Will Craig had numerous offers from college baseball coaches, but no one was going to top the one Wake Forest’s Tom Walter made.
Craig, a Science Hill senior pitcher/corner infielder, signed with Wake Forest on Wednesday, some 18 months after Walter donated a kidney to Demon Deacons outfielder Kevin Jordan.
“When I heard that I was, like, ‘Wow,’ because that was when I was first interested in them,” said Craig, whose suitors included Georgia Southern, Samford, Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee State. “It shows how much character and heart you have, and that you don’t just care about wins and losses.”
Craig has led Science Hill in home runs each of his three seasons (10-8-10), and the 6-foot-3, 223-pound right-hander has 20 career victories on the mound. He’ll get a shot to pitch and be a position player at Wake Forest.
“They want him to do both, because it only makes them better,” Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards said. “That’s two players for the price of one scholarship. And I think he can do both, I really do.”
Craig should get extensive auditions for each role.
“I love hitting and I love pitching,” Craig said. “Hopefully, they won’t make that decision for a while.”
Most of the opportunities could come on the mound as a freshman, and Edwards said Craig’s tenacity would aid him as a college freshman pitcher.
“He’s never been afraid to throw strikes,” Edwards said. “He’s always gone right at people. And now his stuff’s gotten to the point where when he goes right at ’em, they have a hard time handling him.”
Craig hit .500 with 10 home runs, 53 RBIs and 18 doubles last season. He went 7-3 with a 2.23 ERA while striking out 68 and walking 12 in 50 1/3 innings. He was the Johnson City Press Northeast Tennessee Player of the Year as a junior, Science Hill’s sixth straight behind Daniel Norris (three), Ben McKinney and Paul Hoilman.
“My freshman year Daniel Norris was a junior, and he pretty much took me under his wing and showed me the ropes — the proper way to do things and how Ben McKinney had taught him and how it always passes down,” Craig said. “It’s very important. When I was a freshman I was like, ‘Man, everybody takes so much pride in this and I don’t understand why.’ But now that I’ve gotten older and I’ve seen more, I understand it. … Science Hill’s tradition is just amazing and you want to maintain that.”
Craig could add to the recent rash of Hilltoppers who have signed professionally. Norris, Hoilman, Matt Rice and Shane and Chas Byrne have signed pro contracts in recent years, and Matt Pope opted to go to Kentucky after getting drafted this past summer.
If Craig gets paid to play, Edwards wouldn’t be surprised if it’s as a hitter.
“I’ve always said to Will and to any scout or anybody that I personally think his upside is as a hitter the most,” Edwards said, “just because I haven’t coached too many guys that can hit like he can, that just have an awareness of the strike zone, you know, and they can hit the ball the other way with power. Those guys are hard to find.”
Craig hit a home run in his first at-bat at the state tournament as a freshman. Another favorite memory is his buddy Kyle Wilson’s clutch home run in a home win against Dobyns-Bennett during Craig’s sophomore season.
Science Hill has won at least a share of six straight Big Eight Conference titles, but Craig said Edwards doesn’t promote a win-at-all-cost environment.
“Coach Edwards always wants what’s best for you,” Craig said. “He’ll never do anything that’s gonna hurt you. All he wants to do is help.”
Craig grew up in a baseball family. His uncle, Scotty Edwards, played on Charlie Bailey’s state runner-up team in 1981 after playing for the Johnson City Nationals when they got within a win of the Little League World Series in Williamsport in 1976.
And Craig’s parents, Brad and Kim, have been supportive since before he began playing for the Greeneville Marlins as an 8-year-old, an opportunity for which Craig still thanks the late Steve Dearstone.
“My parents have been there through thick and thin, taking me to ballgames all across the country,” Craig said. “They flew me out to California. My mom lived in Atlanta when I played for East Cobb. … They can come see on the weekends at Wake Forest. That had a lot to do with it.”
And when they’re not there, as Wake Forest players can attest, Walter will treat him like family.