South Carolina right-handed pitcher Aaron Rawl recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Rawl is one of the top starters in the SEC and is a returning senior for Ray Tanner's Gamecocks. After earning Third Team All-SEC honors following the 2004 season, the Lexington native was recently named to the National College Baseball Writers Association's Preseason First Team All-America.
USC opened the 2005 season with a three-game sweep of Longwood last weekend. Rawl pitched Friday night's game and picked up the win. He threw seven innings, giving up just four hits and one earned run while striking out five.
AARON RAWL, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
SCS.com: You played under Coach Tom Williams, a former Gamecock infielder, at Lexington High School in South Carolina. What other colleges did you consider, and why did you ultimately choose USC? Did Coach Williams have any affect on your decision?
Rawl: "The reason I went to Carolina was because no other school ever offered me. Plus, my whole family went to USC, so it was an easy decision once they offered and no other offers were on the table."
SCS.com: You have plenty of athletic background in your family. Your grandfather, Otis Rawl, was a star pitcher for USC in the 1950s and went on to play in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. You have an older sister, Anna, who is a volleyball player at the College of Charleston. How has your family been an influence in your life, both on and off the field?
Rawl: "They've really helped out a lot. I learned pretty much everything I know from my dad. He was a great influence. Plus having a sister who was athletic, it always called for competition around the house."
SCS.com: You had a fabulous true freshman season, making a huge impact from your very first day on campus. You compiled a 7-2 record and 3.89 ERA and struck out 69 batters in 2002. What was the key to your early success as just a freshman in a conference as tough as the SEC?
Rawl: "My high school coaches prepared me well, and then once I got to USC, the coaches there preceded to fine tune me. I had always played in the big games when I was younger, plus I have that late birthday which always made me the youngest person on the field...so it was nothing new having a challenge in front of me."
SCS.com: You battled an injury in 2003 that forced you to miss over a month of the season. How difficult was it to have to sit on the bench and watch your team play without you, and has that made you appreciate the game more?
Rawl: "It made me respect the game more. I couldn't really complain because it was my fault. I punched a wall...it was really stupid. But hey, you live and learn."
SCS.com: You had another great season in 2004, winning a SEC-high 13 games while losing just four in 19 starts. You threw 122 innings, striking out 98 and allowing opponents to hit just .280 against you. You earned an SEC Pitcher of the Week honor in May, and following the season, SEBaseball.com named you Third Team All-SEC. How honored are you to be compared to the best of the SEC, and what is the key to your continued success year after year in Columbia?
Rawl: "It's definitely an honor to have all of these awards. I guess I really have all the important people fooled. (Laugh) But, anyway, yes, it keeps me on my game. If I want to keep getting these awards, I have to keep producing because there are all kinds of great players out there."
SCS.com: When you get to throw to a catcher as good as Landon Powell, that has to help things dramatically. He was undoubtedly one of the best catchers in college baseball last year, if not the best. He threw out 13 runners attempting to steal and carried a .998 fielding percentage. This is all said without mentioning that he is also a force at the plate, slamming 19 homeruns in 2004. How comforting is it to know you've got a reliable guy behind the plate, and will it be difficult to adjust to a new everyday catcher this season?
Rawl: "It was a great honor getting to throw to Landon for three years. He does more for us pitchers than anyone can imagine. He gets a lot of balls called strikes for you. And it helps to know that if someone steals and you're halfway quick to the plate that it's just an easy out. Adjusting will be difficult, but I believe I'll manage."
SCS.com: Coming into the 2005 campaign, you have been recognized by various outlets on a national scale. You were one of only 58 players nation-wide named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List. That honor will be handed out at season's end to the nation's top player. The National College Baseball Writers Association has tabbed you as a First Team Preseason All-American. What does the national recognition mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Rawl: "It is an honor to have those, but they're all preseason so I'll have to live up to them. But it's good for the school and for recruiting, so I guess it's a pretty good deal....even though I have a bullseye on my back now."
SCS.com: The expectations are again high in Columbia this season. The Gamecocks have been ranked in the top ten nationally in both the Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball preseason polls. SEBaseball.com has projected USC as the SEC champion. How difficult is it for you as a player to deal with the high expectations, and what goals has the team set for the 2005 season?
