It has been a whirlwind of a year for so many high school athletes in a constant state of unknowns, and some have missed at least one season of sports due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Halifax County High School senior baseball player Jaxon Lloyd has had to deal with all of these issues and more in his quest to get an offer to play college baseball. Lloyd missed his junior year of high school baseball and worked hard on his travel baseball teams looking to get the offer he wanted.
In late October, that dream came true when he received an official offer from Virginia Military Institute. VMI is a Division 1 baseball school located in Lexington that plays in the Southern Conference.
Lloyd’s commitment to VMI marks the third member of the Halifax baseball team class of 2021 to commit to play college baseball. Joey Duffer and Leo Noblin both recently committed to play college baseball as well.
Lloyd and his family have taken two trips to VMI, and he realized early on that it was a place he wanted to be. The first trip he went on there were no students, but he really got to see the campus and fell in love. “I really got to see the layout of the campus, and I really like the way it had an older look to it,” Lloyd said. The second time Lloyd went to VMI for an open house there were cadets on campus, and he got to meet some of them for the first time. “Everybody up there was really nice and they made you feel like you were meant to be there,” he said.
Lloyd’s recruitment process started back in March right at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when VMI’s pitching coach started talking with him. They communicated back and forth once or twice a week and once they offered him a scholarship he knew that he felt comfortable making the decision to attend VMI.
He didn’t accept the offer immediately though, making sure to discuss all of his options with his family and those closest with him first.
“I talked to my family about it and a bunch of people who are close to me that know a lot about everything. I talked to them for that week and I felt like I knew enough and my gut was telling me that VMI was the right place so I went ahead and made the decision,” Lloyd said.
One thing that stood out to Lloyd when making his commitment was looking for a program that had made strides in recent years and was on the rise as a program. “They have really been improving over the last ten years and that was one of the things that drew me to them when I talked to them,” he said. “Some schools have been kind of steady and I wanted somewhere that was on the rise and starting to do really big things, it really set VMI apart for me,” he added.
First year students at VMI go through an experience that almost no other college freshman will endure. The VMI Rat Line begins the day that students arrive on campus, known at VMI as Matriculation Day. They remain “Rats” until “break out” which is in February where they are then recognized 4th class cadets by the Corps.
According to the VMI website, the term “Rat Line” refers “specifically to the tradition in which new cadets walk at rigid attention along a prescribed route whenever they are inside barracks. Because they may be stopped and tested by upper-class cadets during certain hours each day, they must be meticulous in daily personal grooming and in keeping their shoes shined and uniform spotless.”
It also states “the Rat Line is designed to instill and reinforce character traits that will serve a cadet well during his or her cadet years and in life after VMI. Success in the Rat Line requires concentration, attention to detail, a sense of humor, resolve and self discipline.”
Lloyd knew that attending VMI would be like nothing he had ever been through. “I had put extra thought into that because of being a part of the Rat Line,” Lloyd said. “But there are so many different students that go through it every year that I know that I can go in there and succeed going through it, and I think that it will just set me apart from every other college graduate because I have been through that and have that discipline to go through something like that,” he added.
The stress of recruitment takes a toll on almost every high school athlete that is trying to move on to play college athletics. The phone calls, text messages, emails and other things that come along with recruitment sometimes can take the focus off of what got them there in the first place, their athletic ability. Lloyd says that now that his commitment is out of the way it is such a relief now compared to a few weeks ago before he committed.
In early August Lloyd had to have an emergency appendectomy that set him back several weeks while he recovered. When he returned to the mound after surgery, Lloyd lost some speed on his fastball. Even though that was a small setback, it ended up being something that helped him in the long run.
“For the first few tournaments I played after surgery I didn’t have my fastball back to where it usually is, so it benefitted me because I had to work on throwing my other two pitches for a strike,” Lloyd said. “Now that my fastball is back to normal I have my changeup and my curveball working better than ever so I feel more effective now than I did before surgery.”
Effective is an understatement for the way Lloyd has been pitching lately. Dominant would be more suitable. At the end of October Lloyd pitched 10 innings in two games and struck out 23 batters without allowing a hit. He struck out 77% of the batters he faced in those two games.
Now that the commitment is out of the way, Lloyd will sign his letter on intent Friday, along with Duffer and Noblin. Lloyd is now focused on working to go in to VMI and make an impact.
“I am working to go in and make that program better than it was before I came in. I want to go in and take VMI from being a good team and carry them to the College World Series.”