Photo by Darius Horton / MTSU Sidelines
Story by Calvin Smith / Sports Reporter
Filling the shoes of a Major League Baseball draft pick is no small task, but junior LA Woodard is starting at shortstop for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on day one.
Before he reached Murfreesboro, Woodard stopped by Kansas City Kansas Community College for junior college experience. He slashed an impressive .372 batting average with a .461 on-base percentage and a .556 slugging percentage. This included four triples and three home runs over that season.
Jumping from high school to Division I baseball is a challenge for any college freshman. However, spending two seasons in community college proved to be valuable middle ground for Woodard.
“I learned (at JuCo) how to get through a long season because the high school season is really short,” Woodard said. “In junior college, you play a full fall and a full spring. Being able to fight through injuries and the hard times in baseball is what being in JuCo helped me with.”
A Nashville native from John Overton High School, Woodard earned First-Team All-District, Second-Team All-Midstate and All-Senior Mid-State honors during his career. After graduation, he knew Middle Tennessee was where he wanted to be.
“My senior year, I played in the Middle Tennessee All-Star game, and (Drew Huff and Blake Benefield) were there,” Woodard said. “Darrell Freeman and Carson Lester were there as well. They were all going to MTSU … I just wanted to be where they were at and that’s why I wanted to be here so bad.”
Woodard, Lester and Benefield each played for Knights Baseball – a powerhouse travel ball program in the Mid-State – as well.
For MTSU, Huff starts at third base while Benefield plays outfield; both were in the starting lineup with Woodard while Lester pitched four innings in the season-opener on Feb. 16. Since visiting and reaching campus in the ‘Boro, Woodard’s relationship with the same core group has grown.
“It was good when I came on my visit, they were excited and they asked how I’d been after my two years,” Woodard said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s been perfect. I moved in and on the first day, we went to eat and have been close ever since.”
Playing baseball at the college level is a dream for hundreds of thousands of young athletes. For Woodard, knowing he wanted to play baseball for as long as possible and that MTSU was the school for him makes playing for the Blue Raiders more meaningful.
“This is something I’ve always dreamed of, and this is where I wanted to come out of high school,” Woodard said. “Being able to do my two years at Kansas, and then come back here was everything I expected it to be.”
The Blue Raiders threw out their first pitch of the season on Friday against Western Illinois, thus beginning the Woodard era to the left of second base.
His opening weekend was electrifying, as he started the season with a .616 on-base percentage while smacking a double and a triple through the first three games. With that being said, he didn’t get off to a great start and went hitless in his first game.
Despite not recording a hit, Woodard will still remember suiting up for the Blue Raiders for the first time.
“Amazing,” Woodard said when asked about his experience with the team. “It couldn’t be better.”
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