Fortunately for first-year head coach Travis Huffman, he needed to look no further than the Adairsville High baseball team to fill both needs.
On Wednesday, outfielder Tyler Washington and infielder Tristin Smith both signed to play baseball at Young Harris as each moves on to the collegiate level after impressive two-sport careers as Tigers.
“Both of those guys really kind of emulate everything we talk about when we talk about the Adairsville student-athlete,” Smith and Washington’s former baseball coach Eric Bishop said. “They have a great work ethic. They’re highly committed to whatever sport they’re in and to the coaching staff that leads them. They’re great students in the classroom, both of them.
“They both will be very good additions to that baseball program up there.”
Washington transferred to Adairsville before his sophomore year and was a three-year starter in each baseball and basketball.
Smith also was a three-year starter in baseball and a two-year starter on the football team.
“To make up a team, you want to be strong up the middle and those two have been pivotal parts the last three years, so they’re going to be really hard to replace,” Billy Roper, Adairsville’s head baseball coach this past season, said. “I’ve been thinking all summer about how to replace those two guys. Tristin’s been in the program for four years, shortstop for three years. Every year I didn’t have to worry about a shortstop or anybody quarterbacking the infield because Tristin was there. Tyler came to us after his ninth grade year and since then he’s been a center fielder for us and we didn’t really have to worry about a center fielder.
“There’s guys like that that come and go you don’t ever really replace them. You just have to hope someone in the program is ready to fill that position.”
Young Harris is making the transition form an NAIA school to a Division II school and will be a member of the Peach Belt Conference. The Mountain Lions baseball team went 25-25 in 2014 and hired former assistant coach Travis Huffman on July 14.
“The head coach left and went to another school and we had been talking to the assistant [Huffman]. He became the head coach and he wanted us to come down there and play,” Washington said of the events that transpired for him and Smith to eventually go to Young Harris. “When I went for my visit, it was just a small college that I thought I would like being there. Talking to kids who were there, they just said it had a lot of one-on-one with your professors.”
“Originally, [Young Harris] was the first school that showed interest in me,” Smith said. “They were definitely my No. 1 from the get-go. I went up there and visited campus. I talked to the coach and I loved the coach.”
Smith made the all-county baseball team in 2014 after hitting .415 with 11 RBIs. He posted the highest on-base percentage in the county, .533, and produced a .492 slugging percentage.
He also was a two-way starter for the football team his senior season and an all-county selection as a running back during his junior year. Smith ran for nearly 1,500 yards and over 20 touchdowns in his last two seasons.
“Tristin’s great. He’s just a grind-it-out football player,” Bishop, who was Smith’s head football coach in 2013, said. “When you’re a football coach looking at opponents, you always look at tendencies and things like that. In the last two years, a lot of times, when we get inside the 15-yard-line and down inside the 10, everybody knew who was going to get the ball and put it in the end zone. He was just a hard-nosed player both ways for us last year.”
Meanwhile, Washington hit .335 with a .375 on-base percentage this past season with 16 runs scored, primarily hitting out of the leadoff spot and providing strong defense in center field.
He also was twice named an all-county basketball team selection and averaged 13 points, 4.7 assists, and 1.9 steals per game his senior season.
Washington said he also was pursing playing basketball on the next level.
“I’d love to see him play point guard for someone in college because he has a lot of upside. But you know, he is a good baseball player and he deserves any of the good fortune that comes to him in whatever sport simply because he’s a great kid, a great student and a great athlete,” Washington’s basketball coach Kent Howard said. “Baseball, basketball, underwater basket weaving, whatever, Tyler is going to be an asset to his team because of who he is and the way he works.”
Smith also had a difficult decision to make in what sport to play in college between football and baseball.
“It was a very tough decision,” Smith said of what sport to play in college. “I guess I chose baseball because [Young Harris] was closer to home.”
Not only are Smith and Washington similar because they had to decide what sport to play in college, but both bring similar qualities as student-athletes.
“That’s the first thing I told the coach up there. ‘You may have guys that have hit better, may be bigger or stronger, but as far as two young men that are going to do what they’re asked to, going to show up, be there, going to do what’s right in the classroom, you won’t get any better,’” Roper said. “‘You’re going to find out that they will get in there and compete with some other guys who you might think will be above them just because of the kind of character that they’re made of.’”
Roper also believes Smith’s and Washington’s skills will translate well to the next level.
“Tristin was put in a position for us having to hit 3 or 4, but maybe at the college level, he may not have to do that. He’s a good No. 2 guy in my mind. He can bunt, he can hit and run, he can hit for power in the alleys if he needed to or maybe at the bottom of the lineup where he can knock in some runs. His ability at the plate allows him to be flexible in wherever the coach wants him to hit,” Roper said. “[Washington], as a left-handed hitter, he’s already closer to first base. He can drag, he can slap-hit. Now with no basketball, he can hone on his baseball skills year-round and that’s going to make him a better hitter. Hitting is always the last thing to come.”
Both Washington and Smith are happy to be playing together.
“We grew up together. We played travel ball since we were little kids,” Washington said of his relationship with Smith.
“It’s awesome,” Smith said of playing with Washington. “I have somebody that I know right there off the bat.”