When Jacob Southern was given one more chance, he wanted to start somewhere new.
Southern, a former Jacksonville University senior catcher, is from Orlando, Florida. And on Sunday, he announced his decision to transfer to IU, using his final year of eligibility granted by the NCAA as a result of of the spring season being canceled for COVID-19.
“Oh my gosh, Indiana University, that’s Big Ten, that’s Power 5, that’s a top-25 school,” Southern said. “I was honestly stunned when I heard they were interested in me.”
He found out the NCAA canceled all sports during practice. His team was in the second inning of an intrasquad scrimmage, and MLB scouts were watching. So they finished practice — their final practice.
They ended around 4:30 p.m. and went to the locker room. Southern sat there for three hours. He cried, he laughed with his teammates one last time and then cried again.
He thought his career was over.
Southern’s offense numbers steadily improved with each full season at Jacksonville. He played 19 games as a freshman before becoming a full-time starter. His RBIs doubled from his sophomore to junior year, and his batting average increased as well.
Southern’s senior season started off slowly — just as his junior year had — but unlike the year before, he never had a chance to turn it around.
He hadn’t done enough to warrant much serious MLB consideration. His senior year was supposed to be his last chance to do so. He thought he’d lost his last opportunity.
That was until he saw the NCAA was discussing giving players one more year of eligibility as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Southern turned on tweet notifications for the NCAA so he could know the final decision the instant the news came out. He had a gut feeling the NCAA would approve the proposal because all reports in advance of the ultimate vote indicated it would.
But he felt no relief until he saw the official announcement that the NCAA had officially approved an extra year.
“I get another senior season — I get another chance,” Southern said he thought when the announcement was made.
Now stuck at home, Southern has his first break from baseball in 10 years. He hasn’t thrown a baseball since coming home. He’s taken runs around his neighborhood, installed a new chin-up bar recently and is looking to purchase a set of dumbbells to keep in shape.
That gave him time to reflect on his time in Jacksonville and decide he didn't want to go back.
Before the NCAA’s vote, Southern decided he wanted something new. He never traveled much in his life. Baseball had always gotten in the way.
Southern felt that after four years in Jacksonville, he was ready for a change. He wanted to travel somewhere new, see new parts of the country.
Originally, he thought he would play at a Division II level. Former coaches had convinced him to play for them. But when Southern put his name in the transfer portal, major Division I schools began to call. He was never expecting that.
IU pitching coach Justin Parker reached out to Southern. Parker used to coach at the University of Central Florida and had seen Southern play over his freshman and sophomore years. Parker wanted to bring him to Bloomington in the fall.
Suddenly, Southern had one last chance to not just play baseball, but potentially work himself into MLB Draft consideration with a higher caliber program than what he had at Jacksonville.
And on Sunday he chose IU, a school he had never visited before because of stay-at-home orders. IU head coach Jeff Mercer sent him a virtual tour of the school and images of the weight room and academic facilities.
Even without visiting, the virtual tour and photos were enough. Southern made a quick connection with Mercer and Parker and felt comfortable with the IU program, a program that gives him a new chance to live out his post-collegiate baseball dreams.
“It definitely brings my hopes up a little bit more about baseball after college," Southern said. “I know that the coaching staff at IU is going to elevate my game to something I couldn’t do on my own.”