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Right Off the Bat

February 10, 2017

Scott Jackson is ready to take the Flames far in his first year as head coach

Baseball is a sport that requires tremendous patience — at the plate, in the bullpen, and in the dugout — throughout a 56-game collegiate season.

Entering his first season at the helm, Liberty University Baseball Head Coach Scott Jackson is gifted with the perfect blend of patience and passion, essential qualities in a baseball manager.

“I’m very hands-on,” said Jackson, who was recognized by “Baseball America” magazine as one of the top assistant coaches in the country before his 2013 season at the University of North Carolina (UNC), where he spent the last eight seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. “I’m not one to sit back and watch. I want to be on the field with our guys. I’m the type of guy who’s going to invest in you and hopefully see you become somebody you never thought you could be.”

During his time in Chapel Hill, N.C., Jackson helped coach North Carolina to a 345-156 record, three College World Series appearances (2009, 2011, and 2013), and six-straight NCAA Regionals appearances (2009-14).

He is excited about his new team, which won nine of its last 11 games to reach the Big South Conference (BSC) Championship final last season for the eighth time. The team also hit the 30-win mark for the 12th consecutive season.

“It’s an unbelievable group of guys,” Jackson said. “I think they’re eager — they want to win. We have a veteran core of 14 seniors, and I feel an immense responsibility to give them the opportunity to have the experience that they want.”

He would like nothing more than to lead them to Omaha, Neb. — the “Promised Land,” as he calls it — site of the College Baseball World Series. Outgoing Big South member Coastal Carolina captured the title last June after edging the Flames in the BSC Championships final, 1-0.

“It can be done,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot that has to happen, and a lot of things have to go your way. Certainly, you have to stay healthy and have some guys with some resolve and who can finish a season because it’s a grind. You have to take it one day at a time and not always have the destination at the front of your thoughts. You’ve got to have today as your priority. Your highs can’t be too high, and your lows can’t be too low, or it’s just going to be an emotional rollercoaster as you go through the season.”

Jackson remembers well the winning pedigree of Flames Baseball when he served as pitching coach at Liberty in 2008.

“It’s something I think is expected here, and that’s one of the biggest reasons I took the job. Our players expect it, I expect it, and our assistant coaches don’t know any different. I envision taking (the winning culture) even beyond that and maintaining the expectation level because it’s not fun unless you’re winning. I’m all about having fun and winning and competing and, hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.”

Jackson’s first order of business after being introduced as Liberty’s seventh head baseball coach in July was to assemble his staff. Two of his top choices were former North Carolina pitcher Bryant Gaines and UVA shortstop Tyler Cannon, who both starred for the ACC and NCAA powers.

At UNC, Jackson was known for developing hitters with a keen eye at the plate, who were patient enough to wait for their pitch. He also recruited players who shared his passion for the game.

“Any time you’re recruiting, you look for energy, life in the body, athleticism, and certainly strength,” Jackson said, noting that Liberty Associate Director of Strength & Conditioning for Olympic Sports Sheldon Stevens has helped develop the latter among the Flames. “Recruiting’s the lifeblood of your program. You’re only going to be as good as the talent you bring in.”

Jackson received commitments from 19 players in the early signing period who will join the Flames this fall.

“That’s exciting for us, but you have to wait and be patient for those guys to get here. My biggest focus is the 35 guys in that locker room right now,” he said.

The Flames return a talented mix of veterans and underclassmen, including sophomore D.J. Artis, the BSC Freshman of the Year and BSC First Team selection, who led the conference with a .500 on-base percentage and ranked third with 23 stolen bases. Andrew Yacyk, who earned BSC First Team honors as a utility player, leads a balanced senior class that also features Will Shepherd, who batted .328 with a team-high eight home runs, and pitcher Shane Quarterley, who recorded seven saves in 29 relief appearances.

While keeping the atmosphere at practices light, Jackson is businesslike in his coaching style, motivating his players to invest in the program through hard work.

“My approach is to go out here and let it be our time to have fun in practice, (but) let practice be tough so that the game seems like a reward to them, and they get a chance to go compete,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed and very satisfied with the hunger and the energy and the effort that they’ve put in.”

The Flames open their 2017 season Feb. 17 against the University of Virginia in a three-game tournament hosted by The Citadel. Their home opener is scheduled for Feb. 22 against Kentucky. They will also face North Carolina on April 18 in Chapel Hill and BSC rival Campbell, Jackson’s alma mater, May 5-7 at home.

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