Orangebloods - Bryce Elder's journey from golfer to Friday night starter at Texas
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Bryce Elder's journey from golfer to Friday night starter at Texas

“In both my Senior Nights, I said I’m going to Howard Junior College in hopes to one day play at The University of Texas,” said Bryce Elder when asked if he knew he always wanted to end up at Texas.

That was Elder’s message not once, but twice. He stated it at Decatur High School’s Senior Night in basketball and baseball. There was a problem, though: Elder, still relatively new to baseball and most known for golf most of his high school career, had little interest from division one programs in baseball. Actually, he had none. Little did he know that would soon change in a hurry.

Elder was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week after his terrific start at Louisiana.
Elder was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week after his terrific start at Louisiana.

The young righthander that rediscovered his love of baseball, bet on himself, remained persistent, and pitched back-to-back no-hitters in the playoffs his senior season quickly went from a golfer chasing a baseball dream at a junior college to a Longhorn. How it all happened is almost unbelievable and includes a helpful connection to get into an all-star game, one shaky inning in front of a Texas assistant coach, a phone call before a flight to New Mexico, and a valuable pitch grip before a ninth birthday. But it constantly delivers one important lesson: don’t be afraid to put yourself on the map when others have yet to discover you.

“What happened was I was throwing well my senior year and I was committed to Howard (Junior College), and I didn’t have any division one offers. I actually played summer ball with a kid who his teammate in high school is committed here. His name is Brendan Dixon. I got coach Pierce or one of the coach’s numbers from him because I was pitching in an all-star game, but I really wasn’t supposed to be in it,” said Elder. “But my coach was the coach of it. So, he was like, ‘Hey, I think this kid should pitch in it.’ So, I got in that all-star game and called the Texas coaches and they came and watched me.”

With a chance to prove himself in front of a coach from his dream school, Elder thought he cost himself any chance at wearing burnt orange with his all-star game performance.

“Coach (Philip) Miller showed up. It was the first time I ever heard anything from a division one coach just because I got my high school coach to text coach Miller. He shows up. I pitch two innings. The first inning I give up a hit, make an error, give up a run, and coach Miller leaves. And I was like, ‘there goes my chances.’ Next inning, I pitch well.”

It’s amazing what one appearance can do for a player, what one appearance from an assistant coach of a big-time program can do, and what a first offer and scheduled visit to a division one program can do. Word travels quick. Sometimes, it takes one look for a scout or assistant coach to know enough, or at least want to return to the staff with a willingness to do more research on an intriguing new prospect. Once Texas got eyes on Elder and saw some film, it made a move.

“We took him because we knew the slider/cutter was a real pitch. We knew he was going to get stronger and the velocity would jump some,” said Texas assistant coach Sean Allen.

Elder having one of the best cutters in the state created a better-late-than-never reputation his senior year as a pitcher with a real future on the mound.

“Growing up as a little kid, you always want to throw a curveball. When I was eight, I had a coach. His name is Brad Davis. He pitched at Oklahoma State. He taught me to throw a cutter like that. He said, ‘Grip it like this, and just throw it.’ Over time, it just got better and better even when I wasn’t playing baseball, I still picked it up my sophomore year of high school and never lost it,” Elder said about the development of his cutter. “It was even better. I just learned to… I don’t know if I should say manipulate it, but I can’t explain how I throw it. I throw it, and it just moves. It’s for sure because of Brad, and how he taught it to me when I was younger. And I’m very comfortable with it.”

Elder has always been comfortable throwing a cutter since a young age.
Elder has always been comfortable throwing a cutter since a young age.

Soon, Elder began to receiver interest from division one programs as word spread.

“A few days go on and I got some interest from Oklahoma State and New Mexico. Well, I ended up going on a visit to New Mexico, and the all-star game was on a Monday. I went on a visit to New Mexico on Friday, and I thought Texas was out the window,” said Elder.

As it was time to board, Elder’s phone rang. It was a life-changing phone call from the assistant coach he thought wasn’t interested.

“As I was walking on the plane, coach Miller called me and offered me. So, I felt like I had to go on the visit. I said, ‘Coach Miller, if I wasn’t getting on this plane right now, I’d tell you that I’m in. But I’m already on the plane, so I’m going to go on this, and I’ll tell you when I get back.’ He was just like, ‘Well… do what you need to do, but let me know when you know.’ I wanted to tell him, ‘Well, I do know but I can’t tell you.”

In the midst of a whirlwind week that included an all-star game, division one offers, and a visit to New Mexico, Elder ended an unforgettable short, summer stretch by committing to the Longhorns.

“I came back, and I committed. It all worked out,” said the sophomore righthander. “Everything happened within about a week and a half stretch.”

That explains the commitment, but how does a high school athlete go from a golfer not playing baseball to a pitcher throwing back-to-back no-hitters in the playoffs?

With a full offseason, Elder added strength and velocity.
With a full offseason, Elder added strength and velocity.

“I started playing baseball again my sophomore year. We got a new coach and he let me go throw and everything and then go play golf. His name is coach (Brian) Tickell. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. My junior year he told me, ‘Hey, man I think you can play baseball in college at a very competitive level.’ So, I was like, alright. That was about April my junior year, and so he said, ‘Hey, there’s a guy. I have his number if you want play summer ball.’ Well, at this point we already had vacations planned and everything.

“So, I called this guy and he said, ‘Well, come down and throw for us.’ I went and threw for him and they were like, ‘Yeah, we like you. We can use you.’ I asked him if it would be difficult when we had this and this and this planned for the summer, and he said don’t worry about it. You come and throw, and you’re good to leave. So, my junior year, I played summer ball for the first time since I was in sixth grade. Midland Junior College offered me, and Howard offered me. I committed to Howard that year. But before that it was all golf.”