Rawl: "It's really not that hard. We've faced this for the last three seasons now, so it shouldn't be that bad. We just have to produce, and as always, it's going to be a grind."
SCS.com: You and the Gamecocks have hosted two Regionals and three Super Regionals while you have been on campus. Talk about playing postseason ball in front of the home fans, and compare the intensity of postseason play to that of the regular season.
Rawl: "Postseason is great, and the fans here in Columbia are great. It gets a little wild and I love them. It's about the same during the regular season for the most part. I couldn't ask anymore from our fans and the ballpark scene."
SCS.com: You have been on campus for three years and have made three trips to the College World Series. You finished second in 2002 and tied for third last season. How disappointing is it to come so close yet not win it? Also, talk a little about the overall experience that is the College World Series in Omaha.
Rawl: "It's very disappointing, but I'll live. You get so close but just can't seem to pull it out. But hopefully USC's day at Rosenblatt is coming. It's a great place, and it would be a great feeling to win the last game on that field."
SCS.com: The success the team has had during your career at USC is unbelievable. Dating back just prior to your arrival, over the last five years, South Carolina has more wins (260) than any other D-I baseball team. You've made three straight trips to the College World Series, won a SEC championship in 2002, and claimed the SEC Tournament title in 2004. Could you have ever imagined this much success at USC, and which couple of moments during your career stand out above the rest?
Rawl: "I knew we could do it, but I never expected it. It's all a mix of good players, coaches, and fans. Chemestry, I guess, and just playing solid ball."
SCS.com: Playing in the SEC allows you to visit some of the nation's top ballparks. In just the last two seasons, USC made trips to places like Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. Of the trips you have made while on campus, which two or three stand out the most to you, and which trip on this year's schedule do you have circled on your calendar?
Rawl: "Mississippi State is by far one of my favorite atmospheres. It was amazing to go there as a freshman, but I have LSU circled on my schedule (for this year). I've never been because my hand was broken the last time we went."
SCS.com: Playing on the road can be interesting, but there's nothing like taking the field in front of the hometown fans. USC's Sarge Frye Field is one of the SEC's nicest, and the facility can hold about 5,000 fans. What is the biggest advantage to playing at home, and as a player, do you actually hear or pay attention to the crowd while you are on the field?
Rawl: "It's an amazing place to play. The fans are right on top of you, and it gets very loud. Most of the time I don't pay attention to it, but you know when something big starts to happen....the place will rumble."
SCS.com: Two of your teammates from a season ago, catcher Landon Powell and pitcher Matt Campbell, were taken in the first round of last spring's MLB Draft. Have you had a chance to talk with either of those guys (or any other player current playing professionally), and if so, what advice have they given you regarding your current college career and possible future in pro baseball?
Rawl: "I try not to talk about the Draft, but I still keep in touch with Landon and the guys."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Ray Tanner, has been on campus for nine seasons and has taken the baseball program to new heights. In the past five years, no coach has won more overall or SEC games than Tanner. He has produced 20 All-Americans and 25 All-SEC players during his tenure. What makes Coach Tanner such a success, and how is he able to continually get top baseball talent to attend USC?
Rawl: "He's a great man and one of the toughest I've ever met. He knows the game, and he never strays from the way he wants to play it. That's all I can say....an amazing man!"
SCS.com: Your education is obviously very important to you. In 2003, you earned a Life Scholarship and maintained a 3.0 GPA for both semesters. Why do you feel it is necessary to make academics such a high priority, and how difficult is it to juggle the responsibilities of being both a student and an athlete?
Rawl: "It's very important because I know that I won't be playing baseball my whole life. It's a tough job, but there are tons of tools open for us to use and help us with everthing at USC."
SCS.com: What is your favorite memory from your baseball career, whether it be little league, high school, or college?
Rawl: "I guess just getting to go to the College World Series three times in a row."
SCS.com: Many athletes have role models that guide their athletic and personal lives. Who is one person you look up to on the field and one person you admire off the field?
Rawl: "I look up to my dad on and off the field."
SCS.com: What are a few things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Rawl: "Hunting, fishing, PS2, and volleyball."
SCS.com: If a young baseball player was reading this and aspired to become successful in the sport, what advice would you give them?
Rawl: "Work hard, because nothing comes easy."
SCS.com would again like to thank South Carolina's Aaron Rawl for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Gamecocks the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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