Georgia Tech outfielder Steven Blackwood recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Blackwood is one of the top players in the ACC and is a returning junior for the Yellow Jackets. A member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll during the 2003 season, the Georgia native was recently one of only fifty-eight players nation-wide named to the 2005 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List.
This past weekend, Tech swept Georgia Southern and moved to 2-1 on the season. Through the first three games, Blackwood has gone 5 for 12 (.417) at the plate with three runs scored, five RBI, a double, and a walk.
STEVEN BLACKWOOD, GEORGIA TECH
SCS.com: Coming out of Rosewell High School in Georgia, what other colleges did you consider, and why did you ultimately choose Georgia Tech?
Blackwood: "Coming out of Roswell, I considered Duke, Vanderbilt, and Georgia Tech. Those three schools heavily recruited me. However, I also received offers from other schools such as FSU. Other schools that recruited me were Clemson, Tennessee, and Alabama. My final decision came down to which school would give me the best education and best athletic preparation for life after college. Duke, Vandy, and GT have educational programs that speak for themselves, so the decision came down to proximity and where I was going to feel the most comfortable playing baseball. Georgia Tech has a long tradition of developing players, and with the addition of building a new stadium at the time, it felt like the best place for me. After visiting with the three schools, Georgia Tech is where I felt at home and the most comfortable. I knew it would be the best place for me to go in order to prepare myself for life after college, whether it is on the ball field or being a doctor."
SCS.com: Your brother Wes played baseball at UGA in the mid-1990s. Did his time in Athens affect your decision, and what kind of advice did he give you?
Blackwood: "UGA was a school that never recruited me, so that consideration didn't come into play. Although I did grow up a UGA fan since Wes played there, I grew apart from UGA after not being contacted by them, but even if they had recruited me, I still would have made the same decision. The advice my brother gave me was centered around going to a school that is an all-around good fit for me. Don't go just because of the baseball team. Look for the school that you will be happy going to even if you were not playing ball."
SCS.com: You came in and performed well from the very beginning at GT. You started the final 17 games of your freshman season and compiled a .353 batting average. In just 116 at-bats, you slammed five homeruns and knocked in 38 runs. What was the key to your success as a freshman in a conference as tough as the ACC? Was it more mental or physical?
Blackwood: "The key to my success as a freshman was much more mental than physical. Playing against the top talent from around the country is a humbling experience, and you learn fast that there are players out there that have just as much talent as you do. During the beginning of the season, I did a bunch of pinch-hitting, which might have been a better way for me to become acclimated to the ACC and other opponents since I didn't have much time to think before my at-bats. I would find out I was going to hit about a half-inning before I would step in the box, so I just had to get up at the plate and hit. Overall, once I did begin to play more often and eventually started, I became much more relaxed and was able to get in a routine."
SCS.com: As a full-time starter in 2004, you led the Jackets with a .359 batting average, one of the ten best in the ACC. You finished the year with 22 doubles and 66 RBIs, earning an ACC Player of the Week honor along the way. Following the regular season, you were named to the Second Team All-ACC squad as selected by the conference's head coaches. How honored were you to be recognized as one of the best players in the ACC, especially since you were chosen by the same head coaches you compete against on the field each weekend?
Blackwood: "Considering the talent pool I am playing with and against, I felt extremely honored to be selected to the Second Team All-ACC team. To be selected to a team that had high potential draftees and players that have proven themselves in the ACC gave me a feeling of accomplishment I had never felt."
SCS.com: The recognition has not stopped for you heading into the 2005 season. You were one of only 58 players nation-wide named to the 2005 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List. One of those 58 will be named the national college baseball player of the year at season's end. What does this national exposure mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Blackwood: "Being named to the 2005 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List was a huge surprise to me. I have not received any sort of national recognition like that, and I feel honored to be a part of a watch list that will have the college player of the year selected from it."
SCS.com: Education is one of your top priorities as well. You were named to the 2003 ACC Academic Honor Roll, and last season you were chosen as a member of the 2004 Academic All-District III Team. Last June, you were selected as Georgia Tech's Student-Athlete of the Week. How important is school to you, and how tough is it to juggle all the responsibilities of being a baseball player and a student at GT?
Blackwood: "School is of high importance to me. Growing up, I always had to have my schooling under control before I could step on the ball field. At Georgia Tech, I have to take my books with me on road trips and often times will study at the field. I am a Biology Pre-Med major and plan to pursue a career in medicine after seeing how far baseball will take me. My brother is a doctor, and I have always wanted to follow in his footsteps down that path."
SCS.com: Georgia Tech had a fabulous 2004 season, finishing 44-21 overall and an ACC-best 18-5 in conference play. The Jackets hosted and won the Regional but were knocked off of postseason play in the Super Regional by cross-state rival Georgia. How disappointing was it lose out just one step shy of the College World Series, especially since it was to rival UGA?
Blackwood: "Losing to UGA was one of the toughest losses I have experienced as a player. Being so close to the College World Series and being beat out by our rivals was tough for everyone on the team to swallow and has driven us to work harder this fall and spring to get better. We knew we had the talent and ability to compete for a national title in Omaha, but UGA was a better team than we were that weekend."
