Brandon Smith’s beard may not stay with him for long at Georgia Highlands College.
His baseball talents should, though, and those are more important anyway.
The 2013 Northwest Whitfield High School graduate will attend the junior college in Rome and play for the school’s inaugural baseball team.
Smith, a center fielder, originally was planning to play at Maryville College in Tennessee, with a scholarship, but the intentions fell through.
“I ended up messing around and not taking the ACTs,” Smith said. “Coach (Todd) Middleton said Georgia Highlands needed an outfielder and they were looking at me.”
Georgia Highlands announced in the spring of 2011 it would begin athletics and started with basketball and men’s and women’s tennis in the fall of 2012. Baseball has joined the fold and will begin play next spring in the Georgia College Athletic Association, which is part of the National Junior College Athletic Association. The Chargers will be coached by Mike Marra.
“We’re starting a program from scratch, so 95 percent of our team will be high school graduates,” said Marra, who was the Monticello (N.Y.) High coach until 2012 when he accepted the job at Georgia Highlands in September 2012. “So we like to get kids who have competed for four years at high school.”
Smith said the decision to go to the new program was a last-second deal — noting the school watched him at a local baseball showcase held in Dalton — and he won’t receive a scholarship. He still caught Marra’s eye.
“He has a lot of very good tools,” Marra said. “When we recruit, we look for tools. He has a great arm in the outfield, great speed, can handle the bat well and I think he’ll be able to compete as a freshman.
“We’re only going to keep six outfielders total, and we think he’ll match up with those we already brought in.”
One of the things Marra asked of Smith is to shave his beard.
“He’s making me shave it off,” he said. “It kind of sucks, but I’ll get over it I guess.”
Smith started growing it before the 2013 season’s tryouts and never once shaved as the Bruins continued to experience success. Northwest enjoyed its best season since 2007, finishing 24-8 and winning the Region 7-4A championship. Northwest reached the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“We don’t allow facial hair in spring time and on game day,” Marra said. “We got a little kick out of it because it is pretty sick. He can wear it all fall, but come spring time, he has to get rid of it.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years now, and it’s always been more or less my protocol. ... When I had a kid in Monticello High, we had a kid with hair down to his shoulders. When I came, I said, ‘That has to go.’ Funny thing is, the kid hasn’t grown his hair long since, and he’s in his second year of college. So Brandon may have a beard now, but once he shaves he might not want to grow it back.”
Smith had a solid senior year. He was a member of The Daily Citizen’s 2013 All-Area Baseball Team and earned a spot on the coach-chosen Region 7-4A team. He had a team-leading 42 runs scored and an on-base percentage of .440.
“Like I’ve said before, he’s one of the best if not the best center fielder I’ve been around,” Middleton added. “His arm strength is exceptional and has gotten stronger every year. It got stronger as this year went along. With the bat, he did the job of a leadoff man. He got on base and led us in runs scored. Along with athletic abilities, he has great baseball instincts.”
For Smith, the beard doesn’t matter as much. Playing baseball at the next level is much more important, and if he had to choose, he’d rather show off his baseball talents than his beard-growing talents any day.
“It has always been a dream to play ball after high school and see how far I can take it,” Smith said.
• Southeast Whitfield graduate Alex Rosillo will play soccer for Talladega College in Alabama.
Rosillo, nicknamed “Bofo” among his peers, rebounded from a broken leg his junior year and made The Daily Citizen’s 2013 All-Area Boys Soccer team after scoring 14 goals and assisting 16 others. He played outside midfield for the Raiders, who reached the Class 4A state championship match.
“He should be ready for the next level,” Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring said. “They’re getting a good-quality player, a good team player and he’s been through a lot of adversity in his high school career.
“It’s a good step. It’s what we like to see our boys do.”
Neither Rosillo nor Talladega coach Emanuel Stephens were available for comment. Talladega competes in the Gulf South Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
• Murray County High School graduate Drew Tankersley and North Murray High School graduates Brandon Parrish and Adrian Patino will be part of the inaugural season of men’s golf at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, which has campuses in Floyd, Gordon, Polk, Whitfield and Walker counties.
The trio join Heritage-Catoosa’s Gavin Reeves and LaFayette’s P.J. Shields on the roster for the Bobcats, who will begin practice later this month. They will participate in collegiate tournaments throughout the upcoming school year and also play a club schedule in the spring. They will begin competition in the National Junior College Athletic Association starting with the 2014-15 school year.
The Bobcats will be coached by Jared Willerson and they will practice and host matches at LaFayette Golf Course.
“P.J. brings an amazingly solid game and Brandon (Parrish) is a fine golfer who more than likely is going to bring the leadership ability a team like ours is going to need on and off the links,” Willerson said. “This is a solid core for our inaugural run. Adrian (Patino), Drew (Tankersley), and Gavin (Reeves) all bring some solid qualities to this team. Adrian is our scraper, Drew is a big ball striker, and Gavin has shown some amazing flashes of brilliance this year.”
Golf is the latest addition to the athletic department at GNTC, which launched intercollegiate athletics in 2007. Administrators are examining plans to launch baseball, cross country and softball as soon as 2015.