West Point head baseball coach and Rhode Island native Jimmy Foster has strong words of advice for all high school athletes sidelined right now, especially those who are interested in continuing their athletic career in college in the future.
“Focus on building those relationships with the schools and coaches that you want to look at,” said Foster. “Above that, focus on your weaknesses. Focus on being a more physical presence. Get in shape. Get bigger. Get stronger.”
The unprecedented Coronavirus has shut down the country since early March. What started out as an abrupt halt to the end of the winter sports season has extended into the spring season. College sports ended just as they were beginning. High school athletes throughout the country preparing for the spring season never put on their uniform or stepped on a field.
Athletes everywhere at every level in every sport are sidelined. For many, their futures are up in the air.
College campuses remain closed. There is no opportunity to visit a campus, watch a game, check out the facilities, spend time with the coaching staff, meet current players and get a true feel for the program.
But Foster, who has coached baseball at the Division I level for 17 years, emphasized it’s more important to focus on what you can control than what you can’t.
“Use this (pandemic) as an opportunity. If I were a player, I would say ‘what can I control?’ I can control my diet. I can control what I do physically and how active I stay. Maybe I have to get a little faster and maybe I have to get a little stronger…whatever it is, I would focus on that so when this opens up and the coaches see me play- especially the ones I’ve been communicating with – they say, ‘Wow this kid’s ready to go. He’s been working.'”
Foster emphasized high school athletes who are spending the majority of their days focused on their electronic devices will stand out, too.
“You’re going to have kids who have sat on the couch and watched Netflix for the last 16 weeks. Those kids are going to jump out, too,” said Foster. “Coaches are going to see them right away and say, ‘He’s behind. He’s out of shape.’
“Coaches are going to be ready to go when things turn and the players just have to be sure they are ready to go too,” said Foster.
Foster has always been ready to go. A catcher, he starred at Bishop Hendricken and Providence College and then spent nearly a decade in the pros. After a short stint as an assistant coach at Brown, he went on to the University of Rhode Island where he spent nearly a decade and became the all-time winningest coach in program history, amassing a 268-230-3 (.538) record. He later served as associate head coach at Boston College and helped lead the Eagles to the Super Regionals where they ended their season one win away from Omaha, the home of the College World Series.
He took over as the head coach of Army four years ago and brought his winning ways to the West Point campus. Last season, Foster led Army to its Patriot-League leading eighth conference crown and went on to the NCAA Regionals where Army defeated host and nationally ranked opponent N.C. State in its opening game, 5-1. This season, after a bit of a rocky start, Army was back on track and in the midst of a three-game winning streak when the season came to a screeching halt in early March.
And while his season is over and he is devastated for his seniors – who don’t have an opportunity to come back and play an extra season as part of the NCAA’s new Super Class – he is focusing on Army’s future and adapting to the new norm of connecting with his recruits and potential recruits from inside his home in upstate New York.
He and his coaching staff seem to spend all day on the phone communicating with incoming recruits, who are hoping to be on campus in June. They are also following up with potential recruits, hoping many liked what they saw after taking a virtual tour of the campus.
“It’s not the same as getting them on a West Point campus and having them see how special it is here,” said Foster.
More than ever, athletes also must be their own advocates now. Without a way to showcase their skills in front of a college coach, athletes who play a spring sport are gathering their most recent highlight videos – which may be a year old – and sharing them on social media platforms and reaching out to coaches via direct messages.
“We are communicating. It’s just different now. This is the new norm,” said Foster, who said he and his staff review every highlight video sent to them. “Everyone’s in a freeze. All coaches are waiting for the summer …hoping by June or July there will be summer ball and we’ll be able to travel and go to national events like a Perfect Game (Georgia) where there will be hundreds and hundreds of teams. You can see so many guys play at once.”
Highlight videos aren’t always enough. Coaches want to see the good, the bad and everything in between.
.“I can see skills in a video, but I want to know what kind of person he is, does he work on his weakness, what is his character like,” said Foster. “I’m doing a lot of homework. I am hoping we are ready to go soon.”
With the spring season gone, summer showcases, tournaments, leagues and camps will be more crucial than ever for high school athletes hoping to continue in college.
Barrington junior James Bogdanovic has owned the No. 1 singles spot for the Eagles tennis team since his freshman year. A two-time all-stater who reached the state singles finals and also helped lead Barrington through an unbeaten season last year en route to the RI state championship, Bogdanovic is running, biking and playing tennis on a court in his grandmother’s backyard. He is focused on staying on top of his game when the USTA tournament season is able to begin this summer. He is hoping college coaches will flock to tournaments this summer, including the USTA New England Summer Sectionals. He’ll be ready.
“I’m doing as much as I can to stay in shape,’ said Bogdanovic. “This is a big summer for me. I definitely want to play tennis in college.”
Rick Angeli is the head golf coach at Hendricken. His son Ricky Angeli, a junior, is a two-time second team All-Stater who was hoping to share a successful golf season with the long list of college coaches who he has set his sights on. Now, he is preparing for the Junior Amateur Golf season – hoping the season will take place this summer.
“It’s up in the air now, but hopefully, we play a realistic Junior Golf schedule this summer,” said the elder Angeli. “Coaches don’t want to see video. They want to see scores. This summer is the last opportunity for the junior class to showcase themselves.”
During the pandemic, Ricky has been fortunate enough to be able to play every day, weather permitting at Potowomut Golf Club, where he is a member. He has also been working on his game at home and taking part in a workout program prepared by his gym.
“There won’t be a big lead into the (Junior) season,” said Angeli. “It’s going to be: ready, set, go. You have to be ready. We’ve been fortunate to play golf here in RI and get reps in . Kids in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and other states have not.”
For now, the state remains closed and just what will be opened this summer remains up in the air.
While he would certainly be disappointed if the Junior Circuit were cancelled, Angeli focused on the big picture.
“I had a talk with my son. He’s a good student. There will be opportunities whether he can play golf this summer or not. We’re healthy. So many people have lost loved ones. We’re fortunate,” said Angeli.
“I can’t stress how important it is right now for coaches to have good, positive communication with all of our student-athletes and to let them know we have their back…we are here to help them,” said Jamal Gomes, Hendricken Athletic Director and veteran head basketball coach. “We need to stay in contact with them and let them know they are more than athletes to us. We are here for them. This is a very difficult time.”