Tim Saunders has had the opportunity to work with several future college players during his 24-year tenure as coach of the Dublin Coffman High School baseball team.
Yet, when seniors Austin Cousino (Kentucky), Adam Hall (Xavier) and Ryan Leffel (Ohio State) each signed national letters of intent on Nov. 9, Saunders said it was the first time his squad has had three players receive Division I baseball scholarships before the start of their last high school season.
"The last time we had a kid sign this early was Ed Jayjack with UNC-Charlotte in 2005, and we've never had three kids sign this early," said Saunders, whose squad finished 18-12 last season after losing to Dublin Jerome 1-0 in a Division I district semifinal. "On paper, this looks like one of the strongest classes in the entire state. Not many central Ohio kids have received baseball scholarships this year, and three of them happen to come from our school. This is the strongest group of seniors we've had since we won the (Division I) state title in 2001."
Cousino has been recruited by every major program in the country since he stood out as one of the best players on the U.S.A. Baseball 16-and-Under National Team during the summer of 2009. He finished second on that squad in hitting with a .545 batting average and had 16 extra-base hits among the 24 he collected in 44 at-bats. Cousino capped off his summer by earning MVP honors in the World Youth Baseball Championship, which Team U.S.A. won over Cuba.
Even after the center fielder had a torn labrum in his left shoulder surgically repaired and missed the majority of his junior season, college coaches continued to heavily recruit him.
After taking several unofficial visits to the schools that were recruiting him, Cousino narrowed his choices down to Kentucky and the University of North Carolina-Chappel Hill in June, before making a verbal commitment to Kentucky coach Gary Henderson in mid-July.
"Kentucky's coach sent me letters with personal hand-written messages on them for several months, and that showed me how much they valued me as a player and a person," Cousino said.
In 2010, Kentucky went 31-25 and finished 13-17 in the Southeastern Conference.
"The SEC is the best conference in baseball and I want to prove that I can play with the best players in the country," Cousino said. "Getting a degree is a big thing for me, but I may have a big decision if I get drafted by a professional baseball team in early June. Close to 15 professional teams have contacted me and my goal is to get drafted, whether it's in the second or 50th round."
Leffel didn't draw much attention from college scouts while batting .348 with two home runs and 12 RBI for Coffman last spring.
But Leffel began to catch the eye of several college coaches by playing much better at college showcases during the summer and while competing for the Midwest Redbirds travel team in the fall.
The shortstop considered signing with Miami University after taking an official visit to the school on Oct. 9 and 10.
Instead, Leffel made a verbal commitment to first-year Ohio State coach Greg Beals while taking an official visit on Oct. 24.
"Both of my parents went to OSU and I grew up watching baseball games at Bill Davis Stadium, so I guess you could say this is a dream come true," Leffel said. "Coach Beals called me and told me he wanted me to be a Buckeye the day before I visited Miami, and I knew that's where I wanted to go if OSU was going to make an offer."
The Buckeyes went 28-23 and finished 11-13 in the Big Ten last season under former coach Bob Todd.
"I love the new coaching staff and I feel like they can build on the program's success and compete at a national level," Leffel said. "They can see me playing at shortstop or even in the outfield if they need me to. I just want to play and help my team win."
Hall was recruited by Cincinnati, Toledo and Xavier, after the 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher earned a 4-2 record with 44 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings and a 3.44 ERA.
But after taking an official visit to Xavier earlier in the month, Hall made a verbal commitment to Xavier head coach Scott Googins on Oct. 27.
"I visited both Cincinnati and Xavier, but I liked the coaches and players at Xavier and I just fit in better there," Hall said.
The Musketeers finished 26-32 and went 18-9 in the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2010.
"Our goal is to win a state championship before we graduate," Hall said. "In college, I want to perform to the best of my abilities and help my team make it to the college World Series."