OU's Sheldon Neuse one to watch

New SS Sheldon Neuse in spotlight offensively and defensively

There’s an aura of hard work around Oklahoma sophomore Sheldon Neuse.

He’s not lacking on confidence but doesn’t possess a cockiness or a swagger that might come with being a Freshman All-American last year or a Preseason All-American this year.

When he speaks, it’s constantly about the team. He doesn’t care about his own numbers.

It really puts his offseason in perspective.

After playing third base his freshman year, Neuse wanted a change. He sought to be back at a more familiar position – one with added defensive responsibility. Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes, who is starting his second season with the Sooners, needed someone with consistency at shortstop – the most important position in the infield when it comes to making the routine plays.

So Neuse asked his coach a simple question: “What do I need to do to earn a spot there?”

A few months later after Neuse’s extensive defensive work, Hughes gave his answer just before the start of the season.

“If you don’t have the guy making the routine play there, it’s going to make for a long year,” Hughes said. “Sheldon needs to make the routine play.”

If there weren’t enough eyes on Neuse already this season after hitting .304 during his freshman season and driving in a team-high 47 runs for the Sooners, who had one of the best offenses in the Big 12, now he’ll play the defensive position that sees the most action.

“We trust him enough to put him there, and we trust his ability enough to get it done,” Hughes said. “He makes up for a lot that he might not have with his range, which is sufficient, with his arm.

“We think he’s going to do a really good job there.”

Neuse committed 13 errors in his first season at the hot corner, second-most on the team, so there’s always room for improvement, which is exactly the stance he took during the offseason.

He went out and worked on his hands, worked on his footwork. Neuse actually didn’t even hit the way he wanted because he needed to improve with his mitt, helping the team over himself. “I focused everything that I had on defense and coming back this fall and try to earn a starting spot at short,” Neuse said. “I did that. I want to play at the highest level there all season and beyond.”

That doesn’t mean his bat won’t be key for Oklahoma, which was picked to finish fifth in the conference.

Neuse is first or second in every major offensive category returning for the Sooners, who have just four seniors on the roster.

“Sheldon is a baseball rat,” Hughes said. “He is going to handle his business every day the same way. If he feels a little too comfortable, there are 34 other guys who will humble him real quick in the dugout and keep him in check. Sheldon is fine. He goes about his business and knows how to work. . . . The baseball part is easy. He’s going to come to the field no matter what.”

Neuse understands what the preseason honors mean, and his coach put it pretty succinctly, too: Nothing.

“It’s a new year. What you did last year isn’t anything. It doesn’t matter to this season,” Neuse said. “Going in to this year, my goal is to do whatever it takes to get us to where we want to go – whatever that means. Personal stats mean nothing to me if we don’t get out to Omaha. That’s what I’m going to do, whatever it takes to get there.”

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