Randy York’s N-Sider
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Take one look at Nick Sullivan and Jake Mort in their graduation caps and gowns, and you see the portrait of two winners.
Two overachieving seniors, Sullivan and Mort looked confident, and they looked happy last Saturday on one of the biggest days of their lives, even though another loss in a painful baseball season would take a certain emotional toll on both a few hours later.
Another loss on Sunday didn’t prevent Sullivan, Nebraska’s recently named Male Student-Athlete of the Year, from continuing to wield a hot bat (a .450 average with four homers and seven RBIs over his last seven games).
Despite the struggles, Nebraska Baseball Coach Mike Anderson said Sullivan and Mort continue to answer the bell for every round of the fight.
“They’re doing everything possible to demonstrate to their teammates the kind of fight it takes to win,” Anderson said. “Nick and Jake aren’t the most talented players we have, but they’ve always been among the hardest workers and shown the kind of character, intensity and attitude that’s required to compete in this very demanding game.”
Always Fighting to Achieve Their Lifelong Dreams
Both call playing college baseball the realization of lifelong dreams. That’s why Sullivan, from Arvada, Colo, and Mort, a Nebraska City native, will scratch and will claw. They will slide hard enough to create a small dirt storm, dive fast enough to field a hard-hit grounder or stretch quick enough to snag a missile-like fly ball. They are fighters, and they are focused. They will scrap through any struggle, fiercely and figuratively.
“They’re two guys who fight back with everything they have in them,” Anderson said. “When they get knocked down, they’re always ready to get right back up, dust themselves off and compete.”
So please don’t feel sorry for Sullivan or Mort this weekend when the curtain goes down on a difficult season with Friday, Saturday and Sunday games against Baylor at Hawks Field. They will prepare for the final three games of their collegiate careers with the same laser-like focus they’ve always demonstrated, game in-game out, season in-season out.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when Sullivan was a redshirted freshman and drilled a three-run homer against Texas that enabled Nebraska to reach the Big 12 championship game in Oklahoma City.
Ah, those were the days, and neither of these team leaders expected it all to end like this, especially when the Huskers were a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and 2008, and the 2007 team ended up reaching the regional final.
To prove how much of an anomaly the 2009 season really is, this will be just the second time since 1998 that Nebraska has failed to reach an NCAA regional. Anderson, who coached two Big 12 championship teams and one College World Series qualifier in his first six seasons, is eager for his team to bounce back, and he’s encouraged with the leadership that’s in place to make that happen.
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne strongly supports Anderson through a tough season. “He’s done a great job overall in the seven seasons he’s been here,” Osborne said, “especially when you consider that baseball probably has more volatility than just about any other sport out there.”
Osborne also praises the quality of student-athlete Anderson recruits.
Sullivan and Mort, for example, are among 10 Nebraska baseball players who are 2009 First-Team Academic All-Big 12 selections. Two more Husker seniors – Florida native Cody Neer and California native Jeff Tezak – earned the same honor. Erik Bird, Nebraska’s fifth senior, was on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll last fall.
Patience, Perseverance Virtues for Sullivan
As difficult as this season has been, Sullivan will not depart from the traits that earned him Nebraska’s highest student-athlete honor.
“Despite all the adversity I’ve faced, through it all I learned that patience is truly a virtue,” he said. “I’ve also learned that if you believe in yourself and the work you’re putting in, it will pay off in the end.”
In five years at Nebraska, Sullivan has seen players come and go, but he’s stuck around and, in essence, put up a fight to earn his way into the starting lineup and keep the job. He has been a responsible student, athlete and citizen and has used his experience on and off the field to balance his life.
“Before coming here, I often let what happened in the game affect the rest of my life,” he said. “If I had a good game, I was happy and in a good mood. If I had a bad game, I was upset and bitter. I let those emotions affect me and other activities I was involved in. Even worse, I let them affect relationships.”
Not anymore. “I have the ability to separate different areas of my life now,” Sullivan said. “I’ve learned how to put my focus and my best attitude in the right direction. I go where I’m supposed to go, do what I’m supposed to do and give my highest priorities the attention they deserve.”
It sounds like Nebraska’s 2009 Male Student-Athlete of the Year (and baseball representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) knows exactly what he’s going to do next, but that’s not true.
“I might give professional baseball a try if the opportunity’s there,” he said.
Or graduate school.
Or law school.
“If I don’t get the post-graduate scholarship I need, I might even join the work force,” he said.
One thing is certain. He will not take any long summer vacation.
Oh, the Places Nick Sullivan Will Go
Dr. Seuss had characters like Nick Sullivan in mind when he wrote this about preparing to fulfill your wildest dreams:
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
Who soar to high heights!
Marc J. Schniederjans, a C. Wheaton Battey Distinguished Professor who is familiar with Sullivan’s academic performance, sees Nebraska’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year as a high flyer. Sullivan earned that respect after taking a 300-level introduction to Management Information System course under Schneiderjans’ direction.
“Nick is a sharp guy who knows what he wants, and that is to be successful,” Schniederjans said.
Getting A’s on difficult exams does not distinguish a student in this professor’s class.
“It takes more, and Nick did more,” Schniederjans said. “His term paper was very well written and of high quality. His web project showed genuine creative ability and uniqueness. Based on his performance, I would place him in the upper five percent of all the students in that course.”
The distinguished professor saw the hard-working baseball player as creative, mature and intelligent. “He’s definitely leadership material,” Schniederjans said, adding that Sullivan’s professional manner is consistent with what he expects from a graduate student.
So now you know that while a weekend series with Baylor tops Nick Sullivan’s priority chart, it will not be a game-breaker for what he wants to get done in his life.
“Nick symbolizes the ‘can do’ attitude of a Nebraskan,” Schniederjans said. “I am sure that he will be successful in whatever he chooses to do.”