Oxford catcher expected to make immediate impact on Ole Miss baseball program

Thomas Dillard helped Oxford to back-to-back 5A State titles this season. The 6-foot-0, 215-pound catcher did more than chip in as he led the country in home runs with 16 while leading the Chargers with a .438 batting average and RBI's (49). Now it's on to the next journey at Ole Miss or with a professional baseball organization.

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Thomas Dillard transferred from Briarcrest Christian (Memphis, Tenn.) to Oxford (Miss.) last offseason to help the Chargers win another Class 5A state championship while getting to play with three of his future teammates at Ole Miss

Mission accomplished.

The switch hitting catcher hit two home runs in Oxford's championship match up against the Hattiesburg Tigers. The second home run ended the game via the 10-run mercy rule and gave Oxford its second-straight state title.

"It was really an easy transition. This is my third high school to go to. I'm use to it by now, but playing with the other three Ole Miss commits (RHP Houston Roth, RHP Jason Barber, SS Grae Kessinger); it's just been really fun. My teammates have really helped me with it. The school part of it has been really good too. I think it's been a good move all around."

Grae Kessinger and Thomas Dillard grew up together in the Southaven surrounding area. Having a chance to play with him again was just too much to pass up. Having family living in Oxford made it a perfect fit.

"Yes sir, that was really enticing. Grae and I have been best friends for a long/long time. Getting to play with him again was obviously a big part of my decision to transfer to Oxford. Getting closer to Oxford was another. Our whole family went to Ole Miss. I have two sisters who live in Oxford. One of my sisters just had a baby and the other one is about to have one. Mom wanted to be here so she can be the grandmother she wants to be. We are all basically in Oxford now. It was a baseball thing and a family thing. We are a real tight knit family."

Thomas' family have the Red and Blue all throughout the family tree.

"My grandfather played football here from 1950-1952. He was a running back and scored the game winning touchdown against Maryland and helped them to a Sugar Bowl win. My dad grew up coming to Ole Miss. We've had season tickets my whole life. We kept that tradition going. I've been coming here my whole life going to Ole Miss football, basketball, and baseball games. We are a die hard Ole Miss family."

If it were not for an injury early in his high school career Thomas could be suiting up for the LSU Tigers. But fate placed him in Oxford.

"I almost committed to LSU. Going into my sophomore season Ole Miss offered me. LSU offered me that fall, and I ended up hurting my stomach in football. LSU wanted to see how my stomach healed up because I hurt it really bad. It was a real scary thing so they pulled my scholarship and wanted to see me to play another summer. But Ole Miss said if I came to one of their hitting camps, and I was still healthy, they would keep my scholarship. That reassured me that Ole Miss really believed in me. That made me feel like Ole Miss was my home because they really believed in me. I committed right after their camp my sophomore year."

There were several more factors in Thomas' decision to chose Ole Miss.

"This campus, I've always grown up on this campus. But this stadium is just one of a kind. You go to some minor league stadiums and it doesn't even compare to this. Ole Miss has the best game day atmosphere in college baseball. That's what really separated them from the rest of the schools. You can't really beat it. Oxford is just a baseball town. Some towns football is the big thing. Football is big in Oxford but baseball is huge too. Nothing compares to Oxford when it comes to baseball. I've been all over the country and Oxford is the mecca for baseball. Being in Oxford is a baseball player's dream."

Ole Miss' switch hitting catcher, Henry Lartigue, is also from the Southaven surrounding area. He leads the SEC in hitting with a .356 batting average. The junior will be draft eligible. Thomas knows that could leave the door open for him to take over the catching duties as a true freshman. If not, he's played the outfield positions his whole life as well.

"That would be cool. I'm coming on campus to compete from the first day. I really just want to get on campus and hopefully bring some hitting and defense to the team. Wherever it is, I can play outfield, infield or catcher. I just want to play from day one. They told me that I was going to be a catcher to start out with but my whole career I've played every position there is. If say left field is open I can go out to left field and play. Just wherever I have the best chance to get on the field and do some hitting."

Dillard talks about his strengths on the field.

"I think one of my main strengths is leadership. Next year I wouldn't necessarily have to use that. I can bring a power bat to the middle of the lineup. Drop some balls in the gaps and pick up some RBI's. I think I'm a catcher, but if they need me in the outfield I can play that just as well. I can provide some good defense in the outfield. I've always had a knack of tracking the balls down in the gaps, and they say I have a really strong arm. I feel like I'm a really good defender as well."

Thomas is expected to report to Ole Miss on June 23rd, assuming he doesn't go in the MLB draft. What are the odds he ever makes it to the Ole Miss campus?

"Pretty good (with a smile on his face). I'm hearing a lot of different stuff about the draft. I could go pretty high but right now Ole Miss is where I'm committed to play for the next three years. It's going to take someone buying me away from college. It's hard to pass up this atmosphere and having a chance to be back with all of my family and seeing my nieces and nephews grow up. Ole Miss is where my heart is at. It's a cool experience to go through Ole Miss and get to play for the Rebels. It's something I've dreamed of doing my whole life."

What is his family telling him about the issue of going in the draft or going to Ole Miss?

"They are really helping me with it. It's my decision but they are really helping me. They are not going to let me make a decision blind. They are really helping me along the way, but they are kind of giving me the reigns with it. Whenever I decide they are going to support me. They are going to help me all along the way. It's a cool experience to go through this because of the support they are giving me."

Does Dillard have a ball park number in his mind that it would take to "buy him out of a college experience".

"Not yet. As it gets closer to draft day I will. It would have to be a lot. I mean, it's hard to pass up on an opportunity to play for Ole Miss. It would have to be a pretty nice number. You know, if the opportunity presented itself then it's kind of hard to pass up."

Yancy Porter is the recruiting analyst for the Ole Miss Spirit and he can be reached at yporter@scout.com

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