Rattlers driven by pride this baseball season
By Oldens Lafortune
As cliché as it might seems, FAMU baseball coach Jamey Shouppe is using a simple motto to inspire his team this season.
In fact, all he wants the Rattlers to do this season is focus on one word – pride. Never mind how passé as it may seem.
The motto actually is a perfect fit for a team that can’t go beyond the regular season. Baseball is one of seven FAMU sports that were kept out of the postseason during the 2019-2020 academic year because of NCAA sanctions brought on by low APR scores or other infractions.
However, even with the sanctions that were announced last spring, a majority of players from last year’s team has returned for the start of pre-season practice two weeks ago. Jeremiah McCollum, winner of the Black College Nines HBCU Pitcher of the Year honor, is one of the returnees.
McCollum, a junior right-hander from Houston, seemingly isn’t bothered by the ban – the result of faults years before Shouppe took over the program 2013.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t play in (the) postseason,” said McCollum, who is affectionately known by his teammates as “Jam.” “Pride is everything and we’re coming out here playing the game we love. Yeah, we can’t go to the postseason, but we’re going to continue working hard and hopefully we can break some other records.”
The work ethic that Shouppe has seen so far has him rating this bunch as the beat squad he’s had in the seven years he’s been coach.
“We just got a lot of experience, and practice, you don’t hear coaches say this very often, but it’s just been fun,” Shouppe said. “These guys are good and great students.
“The talent is probably as deep as we’ve had, and the experience is as good as we’ve had.”
FAMU starts the season on Feb. 17 at home against the South Florida. A day later, the Rattlers will open a two-game set with the Mercer Bears. They will play the non-conference schedule through March 24.
They open a three-game series with Maryland Eastern Shore for a first-time meeting in Tallahassee between the teams. All of their 18 previous meetings were in postseason games in which the Rattlers hold a 14-4 lead.
The schedule change that brings UMES to town is the result of the league doing away with a North and South division.
Conference play will run through May 9 when the Rattlers wrap up their season with a series against Bethune-Cookman in Daytona.
Of course the Rattlers will be motivated by the rivalry with the Wildcats, but playing for “Pride” has upped the ante.
“I like showing the younger kids especially what it’s going to be, it’s well worth the work you put in,” said infielder Octavien Moyer, a senior from Navarre. “Everything that I do is to make the team better.”
Last season, the Rattlers finished with a 27-32 record, although they weren’t favored by the prognosticators to be around in the postseason. However, they were in it until the very end, beating Norfolk State to capture the program’s first MEAC title since 2015. It was the Rattlers’ eight overall conference championship.
Shouppe still has vivid memories of how the Rattlers got it done to earn a berth to the NCAA regionals for the second time in the history of the program.
“We just continued to grind, no matter what happened in the early season,” Shouppe said. “We started the season 0-6 and got to MEAC play and really started putting it together. The end of the year, we got to the loser’s bracket in the tournament and just continued to grind. We never got too high, we never got too low.”