Junior College Route Opening Division I Doors for Northern Virginia Players

July 2 - Danny Hosley collected a number of postseason honors as a senior at Langley, but figured his baseball career might be over when he wasn’t offered an opportunity to walk on at the University of Northern Colorado.

After a semester out west, Hosley realized he missed the game and wanted to pursue college baseball. He started reaching out to those who might be able to help, including Kevin Healy, his coach at Langley who now serves in the same capacity at Washington-Lee. 

An opportunity presented itself at Patrick Henry Community College, and the former 6A North Region Player of the Year, NOVA Nine Team member and first-team Class 6 all-state selection transferred to the Martinsville school over the winter of 2017-18. 

“I just missed the competition,” Hosley said. “I missed that group you’re friends with and around 24 hours a day, working and grinding. Getting to Patrick Henry, Coach Healy played a very big part in that. He told me about the school and how they’d have an opportunity for me.”

Given a chance to play both ways, the versatile Hosley caught, pitched and played the infield for the Patriots. He did everything well enough over his two seasons - hitting a combined .338 in 157 at-bats and going 7-1 with a 2.83 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 105 innings - to receive interest from a few Division I schools. 

In May, he accepted a scholarship offer from Norfolk State, where he’ll be joined by two Patrick Henry teammates also hailing from area schools in Dylan Flint (Osbourn) and Jack Howell (Patriot). 

They are among the latest players from Northern Virginia who have attended junior colleges before moving on to Division I programs. Two years ago, Jett Manning (Battlefield) transferred to Alabama after two seasons at Maryland’s Frederick Community College, then was drafted last June by the San Francisco Giants. This past spring, Brett Norwood (Chantilly) had an All-Atlantic 10 Conference season at Virginia Commonwealth after two seasons at South Florida State College. 

Madison assistant coach T.J. Ehrsam also benefited from time spent at a two-year school after his prep career with the Warhawks didn’t net the Division I offers he was hoping for. After hitting .420 in his second season at Louisburg, one of the country’s top junior colleges located just outside of Raleigh, N.C., Ehrsam went on to lead the Colonial Athletic Association in stolen bases as a senior at Hofstra in 2014. 

“I was chasing a dream,” Ehrsam said. “Playing [at Louisburg] really helped me with my development. There were a couple Division I schools that were interested in me, but I probably would have sat a couple years before getting an opportunity. I got to play those two years where I would have been sitting if I had gone to a four-year school. And I also was fortunate to go to one of the better jucos in the country, which really helped to prepare me.” 

Hosley, along with Brett Stallings (West Springfield) and Tyler Solomon (Battlefield), headline a crop of area players who hope the time at two-year schools has prepared them for their next step in the game. Stallings, a middle infielder who helped West Springfield to the Class 6 state championship a year ago, is transferring to Virginia Tech after hitting .327 in 47 games in his lone campaign at Frederick. Solomon, who helped the Bobcats reach the state final in 2016, spent one season apiece at Vanderbilt and then at Florida SouthWestern State College before recently committing to transfer to William & Mary. 

“It’s prepared me well for college baseball. It introduced me to the grind, the amount of games you play, weekend series, and those are all a big change from high school,” said Hosley, who caught Saturday games and started Sunday games on the mound this spring. “I’ve been able to get bigger and stronger and play against good competition. I think sometimes people sleep on junior colleges, but it gives you a chance to see what’s out there and play against guys who are also going to be at D1 schools.”

The junior college route isn’t a new concept - Paul VI Catholic coach Billy Emerson and Battlefield coach Jay Burkhart attended two-year schools before transferring into George Mason, and Centreville coach Scott Rowland took the same path before landing at George Washington - but it’s become more popular among area players in recent years. 

One reason for that has been Virginia allowing its community colleges to begin fielding NJCAA teams earlier this decade, which has established recruiting ties between high school or travel team coaches and in-state junior college programs such as Patrick Henry, Bryant & Stratton and Paul D. Camp. Longer standing pipelines continue to send players into Maryland at programs such as Frederick, Montgomery, Rockville, Chesapeake and Harford.

While that path to college baseball isn’t for everyone, it keeps the door open for those willing to bide their time and extend the recruiting process. 

“It really depends on what your priorities are,” said Rowland, who played at Northwest Mississippi Junior College before transferring to play for the Colonials. “Some kids just want to play baseball anywhere regardless of the school or academics. And some kids aren’t like that, they want to go and play baseball at a school they want to go to regardless if they were playing.”

Rowland added that players in bustling areas like the Washington, D.C. metro region have to be ready to adapt to a change of pace at two-year schools. “Most junior colleges are in small towns where there’s not a lot going on,” he said. “I learned to live on my own. It’s a different lifestyle for a Northern Virginia kid to all of a sudden be going to a small town in Mississippi. You just can’t go home because it’s not what you’re used to. I knew I was out of options. 

“I knew I wasn’t getting another opportunity if I didn’t stick with it.”

The route often isn’t not how a player or his parents had envisioned for their college baseball and academic careers. But it allows them the ability to buy some time if their recruitment was affected in high school by common factors such as injuries, academics or physical maturity. 

For some who didn’t get the recruiting attention they had hoped for, simply getting on a college field and producing can erase lingering doubts coaches may have.

“I think at a junior college, you get recruited based on your production vs. your size or your 60 time or how hard you throw,” Rowland said. “I felt it was easier for me that nobody cared about the size issue anymore. I got my academics in order and put up numbers, and I had several opportunities that I never would have gotten out of high school.”

Ehrsam says additional benefits of playing at a two-year school that are often overlooked are academics and financial aid. Many states offer automatic entry into four-year schools should they earn an associate’s degree at a community college, and study habits gained over two years of maturing in college can help a player earn academic grants and scholarships that they wouldn’t have qualified for out of high school. 

“All of my credits transferred into Hofstra, and I got the maximum amount of academic money I could get,” said Ehrsam, who also received athletic scholarship money at the Hempstead, N.Y. school. “So you’re cutting the cost of education and many people don’t see that aspect of it. The problem when talking about jucos isn’t so much the kid as it is his parents because they’re so worried about academics and what potential employers will think of them going to a junior college. What they don’t always understand is that if academics is their concern, they need to consider the automatic entry they’ll qualify for. 

“At the end of the day, it’s not so much where you started college as where you got your degree from.”

Photo of Danny Hosley courtesy of Patrick Henry Athletics