SCS.com: In your two seasons at Tech, you have had the opportunity to host two Regionals, winning one. Though postseason baseball is exciting, it is also more intense. Describe the atmosphere on campus and in Russ Chandler Stadium when the Regionals come to town, and tell about the intensity that surrounds NCAA play.
Blackwood: "The fan support at Tech is incredible when the Regionals and Super Regionals come to town. We begin filling our stadium for every game and the intensity of the game is turned up."
SCS.com: The Jackets are again one of the favorites not only in the ACC but in the entire country this year. Collegiate Baseball has ranked GT number thirteen in its preseason poll, while Baseball America has the squad placed at number nineteen. Many of the top players from last year's squad return, and the incoming freshman class has been ranked among the top five in the country. How do you and the team deal with the extraordinary expectations, and what goals have been set for the upcoming season?
Blackwood: "The team has stayed level minded about our exposure. Many of our players come from summer programs and other high schools where they were the top player and recognition is not a huge influence. Having this level mindedness allows us to prepare more for our games, which helps us to achieve our goals. Our goals for this year are to achieve a bunch of small goals that will ultimately set us up to achieve our highest goal of winning the national championship. Right now we are taking it one practice at a time and eventually one game at a time and a weekend at a time."
SCS.com: Playing in the ACC means you travel to some of the best baseball facilities in America. In the two seasons you have been on campus, you have made road trips to places like Miami, North Carolina, Clemson, Cal State-Fullerton, Georgia, and Florida State. This year's schedule has road games scheduled at Auburn, Virginia, and others. Of the places you have been, which two or three stand out to you, and which road trip for this upcoming season do you have circled on your calendar?
Blackwood: "The road trips to Auburn and Clemson are the two that I am looking forward to. Those two teams always have great fan support, especially Auburn. I love going to play at Auburn and see everyone out at the game. It is unbelievable how much you hear from the fans while standing in the outfield. Playing there is much tougher than our other road trips."
SCS.com: The road trips can be fun, but there's nothing like playing at home in front of the friendly fans. Russ Chandler Stadium has been the home of Jacket baseball for 70 years and underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2001. The facility seats over 4,000 fans and is one of the nicest parks in the country. What is the biggest advantage to playing at home, and as a player, do you actually hear or pay attention to the crowd while you are on the field?
Blackwood: "Playing at home is definitely an advantage for any team since that is where you feel the most comfortable, and our field has one of the best playing surfaces in the country. When the fans do get loud at home, I can focus on the pitcher when I am up at the plate and everything goes silent. This is very useful on the road when the fans are trying to distract you while up at the plate."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Danny Hall, has spent a dozen years on campus. He has taken Georgia Tech to the College World Series twice and to the NCAA Tournament ten times. The 2002 team set a school record for the most victories in a single season, 52. Coach Hall has been named the ACC Coach of the Year a couple of times as well. What makes Coach Hall such a success, and how is he able to continually get top baseball talent to attend GT?
Blackwood: "Georgia Tech's baseball program has proven itself to be one of the top programs in the country year in and year out. Players from around the country see the success of the program and are drawn to play there. Coach Hall has had success at Tech with developing players and getting them into professional baseball. Many players look to see if the program at the school not only wins games but also develops players and gets them ready for professional baseball, and I can say from personal experience that Coach Hall spends time developing his players and teaching the game."
SCS.com: What is your favorite memory from your baseball career, whether it be little league, high school, or college?
Blackwood: "Winning the ACC Tournament the way did. In 2003, we had to win three games on the final day in order to win the tournament. We beat three top 25 teams in one day, something that I don't believe has ever been done. I believe the three teams we beat were NC State, UNC, and FSU. We knew we could beat each team individually, but to beat all three in one day is a huge accomplishment and is an experience I will never forget. The bus ride home from the tournament after that was filled with excitement for about 30 minutes, and then everyone fell asleep from exhaustion."
SCS.com: Many athletes have role models that guide their athletic and personal lives. Who is one person you look up to on the field and one person you admire off the field?
Blackwood: "The only person in my life I have ever wanted to be like is my brother Wes. He has guided me throughout baseball and life. I look up to him on and off the field. Watching him play when I was younger had a big impact on me as a player. He showed me what it took to make it to the college level physically for baseball and mentally for the education. If I could be anyone else other than myself, it would have to be my brother Wes."
SCS.com: What are a few things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Blackwood: "Well, I don't have much free time since I spend many nights after baseball in the library studying, but I do enjoying playing golf and fishing when I get the chance."
SCS.com: If a young baseball player was reading this and aspired to become successful in the sport, what advice would you give him?
Blackwood: "After experiencing all that I have over the time I have been playing baseball, all of the sacrifices I have had to make and the countless hours of hard work pay off in the end. There will be times you don't want to practice or workout, but those are the times when you get better than your opponents. You have to look at each day on the field as an opportunity to play baseball and a time to get better at playing the game."
SCS.com would again like to thank Georgia Tech's Steven Blackwood for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Jackets the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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