Virginia Wesleyan College baseball recruit Graham commits

DUNKIRK, Md.—Connor Graham, one of Maryland’s top returning scholastic outfielders, announced Thursday that he has accepted a scholarship offer to attend Virginia Wesleyan College where he will play intercollegiate baseball.

     Graham chose Virginia Wesleyan over 26 offers from other schools in states throughout the nation, including Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, California, Florida, and Ohio. He received invitations to visit and interest from over 250 baseball programs, including colleges in Canada. In the end, he visited 24 colleges before making his decision after receiving notification of Virginia’s Wesleyan’s scholarship package.

     “I’ve known for a while I was going to Virginia Wesleyan on the baseball side of things,” Graham said, “and actually committed on July 15 at their prospect camp and went the early application route and was accepted in August. We were just waiting on the numbers to come in before announcing. Fortunately I had options and it was a matter of whether the money side of things worked, and it did.”

     Graham became the most sought-after player in Maryland AAU Baseball last year. Playing 19U travel-select for Maryland RBI, the 5-10, 150-pound centerfielder received AAU Baseball’s Outstanding Youth Leadership Award for character, leadership and sportsmanship in Maryland and was voted by Maryland AAU coaches first-team Maryland AAU all-district.

     He finished the summer with a .426 batting average with 3 triples, 3 doubles and 17 runs batted in. He led in on base percentage (.533), slugging (.574) and on base plus slugging at 1.107. He was a member of the Planet Baseball North American team that played at the European championships in Prague and Germany.

     Playing for Class 3A fourth-ranked Northern as a junior, Graham was named first team all-county, a preseason all-state nominee and first team academic all-conference. It was the second time he was named academic all-conference. He hit .339 with 18 RBIs, 18 runs, and led the Patriots in doubles (5) and stolen bases (10) with a .431 OBP.

     Several recruiting services rate him one of the state's most-followed Class of 2016 outfielders: beRecruited’s No. 1 followed prospect overall in Maryland, FieldLevel’s  No. 1 outfielder. He is among MaxPreps’s top-ranked returners in most statistical categories on the Maryland Class 3A leader board.

     “The recruiting process is very stressful—you never know if somebody really wants you or not or if they’re stringing you along until a better prospect signs,” Graham said. “It’s a business and there’s a lot to consider and work through and the sport is demanding enough without all that so I'm glad the recruiting phase is over. I saw guys let the process stress the fun right out of the game for them.”

     Maryland RBI’s coaches—former college players Chris Cummings and Jerry Gamblin, pro Jim Hoyer, and Ray Albaugh and Connor’s dad Mike Graham—navigated him through the process. “I learned it’s the nature of the beast and nothing is guaranteed. It’s as simple as you get out of the process what you put into it. I am excited to see this dream come to life and know Virginia Wesleyan is where I will be spending the next four years getting my education and playing baseball. It meets all my requirements for college, and the coaching staff is awesome and really convinced me they were interested in me as a player, student and a person and my future.”

     Northern coach Bobby Gibbons praises Graham as the most recent Northern product in a big year for Patriots players reaching the pro and college ranks. The Baltimore Orioles selected Northern 2012 product Ryan Meisinger (Radford University, 2015) in the 11th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Player Draft.

     Northern 2015 graduates Ryan Potts signed to play baseball at Shepherd University in West Virginia; Brandon Snow at Farmingham State University in New York; and Michael Sadler at Virginia’s Lynchburg College. CJ Cummings made the University of Mary Washington club team in Virginia. Fellow 2016 senior Bryce Rogers Black committed to Radford University.

     "It is with great pride that I congratulate Connor on his signing with Virginia Wesleyan,” Gibbons said. “Over the last several years, I have watched Connor develop into an outstanding baseball player and an even better young man. Hard-working and a leader, he can hit the ball well, obviously track it in the field, and he has the speed package – that's what makes him valuable to college coaches; they can see him getting on base and wreaking havoc and running down flies to the fence. That's one of the big things, having the combination of all those skills. His future on and off the baseball field is limitless and all of us involved with Northern Baseball wish him the best of luck."

     College coaches have been constant callers and texters to Graham over the past year. “It (recruiting) really picked up after the College World Series showcase in Omaha last year,” Graham said. “I certainly wasn’t the biggest guy out there—a lot of monsters—but my outfield mechanics and base running caught looks, and coaches talk you know. Word got around that I was a good prospect and things took off from there.”

     Connor’s dad is proud his son threw himself into the process, stuck with it and “showed every coach the utmost respect" at showcases, camps, clinics, evaluations, and college visits.

     "Handling the pressure and interaction with so many colleges doesn’t come naturally to everybody," Mike said. “College recruiting is a time to dream and reach, but it's also one of the toughest and demanding adult-level business experiences kids can go through. Connor’s result is the college choice he is happy with, Mom and Dad are happy with, and the college is happy with—that’s a win all the way around.”

     Graham also had the advantage of encouragement and advice from several MLB scouts and other sources. “My family has been friends forever with Bob Desmond, a former coach in several pro organizations. He was big in AAU Baseball in the Northeast and the international game,” Graham said, “and has always had an interest in me and he’s generously shared good advice through the years.

     “Bob is like my guru and baseball godfather. It was the vision his experiences in the sport showed me when I was young. Where he and my dad saw how far I could go and the things the sport could offer me and how baseball can help me get there as a vehicle. All that gave me a path to follow.”

     Virginia Wesleyan plays in the NCAA's Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference, which consists of Virginia Wesleyan, Shenandoah, Bridgewater, Roanoke, Eastern Mennonite, Lynchburg, Randolph-Macon, Hampden-Sydney, Guilford, Washington & Lee, Emory & Henry.

     “I am beyond humbled and grateful to become a part of Virginia Wesleyan baseball,” said Graham. “To be associated with this program and what it has stood for over such a long period of time is a dream come true. I'm very excited to join the Marlins program, and look forward to the next four years of studies and getting to play college baseball against all the great ODAC competition.

     "It's a big deal to me that a program like Virginia Wesleyan would want me on their baseball team," Graham said. “I am very thankful to Coaches Francis and Seay and the rest of the coaches and administrators for the opportunity to be a part of it. It is a tremendous opportunity and I am very excited to do whatever I can to help the baseball program and college reach its full potential."