Trio of Bulldawg Baseballers sign to play collegiately prior to senior seasons

By TJ MAXWELL
Cove Leader-Press

Three Copperas Cove baseball players took the next step in their academic and athletic careers Wednesday morning when they participated in a mock signing event signifying their signing National Letters of Intent to play baseball collegiately.
Seniors Jaylen Smith (Prairie View A&M University), Cameron Johnson (Angelo State) and Tyler Ingram (St. Edwards University) all got their futures mapped out and the pressure off before embarking on their senior seasons for the baseball team that will get underway after the new year.
“These are exciting times and exciting times for our program for these seniors to be able to continue their career,” said Copperas Cove head baseball coach Dusty Brittain. “We try to make them understand that there is a process to get to the next level. These guys understand the process and they’ve worked hard to get here. It’s an exciting time for them.”
Smith will join the NCAA Division I Panthers in Prairie View where he is being recruited for his abilities as a lefty on the mound.
“It feels good,” said Smith. “It’s been a long process. It’s a lot of stress relief. I’ve been stressing about the decision and finally got it over with and I’m ready.”
Smith just needed a sit down with the coaches to make his decision.
“I like the school and I like the campus. The coaches were real with me and they communicated with me. Sitting down and talking to them just felt like home.
“They like my arm and me as an athlete. I have a quick arm. They love it and want me there.”
Smith started a playoff game for Cove as a sophomore and took over the role of ace for the Dawgs last year and is expected to do big things this year as a senior.
“We started Jaylen in game one of our playoff series as a sophomore,” said Brittain. “That’s how much confidence we had in him. He has great stuff and he does a lot of things for us.”
Smith has a record of 7-5 with a 2.4 earned run average and 96 strikeouts in just over 84 innings in two years on the bump.
“The thing about Jaylen is we know when we put him out there on the mound, he is going to compete and give us an opportunity to win the game,” said Brittain. “He also came up big for us with the bat last year. He had a .273 average, which include three doubles and two triples. He was big for us in the lineup and that was something we needed from him.” 
“I feel this is going to be a great season,” he said. “Last year we were young and didn’t have very many experienced players. This year should be a great season. I expect a lot.”
Smith was excited to share the moment with Johnson and Ingram.
“It feels great,” he said. “We grew up playing baseball together and I wouldn’t want to share this stage with anybody else besides them two.”
Johnson will also join the pitching rotation with the Division II Rams of San Angelo.
“It feels good,” said Johnson. “It lifts the weight off of my shoulders coming into next season. Not having to make that decision after my season or during is relieving.”
Johnson also knew right away that Angelo State was the right place. 
“I had several schools look at me and I went on visits to all types of schools,” he said. “When I visited Angelo State, it just felt like it was the one for me.”
Johnson was recruited as a pitcher but Brittain says his work ethic made him a complete player.
“I threw Cameron in one of the toughest baseball positions there is – catcher – as a freshman,” said Brittain. “He accepted that role and did well with it. He let his hard work pay off. Some of the success he’s had is absolutely because of his work ethic.
“His sophomore season, he was one of the leading hitters on the team and helped us make that big playoff run.”
Johnson has a .244 career average in 193 at bats with 41 singles, six doubles and 30 RBIs. 
“On the mound over the last couple years, especially last year, he’s come on and showed that he has a college arm,” said Brittain. “He has a 7-9 record in 84 innings with a 1.96 ERA and he had 98 strikeouts. In his three years as a starter, he’s only had 10 errors. That’s pretty astonishing for a three-year career.”
The Division II Hilltoppers recruited Ingram for his bat as well as his efforts on the mound in a reliever role for the Bulldawgs.
“Tyler is another guy who started for three years for me,” said Brittain. “He has a 319 average in 202 career at bats.  He’s a guy that I know that can man first base. He only has three total errors in three years and two of those came as a freshman. He has 10 doubles, two triples, and 43 RBIs and has been big for us.
“On the mound, he took over that reliever role for us last year. In his career, he’s pitched over 40 innings with a 1.83 ERA and 42 strikeouts.”
Ingram is excited about the future and the present.
“It feels great,” said Ingram. “I’ve been working for this my whole life. It has always been my dream to sign during the early signing period. 
“It definitely takes the pressure off. I don’t have to worry about the recruiting process anymore. It allows me to focus on myself and on the team to put us in the best position to make a run for the district championship.”
He’s not only excited for his athletic endeavors but the academic ones as well.
“It’s a great academic school,” he said. “They’re top in the nation for academics. The school, being in Austin, I can still get recruited out of there with recruits being in Austin. It’s a beautiful school in general. It would be great to have a scholarship from there and get the degree.
“I’m being recruited as a two-way player. They like my hitting and my pitching. They want to develop me as a first baseman and I may get some work in the outfield. But, the big things for them were pitching and hitting. They’re excited to get me on campus and I’m excited to be there.”
Ingram was also excited to share the moment with his longtime teammates.
“I’m happy for all three of us,” he said. “We grew up playing baseball together so seeing us all develop into the players we are today is definitely one of those that’s cool to watch. I’m definitely happy about it.”
The final chapter in the Bulldawg section of their life story hasn’t been written yet. All three guys return this year with big goals for the Dawgs.
“I think we’re going to make that run for the district championship,” said Ingram. “We have a lot of seniors that have the experience and we have a lot of juniors with experience. I think we have all the pieces to the puzzle to make a run.”
Johnson agreed.
“I would say the goal is to be district champions for sure,” he said. “We need to beat Midway, beat Belton and beat Heights for sure because they’ve beat us the last couple years. I think this is going to be our year.” 
“The stats speak for themselves,” said Brittain. “When you look at these guys’ stats, there’s no doubt that they are the leaders of our group and why we’ve been successful over the past few years. 
“We’re expecting big things from them this year. We’ve got a big core coming back and we’re excited and we’re excited for these guys.” 

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