When he rejoined the baseball program at Decatur, Elder rediscovered two things: his appreciation for baseball, and that he was also pretty good on the mound.

“I started playing my sophomore year because I remembered I was pretty good. I was like well, let’s try it. Now, I enjoy it more and more every day and I think a lot of that is because I didn’t play it for four, five years and it makes me appreciate it more for sure,” said the righthander, who is 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA this season.

Elder probably didn’t fully comprehend it then, but in addition to having a really good cutter in high school, he also had another rare baseball attribute. The 6-2, 220-pound righthander has a clean, low-effort delivery that he repeats very well despite a baseball background more inexperienced than most collegiate starting pitchers.

“A lot of it is growing up watching baseball. My brother played… when I was younger, I did play a lot. I think the smoothness comes from I was kind of a late bloomer. So, I was always behind, and I had to make the ball move,” responded Elder about why his mechanics and strike-throwing are so advanced despite a limited experience. “So, I wasn’t worried about how hard I threw. I’m still not. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s continued to go up and up. I think a lot of it is from that. I think 90 MPH with sink on the inside corner is a better pitch than 98 MPH middle-in because at some point, there are going to be hitters that get to that. I think location is more important than velocity. Of course, if you have both, it’s the best of both worlds.”

As a freshman at Texas, Elder pitched with mostly a cutter he could manipulate to change speeds and shape. Now, the righthander has a distinct four-pitch arsenal of two-seam fastball up to 94 MPH, cutter, curve, and changeup. In high school as he found baseball again, Elder was concerned if a summer team would allow him to join last minute and if could juggle planned family vacations. This past summer, Elder spent the summer on a business trip improving himself as a pitcher with the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League. He returned to Texas a better, more confident pitcher.

“I think a lot of it is just working on it each day, but a lot of it is confidence. I got a lot of confidence this summer playing in Santa Barbara, California because summer ball you’re not worried about winning the Big 12. Yeah, you want to win for your guys out there, but the reason you’re out there is for you. You go out there and get your work in and build confidence,” responded Elder about his stuff being better and more defined this season. “That’s why I think my stuff is better.”

Elder is pitching with a ton of confidence currently, and he’s always been a competitor. Even in his first appearances on the mound in fall scrimmages before his freshman season, Elder was seemingly never rattled. While some first-year players at Texas struggled with the environment at LSU in 2018, Elder looked unbothered. When the Longhorns needed someone to step up and start the opening game of a series at Oklahoma, Elder, on short notice, threw 5.0 competitive innings and earned the win.

The Longhorns can thank golf for that. Elder, who said his best score is a 67 that was shot in a “non-competitive” round, learned how to remain in the moment and focus on the next pitch from his golfing background.

“I think the staying calm and in the moment comes from golf and the way I was raised. Golf is something where you can’t worry about the next shot because if you don’t hit a good shot here, you could be in the water, in the sand, or anywhere,” he said. “So, I think that is what made me learn to focus pitch-by-pitch and actually that’s one of the reasons why I don’t think… I mean, I was good at golf. But I think I could have been a lot better if I did that, and I learned that from golf – that you have to be. And it’s carried over to pitching.”

Now, Elder remains very tough to rattle on the mound, but has been showing more emotion as well.

“As for showing more emotion, I did notice I showed more emotion at Louisiana, but I think it’s because it’s a different role. When you have eight innings under your belt, and you get out of it, I’m going to show more emotion rather than coming in and getting three outs and here we go. I think being in a groove, getting comfortable out there, my confidence goes up. I think that’s where that comes from.”

Clearly, Elder is comfortable. Still very new to a starting pitcher role and one at this level, he’ll undoubtedly encounter some ups-and-downs on the mound. But when he does, the sophomore, who is known around the Texas program as a great lead-by-example candidate, knows he can help his teammates.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said about wanting to set an example for other pitchers on the roster. “I think they do watch me, and I hope they do. I hope I set an example of even if I go out and don’t get out of the first inning, I hope I set a good example of if they do that, they know what to look at. Last year as a freshman and all freshmen you come in and whether you’re pitching or not you’re looking for someone… I don’t want to say look up to, but you’re looking for someone to show you the way. We had that some last year, but I think I’m capable of showing them a good way to go about things, and that’s what I shoot for day in and day out.”

Not only is Elder showing younger teammates the way, he’s proving anyone is capable of paving their own road to where they want to be. Oh, and he’s still mixing in some rounds of golf as well.

Does he ever stop and realize how much has happened in a short amount of time? Elder went from golfing and not playing baseball to rejoining the baseball program, throwing in summer baseball for the first time in years, pitching back-to-back no-hitters as a senior, using a connection to pitch in an all-star game he wasn’t invited to, getting his first division one offers, taking a trip to New Mexico, and then becoming a Longhorn. And he’s not just a Longhorn. He’s the Friday night starter for college basbeall’s most storied program.

Surely, Elder would reflect upon his journey, right? Not really, at least not yet, which is part of the reason why he's successful on the mound.

“As far as looking back… I try to stay in the moment. Yeah, that’s good to look at and it’s cool. But also, the most important thing is me throwing Friday night. I try to stay in the moment, work hard every day, and when it’s all over, I’ll be able to look back and say this was pretty cool.”

When it’s over, Texas fans are going to fondly remember his unique story because by that point, they’ll want to know why one of their best starting pitchers is who he is.

Elder has become a popular man among UT fans.
Elder has become a popular man among UT fans.