LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- KC Simons and Will Cleland, two sophomores who enter the 2013 season with high hopes and a friendship that is second to none. Both started in the middle infield as freshmen, but their friendship began before they ever set foot on the diamond.
They say they became friends the very first week of school. They knew about each other before they arrived on campus and a friendship sprang up immediately. Both of them worked hard and pushed each other on and off the field during the fall practice season and then the offseason of their freshman years. Simons noted that "when we would go hit and work, we took each other and pushed each other to work harder. We both knew we had to work hard all fall and in the offseason if we wanted to reach our potential."
The hard work paid off and by the end of the season Cleland had played in 36 of the 40 games batting .276 with a .339 on-base percentage. Simons played in 37 games and batted .315 en route to earning All-Freshman honors from the conference. "I was so thankful for the opportunity to play as a freshman and interact with the team and all the seniors," Cleland said. "It was awesome playing behind that incredible talent we had on the mound last year."
Simons added, "I was blessed and glad to have the opportunity to play last season. All the seniors took us under their wings and worked with us, the support they gave us was amazing."
Up the middle they turned into one of the better infield combinations in the league. Groundballs became automatic outs and they turned double plays with a fluid skill that could have made Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith jealous.
They attributed their success to the chemistry they have formed both on and off the field. "Our communication is great because we have always hung out since Orientation Week, all the hours we have spent practicing together have really paid off," Simons said. Added Cleland, "hanging out in the dorms and on the weekends has strengthened our communication so much that on the field it just flows naturally." They added that they like making jokes with each other during the games. "Sometimes we turn two and I'll turn to Will and say 'that was so latino man,'" Simons said.
Cleland said that the highlight moment of his year came in his first at-bat when he hit a home run. Simons said his game against Oglethorpe where he went 4-for-5 with a stolen base was his highlight moment. "Those games were really important to us," said Simons. "It allowed us to get comfortable at the plate."
Perhaps their biggest highlight came off the baseball field. Together, they had the opportunity to serve others. The tandem went to Haiti to serve the many needs there during a part of this past summer.
Simons talked about the opportunity to go aid and minister to the needy: "We went down with a church group and a missionary couple and stayed at an orphanage. We built a house for a widow. We visited a few other orphanages. We passed out food to people in the city. We played baseball (wiffleball) with all the kids in all the orphanages. It was a great trip and helped open my eyes to how poor Haitians are. Will and I got to reach out to some guys our age and teach them about the Gospel and we still keep in contact with them too. They have grown in Christ a lot and it's been so encouraging for us to see that."
Both players now enter their sophomore years looking to help carry the Scots to another winning season.
"Ending freshman year strong was huge in catapulting us into our sophomore seasons," Cleland said. "Leadership starts off the field, how you live off the field and in the classroom by living Godly lives with your actions on and off the field is crucial to being a leader."
Simons agreed and added that they "also are striving to lead by example, not necessarily by being the loud yelling leaders but more in how we work hard on and off the field, and playing hard during games."
The seniors last season appreciated the hard work and talent that both players displayed in their freshman years. James Rollins who was the conference player of the year said, "having two young guys step up into the role of running the infield up the middle, providing excellent defense and also giving us quality at-bats at the plate, added a huge spark to our team last year, and it paints a bright picture for the future."