Bryan County High School’s Wesley Wilkes signed a letter of intent this past week to play baseball at Armstrong Atlantic University.
Before the scholarship deal was clinched, Wilkes was intent on attending AASU in order to pursue his career goal of becoming a pediatric doctor. The odds were against him. First of all, it is widely known that many local athletes were looking for a baseball scholarship nod from the university making for thick competition. Also, BCHS has not historically been a known stepping stone for athletic scholarships.
All this being said, Wilkes broke through and is looking forward to playing ball in the Peach Belt Conference. Coincidentally, the Peach Belt will play host to the other two baseball players in the county who received baseball scholarships: RHHS’s Scott Strickland, who will be playing for Augusta State, and Matt Schlag, who is headed to North Georgia. The three played on the same travel teams growing up.
"I feel real good about this," said Wilkes. "They have a very good baseball and academic program. The main thing is that I’m staying close to home. At Armstrong, it’s easier to commute back and forth to be near friends and family."Wilkes, a left-handed pitcher, led the Redskins all the way to state and racked up some impressive stats along the way. He struck out 112 batters and held a 2.84 ERA. Wilkes also proved his worth off the mound with 29 hits, 19 runs, 5 homers, and a .137 batting average.
Wilkes acknowledged that he had a good run at BCHS and said he enjoyed his time there. "There are a lot of friends and memories here. This is a great school," Wilkes said.
BCHS Principal Harold Roach was present at the signing and said he was excited for Wilkes and for the school.
"I think this is a great accomplishment first of all for him and his family, but also for Bryan County High because we don’t have a lot of kids that get an athletic scholarship from here," said Roach. "I look forward to watching him; now I’ve got a reason to go to Armstrong. He’s a good kid from a good family, and we’re just proud for him."
BCHS head baseball coach Al Butler was not only Wilkes’ high school coach, but he also was his coach at BCMS as Butler signed on with BCHS the same year Wilkes advanced. Their history goes even deeper.
"I’ve known him since he was barely walking, toting a bat out at Hendrix Park," said Butler. "I almost feel like a parent losing one of my own.
"It’s always special to watch a kid come into his own," Butler continued. "To know this kid his entire life and watch him get better and better and better each year you coach him has really been special."
Butler said he was there when AASU Pitching Coach Calvin Culberson came out to scout Wilkes. Butler firmly states that the deciding factor with the draft was Wilkes’ pitching velocity. "It’s that 85-mile-an-hour left hand arm, that’s what sealed the deal," said Butler.
Butler is happy with Wilkes’ advancement to Armstrong both for the fact that he can easily commute to watch Wilkes’ games and knowing how determined Wilkes was to sign with AASU despite the odds.
"He probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere if he didn’t get it," said Butler. "He had his mind set on going to Savannah. Isn’t that crazy – how good a ball player he is where he can say he’s willing to give it up over staying here. There’s a higher power at work here."
Wilkes’ parents, Angie and Wayne Wilkes, couldn’t be happier to have their son play close to home. They said they’ll be traveling to the away games as well.
Angie said Wesley has had a knack for athletics since he was old enough to play. She said he started baseball, football and basketball at age 4 and continued all for many years, but played strictly baseball and cross country on the high school level. Wilkes also played travel baseball with teams like the Richmond Hill Scorchers and the Savannah Lynx.
"I saw that talent and that will to win at an early age," said Angie.
The competition to be inked by AASU is relevant not only for the area, but because the baseball program is so strong. Armstrong Atlantic captured the Peach Belt Conference Tournament title and advanced to its second straight NCAA Regionals appearance in 2007.