From Staff Reports
Monday, Nov. 13, was an important day for the Unicoi County High School baseball program.
That morning, not one, not two, not three, but four players signed to play the game they love at the collegiate level.
Joined by family, friends, coaches, teammates and school officials the four seniors – Hunter Higgins, Troy Podvin, Clay Simpson and Caleb Wilson, celebrated the next step in their careers with a ceremony held at UCHS.
“I can’t say enough about Troy, Caleb, Hunter and Clay,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis told The Erwin Record. “They were all freshman when I took over and they ended up playing major roles in our journey to the substate game that season.”
The four signing on the same day was more evidence of the close bond between the four players.
“They are a tight group of kids who have played a lot of baseball together through the years,” Gillis said. “To say that they are the ‘foundation’ of what I want to do with Unicoi County baseball is is an understatement. These guys have all battled for three years with no complaint or issue. These guys not only put it all on the field, but they are all very successful in the classroom. They are great representatives of our baseball program, county and school. I am very proud of their accomplishments and wish them all the best in their baseball careers.”
Higgins, Podvin and Wilson all signed with Milligan College last week. Simpson signed with Carson-Newman University.
Higgins has been the starting varsity catcher for the Blue Devils since his freshman season.
“Hunter provides a great amount of leadership to our program,” Gillis said. “He has a grit about him that you do not get from every high school player. Having been the only catcher for three years, he brings a lot of physical and mental toughness to our team. Hunter loves a challenge and works hard to be the best he can be on and off the field. I am very appreciative of Hunter. He has never complained or not wanted to play due to being tired or sore. He loves the game and the program.
“I feel like Hunter will go in and compete for a position behind the plate. He has tremendous work ethic and will only continue to fine tune his skills at Milligan,” Gillis added.
Podvin has played many roles for the Blue Devils since his freshman year. Gillis expects Podvin to play third base during his senior season, as well as pitch and play some at first base.
“Troy, like the others, is a great kid and an even better teammate,” Gillis said. “He leads by his actions and his play on the field. Troy is a three sport athlete and excels in every sport. He has a great work ethic and this tends to trickle down to his teammates. I believe a lot of his teammates look up to him because he is such a great person and easy to talk to. When it comes to play, he is a fierce competitor.”
Wilson is a pitcher for UCHS and plays right field.
“Caleb is a vocal leader on our team,” Gillis said. “He is a baseball kid and he loves everything about the game. Caleb is a great teammate and tends to set the bar high for himself and his peers. He is a player you can trust to get the job done, no matter the situation or what position he may be in at the time. Caleb always brings 110 percent with him.
“I can see Caleb possibly getting a shot to be a pitcher/playing a position. Caleb has a good bat and can definitely compete on the mound. I can see him getting stronger and gaining some velocity in the coming years, which will help him earn more mound time. Caleb is that crafty lefty that is just tough to get a good bat on,” Gillis continued.
Simpson has been a starting pitcher for the Blue Devils since his sophomore season. He also served as a designated hitter in the 2017 season.
“Clay is not only a super kid, but he is also a great teammate. He is a two sport guy that sacrifices a lot of time to be successful in both baseball and basketball. Clay brings a competitive edge to our team and others feed off his energy and drive.
“Clay will have the opportunity to go to Carson-Newman and be a starter. I feel like he will go down there and push some veteran players for mound time. Clay will only get stronger and grow as a pitcher once he gets into coach (Tom) Griffin’s program. Having played for coach Griffin myself, Clay will be pushed day in and day out to be the best player he can. I have no doubt Clay will be successful at Carson-Newman,” Gillis added.