Two veteran Wills once again should figure largely in the way things turn out this season from the get-go as East Carolina arrives on Feb. 17 for three games. It’s a very young Rebel team, and only half a dozen or so players have been around the Ole Miss program more than two seasons.
Stokes and Golsan, the two Wills here, are veterans of college baseball wars, and both Mississippians have made their presence known for the program. They will have a bigger say in how things unfold this season.
Golsan, from New Hope, cut his Rebel teeth as an infielder. It appears he’s destined for the outfield in the weeks ahead. He was there a lot in the fall.
“It’s good,” he said of the transition. “It’s just about moving around and being versatile to do whatever I can to help the team win. It’s been fun out there.”
But it’s different than playing in the infield where more action takes place.
“The ball’s in the air and you just hunt it down. It’s a little bit easier in the outfield,” Golsan said. “You’ve still got to be alert. It’s just seeing the ball off the bat. You have a little more time to adjust to it. I had a lot of practice out there in the fall, and it’s going well.”
Kyle Watson, also a third-year Rebel and an outfield vet, has assisted Golsan in the transition. So has former UM star J.B. Woodman, who is in Oxford before heading to the pros.
“I’ve got Kyle out there teaching me a few things, and I’ve worked with J.B. a little bit,” Golsan said. “Been picking up a few things from them.”
He said he played in the outfield after his college freshman year in a summer league in Baltimore. He actually played there one game last season for the Rebels.
Golsan was one of four Rebels to play in all 62 games in 2016 with 61 starts at first base and one in left field. He hit .273 with 11 doubles, three home runs and two triple, scored 45 runs and had 31 RBI. He wants to be better this year.
“I got away from things a little bit last year, chasing balls in the dirt,” he said. “I’ve been trying to stay back, see the curve ball, see the slider and adjust to any pitch I can get a bat on.”
Golsan, from the Golden Triangle, won’t feel the wrath of the Dudy Noble Field outfield fans since MSU comes to Oxford for the series.
“But we still go to Baton Rouge, go to Florida,” he said. “Kyle Watson’s told me a few stories about (the outfield in) Baton Rouge. It’s all fun and games.”
With so many younger players, Golsan is enjoying being a veteran and a leader.
“I like to lead by my actions,” he said. “I like to get out here and do what I’m supposed to do, and just play the game. Compete and play the game. (The older guys) do have to step up and be leaders. It’s not been too hard to get (the newcomers) accustomed to what we do out here.”
Meanwhile in the bullpen, Stokes will likely get the ball that Wyatt Short left behind so successfully as the closer.
“Wyatt’s helped me a lot. He’s an absolute bull on the mound,” Stokes said. “I’m trying to emulate what he did. He taught me a lot.”
Having Brett Huber, the all-time saves leader at Ole Miss, on the coaching staff is also a positive.
“Coach Hube, he helps us with mechanics and also your presence on the mound because he had a really good one. He talks to us about things like that.
Stokes said the bullpen is a place he’s grown accustomed to.
“I like it. I just came here wanting to play. I actually prefer coming out of the pen. As a starter you pitch once a week. As a reliever you get to pitch multiple times. Coming out of the pen to close, there’s a lot more adrenaline. You know you’ve got a chance to save the game.”
And he continues to step his game up as well.
“I’ve worked on a change up a lot, and that’s improved. Also being able to hit my spots that I miss, being able to come back and hit that spot. Been working on that kind of stuff.”
Stokes, like Golsan, has tried to help lead the large class of new players. He likes what he’s seen from them so far.
“Luckily for us we have a lot of really good young guys who are super talented and fit in really well,” Stokes, from West Lauderdale High, said. “We’ve just tried to show them the way and help them out. They’re impressive.”
Golsan and Stokes, both being from Mississippi, had the perspective of growing up and watching the program. Now they’re a major part of it and want to move deeper this year than the last two seasons when they came up short in NCAA Regionals.
“Being able to say you go to the University of Mississippi being from Mississippi means a lot,” Stokes said. “It means a lot to the out of state guys, but it’s a special thing for us in-state guys. We’re super pumped for the season now that it’s here.”