University of Georgia pitcher Will Startup recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Startup is one of the SEC's top relief pitchers and is a returning junior on the UGA squad. He was recently named to the National College Baseball Writers Association Preseason First Team All-America, was named to the SEC's Good Works Team last season, and is a local community service volunteer.
The Bulldogs are off to a 5-1 start to the young season. Startup has pitched in two games thus far, throwing three innings and giving up just two hits and one earned run. Opponents are hitting only .200 against the junior so far this year.
WILL STARTUP, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
SCS.com: Coming out of high school, what other colleges did you consider, and why did you ultimately choose the University of Georgia?
Startup: "I was looking mainly in-state and talked to colleges like Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. I really loved the coaches at Georgia. They were young and had a strong passion to coach. They also expressed a personal interest in me and made me feel important. I chose the University of Georgia because of the atmosphere that the town, coaches, and players presented."
SCS.com: In 2004, your sophomore season, you appeared in 33 games and had 12 saves, second-best in the SEC. Opponents batted only .193 against you during that season, which was the best of any pitcher in the conference. Those 33 appearances add up to only a total of 81 innings pitched all season long. What kind of focus and mental process does it take to know that you have only an inning or two to get the job done, yet that inning or two might be the most important of what is often a very close game?
Startup: "It is a focus that calls for me to be ready at any time. I really enjoy coming to the field knowing that I might get the chance to pitch everyday. It helps me to keep my mind sharp during the whole game and to pay attention to what is going on. Coming out of the bullpen does not allow me time to think. I just have to go down there and get ready. I love the urgency that relief pitching delivers. Pressure-packed situations allow little room for error. I enjoy the competition."
SCS.com: Last spring, you were named to the SEC Good Works Team, which honors an athlete who gives back to his or her community. You serve as a NCAA Regional Leadership Conference Representative, are involved in Toys for Tots, are a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and volunteer at local elementary schools. How do you find time to be involved in all of these activities, and how does volunteering affect you personally, especially your work around young children?
Startup: "It is very hard to be available for all of these activities. I normally jump on a chance once I know that my schedule will allow for it. Baseball demands a lot of my time, but I am so excited when I can give back to the community because those are the people that support us. I really love interacting with young children because I always wanted older people to pay attention to me. It would always mean so much when an older athlete would take the time to talk to me. I just figure that I can return the favor. And I am kind of on the same wavelength as kids. They might be a little bit more mature than me."
SCS.com: Not only have you been recognized in the SEC but also nationally. You were recently named a 2005 Preseason All-American by the National College Baseball Writers Association, and you were also chosen as one of only 58 players nationwide to be considered for the 2005 Brooks Wallace Award, given annually to the national college baseball player of the year. What does this national exposure mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Startup: "The exposure is great even though they are just expectations. I think that is great for the University and my teammates to also have that recognition. I believe that my whole team should be on that list. I am just a pitcher. I do not score runs, and I am not making all of the plays. I rely on my teammates and they do the same for me. I would not be getting recognized if not for my teammates and coaches. So these awards are just a reflection of who I am surrounded by. I also would not be receiving these awards if our pitching staff did not put me in these postiions for success. It is a total team effort."
SCS.com: Postseason play last year was a memorable event for you and the Georgia Bulldogs. UGA marched into the College World Series for the third time in five years in large part thanks to your performance on the mound. You were named the Athens Regional's Most Outstanding Player and saved both games of the Atlanta Super Regional. When it was all over, you finished the postseason with a 2-0 record, 1.77 ERA, and four saves in seven appearances, and the Bulldogs had finished tied for third in the CWS. How exciting was UGA's run throughout the postseason last year, and what was the most memorable game or moment of the season?
Startup: "Last year's postseason was so exciting. It was great because no one ever really saw us coming. I would like to compare us to the 2003 Marlins. We just got hot at the right time and rolled with it. The most memorable game last year was against Clemson during the regionals. We thought all hope was lost down 6-4 in the top of the ninth. Tony Sipp had retired 9 of 9 batters, 6 being strikeouts, and we hit back to back homers to tie it up and wound up hitting a homerun in the 10th to go ahead. I got the chance to strikout the last batter, and our season was prolonged. I'll never forget that feeling."
SCS.com: The mystique that surrounds the College World Series, Omaha, Nebraska, and Rosenblatt Stadium is like nothing else in all of college sports. Tell about your experience at the CWS, and explain what makes the event so special.
Startup: "The fans are crazy. I've never been around more people at a baseball game. The cool thing is that you can blend in with the people outside of the stadium and knowing that you are getting to play in front of all of these fans. I enjoyed our day off. My father and I went to the zoo behind the stadium. The games were phenomenal. I've never played in front of that many people. It's funny, out of all of the fans there, I can only hear my father's voice....tunnel vision and tunnel hearing I guess. My favorite part was probably the interaction with the fans. Getting to meet new people and talk to them before the games was awesome. I hope I get the chance to do it again."
