High School Sports

Ocean Springs ace never dreamed he’d have this chance at MSU

Former Ocean Springs standout Drew Windham has walked onto the Mississippi State baseball team and performed well during fall ball.
Former Ocean Springs standout Drew Windham has walked onto the Mississippi State baseball team and performed well during fall ball. Mississippi State athletics

Drew Windham didn’t necessarily grow up dreaming of being an NFL quarterback or an MLB pitcher — he dreamed of being a Bulldog.

That’s why when Mississippi State’s baseball team offered the former Ocean Springs High School dual-sport standout a preferred walk-on spot last summer, he couldn’t accept fast enough.

“That literally. ... I took that right away,” he said Thursday. “That had been a dream of mine, to play up here. It was like a dream come true. When they told me that I was all in. It’s a blessing just to be in that position.”

Windham understands that as a walk-on, nothing is guaranteed. That’s why he’s treating MSU’s fall ball season like a prolonged tryout.

Early results have been good. In two appearances, he has allowed one earned run on three hits and walked one in four innings.

“I definitely don’t treat it like I have a guaranteed spot,” he said. “I have to prove myself every day.

“At the same time, it’s cool to be at such a prestigious program. I never dreamed I’d be in a position like this, but now that I’m here I have to prove I belong.”

No surprise

Windham’s dream started to come to fruition last winter when he attended one of MSU’s camps. He threw for the Bulldogs staff and they came away impressed. Still, no offer materialized.

As the Ocean Springs High School season progressed in the spring, his velocity climbed toward 90 miles per hour and the Bulldogs took notice.

Southern Miss actually watched him face off against George County’s Walker Robbins and eventually offered, but Windham had his mind made up he was going to attend MSU — whether it was merely as an engineering student or possibly more.

MSU’s staff kept in contact with him and the 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander eventually got the news he’d been waiting for.

“It’s a no-brainer and no secret that to pitch on the SEC level, you have to be a guy with some velocity,” OSHS coach Brian Rea said. “There aren’t a lot of guys in the SEC throwing 82 mph unless they’re a side-armer, submariner or left-handed specialist. From his junior to his senior year we saw his velocity really jump into the low 90 range on occasion. Once we saw that, coupled with his physical frame, he’s just built like one of those rugged SEC horses. He’s a trunk from the waist down.

“Arm health was really good because we didn’t tax him in any way here. He was a multi-sport guy, which they love. ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ which we called him on the mound because you never knew from one pitch to the next if he’d given up a home run or struck out the side.

“All those things, you just felt like if they’d give him an opportunity to get on campus and see how special he was, maybe he’d hang around.”

Surreal debut

Windham said it was “surreal” the first time he pulled MSU’s maroon uniform over his head this fall.

It really hit him when he jogged out of the dugout and onto the mound at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville for the first time. He was used to being in the stands, watching the Bulldogs play SEC opponents. Now, as he peered around the smattering of fans, he couldn’t help but reflect on his journey.

“I couldn’t believe it. Just from growing up — I literally kept up with MSU baseball my whole life, knowing most of the players and going to games,” he said. “Being in that position was very surreal and rewarding.”

As for his performance thus far, he isn’t ready to give himself a gold star just yet. He acknowledged the SEC is a far cry from high school ball.

“I’ve been doing decent, I guess. It’s a whole new ballgame up here compared to high school,” he said. “One thing I need to work on is being aware of the situation every pitch entails. Every little thing is magnified at this level.

“Just the littlest things like leaving the fastball over the plate, you just can’t do it because they’re going to hit it — hard.”

Rea regularly keeps up with Windham and has been proud of his former ace.

“On a daily basis he’s stepping in there trying to get out the likes of Jake Mangum and those guys and is doing quite well,” Rea said. “I’m optimistic. He’s a kid who has a great ACT score. He’s a genius.

“If they’ll let him stick around the program, he won’t disappoint them.”

As a senior at OSHS, Windham posted a 2-6 record but boasted a 1.82 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 50 innings.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Strong fall

Oct. 15: 2 IP, 0 ER, 2H, 0K, 1 BB

Oct. 19: 2 IP, 1 ER, 1H, 0K, 0BB

Stats from Drew Windham’s two fall ball appearances

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald