The transition for many student-athletes is often a challenge, going from the standout on the high school team to just a ballplayer with many of the same skill sets and talents of their teammates in college.
Mix in off-season Tommy John surgery to go along with the adjustment from high school to college and it could have been easy for Topsail High School alum Clark Cota to just say it wasn’t worth the long hours of rehab, weight lifting and off-season workouts.
However, the fireballer originally from Southern California has passed every test along the way and continues to put in the effort to get himself in the best position to contribute to the UNCW baseball program.
“The culture that was set into place around me in high school prepared me in some aspects to step up to this next level,” said Cota. “But, just being here, gaining experience and adjusting to Division 1 baseball has been extremely fun and I’m excited to see where the season will take us.”
As many high school athletes will find, the move to a college level sport becomes a full-time job. Time management is crucial, from early morning training sessions, to class, then practice and studies closing out a typical day.
On the field, the game moves much faster compared to what Cota saw during his days at Topsail. The routine becomes burdensome at times, but worth the hard work considering the Seahawks are poised for another great season as defending Colonial Athletic Association Champions.
“It’s not just a couple of talented guys on your team anymore,” Cota added. “It’s 35 guys who were all studs in high school out there competing extremely hard every day. As far as our schedule, it took me being mentally ready to lift, run and practice on a daily basis. In high school, we would lift and condition during the off season and once spring came around it was all baseball. At this level you’re expected to go to class, lift and do sprint work along with practice.”
Cota has come a long way since getting ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction – also known as Tommy John surgery – by the renowned Dr. James Andrews last June. From the basic motions of throwing a baseball again, to getting back on the mound in January, Cota is progressing along the expected timeline, tossing about 70 pitches during workouts at 50 percent effort.
With the health of his player in mind, UNCW Coach Mark Scalf thinks Cota will be a big asset to the program in the future, but remains realistic about whether he will be able to pitch for the Seahawks this season.
“Going into the year right now we’re hoping he could be available towards the back of the year,” Scalf said. “We’re staying with the process and the program. If he shows us he’s healthy towards the end or can swing the bat for us even before he can get on the mound, we’d certainly use him.
“Him being on the mound the spring is probably not going to happen, but that’s expected with the surgery he’s coming off of.”
According to MLB.com, the average pitcher returns to game action 12-16 months following surgery, but that time varies greatly by individual. In a recent study, Major League pitchers returned in as few as 11 months and as many as 30. The player’s return also depends on when the surgery is performed in the context of the baseball season as well as the severity of the injury.
While Cota continues to grind through each day of rehab, his positive mindset and work ethic has him in a good place moving through his freshman year. His attitude, commitment and willing to soak everything him from his older teammates has him poised for success in the not so distant future.