South Carolina outfielder Brandon McIlwain admitted the college transition wasn’t easy.
He was an early enrollee football player, figuring out college life on the fly in the semester he should have been finishing up his senior year of high school – and he was also playing baseball for the Gamecocks.
“I came in in the middle of January,” McIlwain said. “It was difficult, I hadn’t been doing much. I hadn’t been here around the coaches or anything, and I was also brand new. I was a second semester senior coming into college. It was a difficult transition. There was obviously more than I wanted to do, but I’m happy with how it went.”
Since then, the Pennsylvania product went through a football season, took and lost the starting quarterback job and is now back on the diamond.
He admitted getting the taste of action on the football field, where he started three games and put up 727 total yards, made him yearn to get back out on the Founders Park grass.
He only got 10 at-bats a season ago, with one RBI hit late in a midweek blowout. This year, baseball is the priority rather than football, and even though he wasn’t with the team in the fall, he’s impressed Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook.
“He’s looked great since January,” Holbrook said. “In fact, he’s been one of our bright spots in individual workouts. He’s hit the ball out of the park, and he’s hitting it with authority. He seems like a kid again. He smiling and he’s having fun. I might’ve thrown too much on him last year.”
At the moment, McIlwain is playing centerfield, but Holbrook said the sophomore is eying a spot in right. Several veterans have experience there, but the coach said, “there’s certainly some time to be won.”
He didn’t hit in Friday’s scrimmage because of a pulled stomach muscle but was in the field.
Coming out of high school, McIlwain was considered a top-20 high school prospect and potential high draft pick, but he enrolled early at USC, forgoing the MLB Draft.
He praised both the football and baseball coaching staffs for working out schedules that allowed him to play both. McIlwain said he’d like to play both for as long as he can, but also hinted at one eventually growing into the main focus.
“I’ve always wanted to play both sports and that’s what I came here to do, play both sports,” McIlwain said. “As long as I can do both, I’m going to do both. And whenever one plays itself out, that’s the decision. I feel like the decision will make itself.”