Tournaments | Story | 6/9/2019

Jackets' 1-2 punch leads the way

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Nate McCollum (Perfect Game)

ATLANTA – For the Georgia Jackets 17U National team, there’s a 1-2 punch atop the lineup that has the squad buzzing at the 2019 WWBA National Championship Qualifier. 

Center fielder Nate McCollum and shortstop Garrett Staton form the duo that sets the tone and has guided the Georgia Jackets out to a 2-1 start in the tournament. McCollum and Staton each possess a unique skill set that gives the Jackets exactly what they need at the plate and in the field.

McCollum, ranked No. 124 in Perfect Game’s 2020 rankings, grew up loving both baseball and football. His soft hands and out-of-this-world speed allows him to patrol the outfield on the diamond and blow by defenders as a wide receiver in football.

It’s also earned the two-sport athlete a scholarship to NC State where he can continue both of his athletic pursuits.

“It’s a dream to play both sports you love,” McCollum said. “I love coming on the baseball field and playing. I love going on the football field and playing.”

Being recruited for two sports can be a difficult process to maneuver at times, but for McCollum, he always was put at ease by the Wolfpack who gave him a chance at both sports.

“I looked deeply into NC State,” McCollum said. “The first time I went up there it felt like home already, but I just continued to build a relationship. The second time I went up there, I knew it was the place for me. I’m going on a full football scholarship, but I will be also playing baseball. I got to talk to the head coach of baseball [Elliott Avent] and we’re on the same page.”

For Georgia Jackets head coach Joey Hamilton and the rest of the team, McCollum represents the ideal leadoff man for any lineup.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Hamilton said. “That goes without saying. To have that type of speed on top of the lineup leading off the game is a tremendous asset.”

“He’s always starting our rallies, and I’m right behind him trying to score him right away,” Staton said. “Just trying to start the games off hot and get us going from there.”

And boy does McCollum have some quickness to showcase when he puts on the afterburners. He’s been clocked at running a 6.33 second 60-yard dash, which puts him in the 99.71 percentile for his class.

“When he gets on, I don’t even look,” Hamilton said. “The only problem I have when he gets on is if someone is on in front of him. It is a game changer. A walk, or a single, or a bunt hit, he’s on first base and then it’s a triple. You’re not having to manufacture a whole lot with him.” 

McCollum will travel to Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona next week to exhibit his talents at the 2019 Perfect Game National Showcase. It affords the speedster an opportunity to work towards possibly being selected for the Perfect Game All-American Classic and another chance to improve the already mind-numbing 60 time.

“Everybody goes to make the game and put on a show,” McCollum said. “I’m trying to run a low 6.2.”

Offering the perfect complement behind McCollum as the two-hole hitter in the Georgia Jackets lineup is Staton. The rangy shortstop has filled the role so far to the tune of nine hits, six RBIs, and six stolen bases over the Jackets’ seven games played so far this summer.

With McCollum oftentimes on base ahead of him, Staton demonstrates a keen patience and ability to perform whatever is needed. That plate discipline combined with a strong glove at shortstop provides the sting to the Georgia Jackets duo.

“His ability to control the bat in the two-hole, especially when guys get on, is huge,” Hamilton said. “You can hit-and-run with him, he can move runners over, he can drive them in if we get a leadoff double. At shortstop, he’s as steady as they come. He’s got really good infield timing, never having to rush and get rid of the baseball.”

“He’s big time,” McCollum said. “Coming after me, he’s in the second hole. If I don’t get on base, it’s a guarantee that he’s going to get on base.”

While Staton may not own the supernatural athleticism that McCollum does, he still has his fair share of colleges champing at the bit for his services at the next level. Currently, Staton listed Samford, UNC-Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Navy, and Wofford as those who appear to be most interested in his talents.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” Staton said of his recruiting process. “I’m trying to at least get them to come out and watch me play so I can do what I do.”

The 6-foot-1 shortstop prides himself on his work ethic. According to Hamilton, he put on nearly 20 pounds in the winter to provide more explosion to his game. If the early results of the summer are any indication, it would show that the hard work has paid off.

“He wants to get bigger and stronger and he’s accomplished it,” Hamilton said. “He’s just going to bring a steady presence in the lineup and in the field. Whoever gets him at the next level is going to benefit from the work he puts in and the consistency he brings.”

While one of the top priorities for Staton is to be committed to a college by the end of this summer, there’s another goal that has been within his grasps, but never accomplished over the years.

“I really just want to win with my team a lot, too,” Staton said. “Win a tournament. I’ve never won a Perfect Game tournament. That’s on the top of my list.”

The Georgia Jackets 17U National team hopes the WWBA National Championship Qualifier provides exactly that opportunity. With McCollum and Staton continuing to pack a punch at the top of the order and up the middle defensively, the Jackets are primed for a deep run.

“The combination of those two guys at the top of the lineup I feel like is the best that I’ve seen,” Hamilton said. “And I’ve done our older boys for a long time. It’s probably the best I’ve seen for us.”

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