BY DEAN HOCKNEY
RUSSIAVILLE – It is extremely difficult to be the first in a sport that dates back to 1744, but two weeks ago at Western High School, Panther senior Brayden DeWeese earned a first in the game of baseball. In front of family, friends and coaches, DeWeese became the first player to officially sign to play baseball on the inaugural Indiana University Kokomo squad that will debut in the 2017-2018 school year.
“I am very excited to be going to IUK,” said DeWeese. “I am blessed with this opportunity and I love the coaches and the city of Kokomo. It is a real honor to be the first recruit to sign.”
New IU Kokomo head coach Matt Howard said it was important to get the first signee and he is thrilled it was a local product who will stay in Howard County to play.
“It is nice to get Brayden under our belt and start local,” said Howard. “It was a big thing for us to get a local kid who can compete and play at a high level, and Brayden is one of those guys. We are really excited to have him – not just on the field but off the field as he is a good student as well.”
DeWeese said he was drawn to the intensity of new IU Kokomo head coach Matt Howard, who previously was the manager for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.
“He likes to win and I like to win,” said DeWeese, who is undecided on his course of study. “He has great qualities. And they have a great facility in Kokomo Municipal Stadium.”
DeWeese was the starting first baseman on the Panthers 2016 squad that advanced to the state championship game. During last season’s state finals run, the 6-foot-0 lefty hit .281 with six doubles, 23 runs scored and 16 RBI’s.
“I give a lot of effort and hustle, and that is what I will bring to IUK,” he said. “I am a good hitter and love the game.”
“He has a great feel for the game,” said Howard. “He is a headsey baseball player and his maturation into the college game will be quicker than most because of his awareness of the game; you can’t have enough of those guys.”
Former Western Athletic Director Ryan Berryman is taking over the Panthers baseball program. A graduate of WHS, he led Northwestern 2005 Class 2A state championship game.
“It is a great opportunity for Brayden. He had some interest from other schools, and we have been working through that process,” said Berryman. “He is excited to play at the next level, and IUK is a great chance to play in a great stadium. What Matt and (assistant coach Joe Thatcher) are trying to do will make IUK a powerhouse in the years to come.”
DeWeese will be part of an incoming Cougar squad that will be far from a Hoosier-only program. Interest in the IUK baseball program came from players from multiple states, and Howard already has commitments from players who are from Wisconsin, Indiana and Canada. Berryman is excited to have a local college team for Howard County recruits to consider, and he thinks the program has a huge upside.
“Some of these guys that are talented, small college level players, will have an opportunity to stay,” said Berryman. “IUK is a great education, very affordable, a great stadium, a great coaching staff and it is a great baseball community – it only makes sense for IUK to start a baseball program.”
“These guys are not going to want to lose because they are not used to it. We are moving quickly and working hard,” said Howard, who has a goal of signing 35 players. “All of the credit goes to IUK because of everything we have to sell – the IU degree, the facility, the administration. We have so much to work with which is why I wanted the job.”
Make that 34 as Brayden DeWeese secures his place in history as the first signee to the Cougars baseball program.