Purdue University second baseman/shortstop Mitch Hilligoss was kind enough to take time for a SCS.com exclusive interview a short time ago. The junior has led the Boilers in batting average each of his first two seasons on campus, and his .404 average in 2005 was the best in the entire Big Ten. He was named a Third Team All-American by the NCBWA at season's end a year ago, and Hilligoss has already been selected a Second Team Preseason All-American by that same publication leading up to the start of the 2006 campaign. The Boilers, who return a number of the team's top players from 2005, will open the season on February 24 on the road at Louisiana-Lafayette. (photo courtesy purduesports.com)
MITCH HILLIGOSS, PURDUE UNIVERSITY
SCS.com: You had a great career at Windsor High School in Illinois, earning all-conference honors your sophomore, junior, and senior seasons on campus. When it came time to choose a college, what other schools did you consider, and why did you ultimately opt to attend Purdue?
Hilligoss: "It really came down to four schools: the University of Illinois, Eastern Illnois, Southern Illinois, and Purdue. But I felt the most comfortable with Purdue in the end. It was the coaching staff that made me feel comfortable, as well as knowing I had a chance to come in and play right away. It was really just a gut feeling in the end."
SCS.com: You started 41 games as a true freshman in 2004 and made an immediate impact for the Boilers, leading the team with a .327 batting average. Talk about the differences between high school and college, both on and off the field, and explain why you believe you were able to make such a big impact so early in your career.
Hilligoss: "The difference between high school and college is definitely the time restraints. There is so much more time with going to classes, longer practices, study tables, and more. Obviously, the players were also better at every position. As far as being able to come right in and play, it was really just getting the chance and having trust in the coaching staff and your abilities. Because coming in, you know you are going to have to improve your game, and you may have to make changes in your game to do that. That is probably what helped me the most, adapting to the circumstances."
SCS.com: If fans thought your freshman season was impressive, they had to be even more pleased with your sophomore campaign last spring. Your batting average again led the team, but this time it was almost eighty points higher, an astounding .404 for the season. You doubled your homerun total to four and drove in 37 runs while fielding at a slick .967 percentage. Talk about what you worked on in between your first two seasons and also what you think led the drastic improvement in your average from 2004 to 2005.
Hilligoss: "I think it was just the game slowing down. I know you hear people say this all the time, but it really happens. You learn how people pitch to you, (you learn to use) scouting reports, and you are just more comfortable with the whole environment. As far as defensively, it was just getting back to the infield. Of course, my freshman year I played left field, then last year moved back to shortstop. I had to get used to life in the infield a little bit again."
SCS.com: Your outstanding 2005 season did not go unnoticed by the national media. You were chosen to the National College Baseball Writers Association's Third Team All-America at the completion of last season, and that same group selected you as a Preseason Second Team All-American in December. In addition, you were one of only about 120 players in the country named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List as a candidate for national player of the year honors. Talk about what this national recognition means not only to you but also to your team and your school. Does it put any extra pressure on you heading into this season?
Hilligoss: "Well, it is obviously a great honor to be recognized, no doubt about that. It is a big deal for our team and our school as well, maybe getting some recognition as a baseball school in the Big Ten. It is a first step to hopefully (moving to) the next level. As far as putting extra pressure on me, I don't really look at it that way. Any pressure that I have is probably (put there) by myself I think. You really just block everything else out when you are on the field and just play."
SCS.com: The Boilers have hovered right around the .500 mark each of your first two seasons on campus, but with yourself as well as other top players like Neal Gorka, John Hunter, Eric Wolfe, and closer Chris Toneguzzi all returning, expectations should be high in West Lafayette this spring. Talk about the goals you have for this season, both for yourself personally and for the team as a whole.
Hilligoss: "Our goals are as high, or higher, than ever. Last year's second place finish in the Big Ten left a bad taste in all of our mouths, especially blowing it (the championship) in the last game. So we are hungry and need to prove ourselves early with our good schedule when we go south. Hopefully, we can do that and build on really a great second half of last year."
SCS.com: Your head coach Doug Schreiber has done wonders with the Purdue baseball program, making the Boilers one of the most consistent winners in the Big Ten over the past five seasons. Talk about what makes Coach Schreiber such a success, both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Hilligoss: "Probably just his attitude to do anything to win. He tells you that right away. He has always been extremely honest, and if he feels something will help the team, he'll probably do it. He has also given us an identity. We're not going to hit tons of homeruns because of our makeup and our field, so we bunt, run, and do all the little things to try to create offense. He is just really great to play for."
SCS.com: During your first two seasons at Purdue, you have had the opportunity to make non-conference road trips to places like Florida Atlantic, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, and Georgia Tech. This year's schedule has trips planned to the likes of North Carolina, Missouri, and others. What is the most impressive road trip you have taken while at Purdue, and which series are you most looking forward to this coming season?
Hilligoss: "They have all been great experiences. Not all have had good outcomes, but my two favorites were probably Mississippi and Texas. The fan base is just so good there, and the fields have just a wonderful atmosphere. Well, I am obviously looking forward to the start of the season, but in particular, probably UNC and Mizzou just because they have some outstanding pitching. Not to put these two above any others, because our schedule will be tough, but if I had to pick, those are the two."
SCS.com: In recent years, the topic of paying college athletes has come up more and more. Some people say that since the players make so much money for their school, their conference, and the NCAA, they should be paid. Others disagree, saying that paying college players is not right because that is what professional sports is for. What is your opinion on this subject?
Hilligoss: "I don't think we should be paid, but that is just my own opinion. That is what people love about the NCAA and all of its sporting events. We're just out there having fun and playing because we love it and because maybe we have that chance to get to that next level."
SCS.com: If a young player was reading this and aspired to become a successful baseball player, what advice would you give him?
Hilligoss: "Just stick with it and keep working. Remember never to let yourself get too high or to low because in baseball. You are hot one day and cold the next. That is probably the best advice to give them."
SCS.com would again like to thank Purdue's Mitch Hilligoss for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Boilermakers the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.