Will Patota knew this day would come.
He felt overlooked as a high schooler at Class 1A Pinecrest, despite doubling the school record for home runs in a season (14) as a senior in 2018.
That feeling lingered while he was at Southern Union State Community College, a junior college in Wadley, Alabama – population 751.
There, his numbers were too good to overlook.
Patota played 52 games at Southern Union (44 in 2019; 8 in 2020), carrying a .378 batting average (62 for 164), while hitting nine home runs, 19 doubles and driving in 42 runs.
Last week, Patota announced his commitment to play baseball at the University of Alabama, where he will have two years of eligibility.
“I would say I’ve kind of always had a chip on my shoulder, just being overlooked because of being at a small school,” said Patota, the 2018 Forsyth County News Player of the Year. “Even when I was playing at junior college, I felt like I was kind of overlooked. It just kind of motivates me to show that, just because I’m at a JUCO or a small high school, I can still compete.”
Patota is one of two Forsyth County graduates who recently made the jump to the NCAA’s highest level, joining 2017 Lambert alum Haley Bolt, who spent the past three seasons at Piedmont College and will compete for Marshall University’s cross country and track & field programs beginning this fall.
It took Bolt just three years to graduate with her bachelor’s degree. Now, she plans to balance being a full-time graduate student with being a full-time Division I athlete.
“I’m super pumped, but I’m also a little nervous, just with the time constraints,” Bolt said. “I will be very busy with both graduate and athletics going on at the same time.”
Bolt will study forensic science at the school, with an emphasis in crime scene investigation.
Bolt applied to Marshall with her graduate program in mind – there are a limited number of schools that offer the program – but she decided to reach out to Marshall’s coaching staff since she had one more year of eligibility remaining.
After all, Bolt has the credentials. She holds Piedmont’s school record in the 10,000 meter (42:49.08) and is a two-time All-USA South performer in cross country.
Bolt said she had two offers coming out of high school, and breaking a school record was far from her mind at the time.
“I probably would have laughed in your face,” Bolt said with a laugh.
“Coming from high school, I definitely accomplished way more than I originally had set. Going into my senior year, obviously some of my goals were not reached for that specific year because of the coronavirus early shutdown. I would say, based on my high school goals that I had going into college, I definitely overachieved the goals I had set for myself.”
For Patota, playing baseball at an SEC school was always one of his goals.
His recruiting hit a snag during his junior season, however, which forced him to reassess his plans.
“Being at a small school, it’s already kind of harder to get looked at, just because it’s a smaller school,” Patota said. “What really set me back was getting hurt my junior year of high school. I kind of fell under the radar. I was talking to a few Division I schools, then after that, I just kind of fell off the radar.”
Of course, Patota dreams of someday playing professional baseball. Right now, however, Patota is taking it one step at a time, happy to receive the recognition he believes he deserves.
“Well, that’s always been a goal in the back of my mind. My first priority was to get to an SEC school, then if I get drafted, just see what happens,” Patota said.
Bolt is proud of her three years at Piedmont; her mother played soccer at the school, so she already shared a connection with Piedmont.
Also, if she hadn’t enrolled at Piedmont, Bolt never would have competed for Jamie Jimison, Piedmont’s director of cross country and track & field.
“He ended up being one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Bolt said. “I saw unbelievable results that I didn’t think I’d even achieve. I definitely PR’d in all of my events he had me running.”
Bolt faced her first hurdle this summer when COVID-19 prevented her from visiting Marshall and meeting her teammates.
“It made it very, very hard,” Bolt said. “I was supposed to go up and visit and meet with the coaching staff, the team and all that before I made any decision in March, right when everything was shutting down. So, I haven’t run into my teammates yet. I’ve really only met the coach who I was talking to the whole time. I haven’t met the head coach yet. I don’t really know what the program is like in person, so that definitely made it more challenging, but it didn’t deter me. It just made me more excited to go there and visit once all this is lifted.”