In his first season at Sam Houston State, expectations are high for first-year head baseball coach Matt Deggs. Deggs makes his way to Huntsville after two successful years at Louisiana-Lafayette. During his time there, he had one of the best records in the nation of 101-30. Prior to that, he was the associate head coach at Texas A&M for five years.
The Bearkats come into the season as the favorite to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Southland Conference Title. Just a week before the first pitch at Don Sanders Stadium, The Houstonian sat down with Deggs for a preview of this upcoming season.
The Houstonian: Can you talk a little about why you came to Sam?
Deggs: Sam is home for me. My wife and I both grew up in Texas City, so Texas is our home. The Houston area is our home, and we love Huntsville. It’s a great town and a great place to raise a family. This place has unbelievable support from top to bottom. It has a great fan base, and a lot of successful people have come out of here. We have unbelievable facilities, some of the top facilities in the country for a mid-major. It’s also a great location. I can get in my truck and drive an hour, and we can recruit Houston and East Texas. The DFW is also only two and half hours away, and we can also be in Central Texas in a hurry. So there were a lot of things that drew me here. But I really believe that this is a place that collectively as a university, as a program, as a team and as a family, we can all hold hands one day and walk through the gates of Omaha.
H: Can you talk about how the fall semester went?
D: Oh, it really was great, and there was a bunch of buy in from the players. You know, it is one thing to take over a program that’s been down because guys are always hungry for a change. But this is a program that in the past eight years has been in a number of regionals. The job that Coach Johnson and then Coach Pierce did in those previous eight years was phenomenal, so the bar is sky high, and these kids understand the standard. They understand what it takes to win a championship. So coming in, yeah it was exciting, but also too, you need those older guys to jump in feet first and buy in to the way that you do things. I tell you what, they met us with open arms, and from day one, they have been a lot of fun. They have made coming to work really easy for me because of their focus and how much they love to play the game.
H: With a little less than two weeks till opening day, can you talk about your excitement for the first pitch at Don Sanders Stadium?
D: Well opening day is very special. That’s something that you experience from the time your eight-years-old till the time you retire. There’s nothing like opening day. Everybody is sky high and excited. However, my job is to temper that excitement a little bit, and constantly remind these guys at practice that we’re not playing for opening day. We’re playing for April, May and June. That’s what we are preparing for every day. We have to take it one day at a time. We’ll keep our head down, stay on the grind and we’ll keep climbing one step at a time. We have to stay consistent with who we are. There are a lot of teams that start this same journey. Every team in the country is going to start the exact same way with the ultimate goal in mind, and a lot of those teams are going to get half way up the mountain and look around and realize it’s too steep. What we must do is stay methodical, stay steadfast in who we are, stay together and just keep climbing one day at a time.
H: What would it mean to finally get this team to Omaha?
D: It would mean everything. I say all the time that our vision is Omaha. The thing with baseball is anybody can take down anybody at any given time which makes it a little different then a sport like football. From coast to coast, anyone can be beaten. It doesn’t matter your division, your level or anything else. To be able to pull off helping get this team, this program, and this university to the height of Omaha is the ultimate goal, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
H: After losing four seniors to graduation and five juniors to the draft, what can you say about the leadership for this year’s team?
D: Well our number one recruit when I got here was Colt Atwood. Colt had been drafted by the Oakland Athletics. From the time I said I was coming, until the end of the summer when we got Colt to commit to coming back that was my main focus. Colt’s the leader of this team, but it’s not just Colt though. This is an older group that has really good leadership from the top down. There are older guys that understand who they are, they understand their job, they understand what’s expected of them, and more than anything, they understand the standards at expectations. I’ve leaned on those guys quite a bit, and they’ve helped me out a ton.
H: I understand there is mix of a lot of older players and new younger players. Can you talk about how they have meshed, especially in the fall?
D: Most importantly, the thing about a younger guy is his job to get to where the bars at. It’s his job to get to the standard. We’re not going to meet them halfway. They have got to come in and work, and that is where tradition sets in. When you have tradition like the football and baseball programs have here, the recruits understand before they even get on campus where the bars at. So our younger guys realize that, and they also understand they need to get to the bar on a daily basis and this is what it takes to play championship baseball, and the older guys have done a great job of showing them that.
H: Recently, the Bearkats were selected as the preseason favorite to win the conference. What does it mean to be the favorite going into the season?
D: Preseason polls are pretty much worth the paper they are written on. This program, if we are picked first or not, has a target on its back, and we understand that. That was set by the guys that came here before the team that is here now. So personally, I don’t put a lot of stock in preseason polls.
The Bearkats begin play Feb. 13 at home against Wichita State. First pitch set for 6:30 p.m.