SCS.com: With six position players and an experienced pitching staff returning, the expectations for last year's SEC champions have to be sky-high. The 2005 UGA squad was ranked ninth in the preseason poll published by Collegiate Baseball. How do those expectations affect the players, and how do you stay focused throughout what can turn into a very long college baseball season?
Startup: "It starts with hard work and ends with hard work. It was bitter sweet to get all the way to Omaha and come up short. If you are there, you might as well win it. Easier said than done. But the guys are such a family. We love playing together, and the team is closer than ever. It really makes working hard fun and not a chore. Keeping the game fun and simple is the best way to staying focused and not getting burnt out."
SCS.com: The SEC is arguably America's best college baseball conference. You get to make trips to some of the country's most legendary ballparks and play in front of the largest crowds in America at places like Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge and Dudy Noble Field at Mississippi State. Where is your favorite place to travel in the SEC, and in general, what is the atmosphere like on the road during the conference schedule?
Startup: "LSU was amazing. I was summerball teammates with (Jon) Zeringue, and he took me out on the town after the Friday night extra-inning game. We went back to the field around 11:00 PM, and the fans were still there. They welcomed me in as one of their own. I told them I played for Georgia, but they didn't seem to care. The atmosphere is awesome. The league has some great parks, but Alex Box Stadium is the best. I love Foley Field in Athens, and hopefully we will get better fan support this year. I think we have great fans and they do a great job of cheering us on, but if we could get it to the magnitude of the fan base for LSU, that would be ideal. But that is going to take winning from our part. The atmosphere on the road can be brutal. You have to prepare your mind to be tough as nails. Some of the taunts and harassment can be R-rated, so you have to be mentally tough. But it is fun. Sometimes I get in a good laugh even when myself or my teammates are being made fun of."
SCS.com: You will be eligible for the Major League Baseball Draft this spring. What have you heard regarding the Draft in relation to specific teams and/or draft position?
Startup: "I've heard from some teams, but of course you will not have a good idea about where you are going in the Draft until it happens. I am setting goals but not expectations. I am just going to go out and have fun. When baseball stops being fun, that is when it is time to go. I am nowhere near that point. I love my team and coaches. Baseball has never been more exciting to me. I can't wait for the season to get under way."
SCS.com: You have played at Georgia with numerous players who are now playing baseball professionally. Most recently, two of your teammates from a season ago were drafted (and eventually signed) on the first day of the 2004 MLB Draft: catcher Clint Sammons in the sixth round and second baseman Marshall Szabo in the seventeenth round. With you following in those guys' footsteps, have you talked to either of them or any other current pro player about the process, and if so, what advice have they given you?
Startup: "I have talked to the guys who have been drafted, and they tell me just to have fun and enjoy. Baseball is a kids' game. I love the competition. There is no reason to put pressure on myself to perform well. It will come with hard work and preparation."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Dave Perno, was named the national coach of the year by CollegeBaseballInsider.com and Baseball America after last season. What makes Coach Perno such a great coach at Georgia?
Startup: "He has an unbelievable fire that drives him to be the best. He not only coaches the team well as a whole, but he knows the techniques to get the best out of us individually. He keeps a steady head on his shoulders even under pressure and takes our thoughts and ideas very seriously. He is a great player's coach, and it did not suprise me when he received this award. I thought it was about time."
SCS.com: What is your favorite memory from your baseball career, whether it be little league, high school, or college?
Startup: "God has blessed me with being a part of many great baseball moments, each one seeming to top the other. I got to be a part of a state championship team in 1994 with SYAA. I got to be a part of our high school's first state championship team in 2001. The next year we repeated. And finally, this past season going to Omaha. Every college baseball player's dream is to go to the College World Series. That was the best experience. I want to be able to go back and win it this year. Matt Woods, my teammate from last year, had the opportunity to go to Omaha in 2001. He said it right: 'When you go out there for the first time, you will do anything to go out there again.'"
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?
Startup: "I grew up playing baseball with a teammate named Nathan Gravely. His desire to play baseball was second to none. He made me realize how much fun baseball could be if you gave it your all. He was an amazing athlete and a great team leader. He made me want to be a better baseball player and raised my level of play. On and off the field would be Jesus Christ. My abilities come from Him, and I realize that I am not really super physically talented. That just helps me to realize that it is not of me, and my talents are definitely a gift from God. He is my inspiration for living and my soul's purpose. Baseball is fun because He created me to play it."
SCS.com would again like to thank Georgia's Will Startup for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Bulldogs the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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