor Roll in each semester he’s been at LSU. There’s the fact that Nola had led the Tigers in community service hours the last three years and the countless more times he’s volunteered that nobody even knew about.
And as important as anything, there’s the Nola who is the heart and soul of a team that has roared back from a disappointing 2011 season to be a national championship contender this spring.
“It’s my job and duty to be a leader here for these younger guys, to set an example for them,” Nola said. “They deserve somebody to lead them and go out and make a difference. You’ve got to have people to look up to. I still look up to a lot of people from when I first got here. There’s a legacy at LSU and to be a part of that means a lot to me.”
That legacy is where Nola’s connection began.
Like hundreds of high school players around Louisiana, Nola was a regular at LSU games from the time he was old enough to slip a glove on his hand. His parents were season-ticket holders as the Tigers roared into prominence with five national championships between 1991-2000 and several other trips to the College World Series.
What Nola soaked in from the experience of going to those games – besides having a pretty good seat to college baseball history – was the knowledge of how things are supposed to be done.
The way he does them now.
“It’s more than baseball,” said Nola, who ended the regular season hitting .300 with 14 doubles, 36 RBIs and a team-high 36 walks. He moved into the leadoff spot five games ago, where he has batted .421 with five walks, five runs and a pair of RBIs.
“It’s about setting an example. LSU baseball is all about a family atmosphere. There are kids who may watch everything you do and not take their eyes off you – from running out to shortstop to running the ball out at first base to your swing and what you do when you don’t succeed. Those kids are just like me when I was their age and they deserve for me to go out and play the game the right away because that’s the way the game is supposed to played.”
|Austin Nola: Spectacular defense got him on the field as a freshman in 2009 and since then the Catholic High product has carved a spot as one of the steadiest players in LSU history|
“We’ve got to set an example for kids who will be out here playing for LSU someday. We’re wearing these uniforms now and representing a great school and a great program, but those guys will be out here sooner than they realize.”
Playing the right way makes sense for Nola because he also makes a point of living the right way. A devout Catholic, Nola has not only volunteered as much of his time as possible since he got to LSU, he also quickly emerged as a leader who urged his teammates to follow in his footsteps.
“Austin came here as a quiet guy who went about his business and just focused on getting better on the field and obviously that paid off,” fellow senior Grant Dozar. “But as quiet as he is when it comes to baseball, Austin has always been vocal about getting guys to come out and help him with community service. He’s such a good guy away from the field, so it was just a matter of time before good things started happening for him.
“He’s taken advantage of being putting a pedestal here around Baton Rouge. What he does around the community, you can’t say enough about that. He’s a good kid and he’s all about giving something back.”
Added current LSU freshman Tyler Moore, also a Baton Rouge native who grew up playing with Aaron Nola, Austin’s younger brother who is also a Tiger player, “I’ve watched him since he was a freshman and just seeing his work ethic, I tried to mimic that – who he is, what he does and the way he does things. He genuinely cares about people. It helps me to just see him to be as good as he can in every area of his life.”
|Austin Nola: Though not a huge power threat, he has shown a flair for the dramatic when he does hit the ball out of the yard.|
Baseball is at the core of Nola’s life, for now at least.
There will be life after his playing days end, though, and that’s what pushes Nola to excel in the classroom as much as he does on the diamond.
Wherever his life path goes, though, there will be a constant for Nola.
“I’ve just always believed in doing things the right way,” Nola said. “From day one, my parents, coaches and mentors have taught me so many things about living the right way and doing things the right way every single day. That makes a difference on the baseball field and anywhere in life. It’s always helped me to have a lot of people in my life pushing me in the right direction.
“Everything I do I try to do it for a purpose – to please God. Our time here is numbered. What’s important to me is how many people can I impact and how can I go about each day in a manner that pleases God.”
And if that works as an example to anybody who’s watching, that’s fine with Nola.
He’s not going to go out of his way to bring attention to himself, instead living by the notion that character is what you do when nobody is watching.
“For me, it’s not about recognition for me or doing things so people can see it,” Nola said. “I try to not worry about who’s watching me. When nobody is watching, I’m going to do things the same exact way. Every day is a new day and every day you have to do things right and be a good person. That’s what we’re all here to do.”
SEC set to rev it up