Owls recruit local talent

Coach Wheeler pursues recruits knowing different climates breed different players.

The Temple baseball roster is made up of 34 names – 22 players who joined the Owls from the tri-state area and 12 players from outside of the region.

The tri-state area, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, produces the majority of Temple’s student-athletes not only for baseball, but for nearly every Temple sports team. Now in his second year as coach of the Owls, Ryan Wheeler said he hopes to expand his recruiting nationally an attempt to put the best players on the field.

“What we are trying to do here at Temple is find the best players possible and obviously we would like to stay within the tri-state area, but recruiting today is national and it doesn’t matter where you are located,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler is now in his 16th season as a coach at the Division I level. He spent nine years as an assistant at the College of William & Mary, followed by a one-year stint as an assistant at the University of Pennsylvania before joining Richmond as an assistant in 2007. In five seasons at Richmond, Wheeler directed the Spiders’ recruiting efforts while focusing on instruction for both the hitters and infielders.

During his coaching career, Wheeler said he has seen players from every region of the country and has even developed reputations for players from different states.

“I see differences in different parts of the country and differences in players,” Wheeler said. “I certainly like Texas, California, Arizona and Florida – warm-weather states where kids have the ability to play year round. Their skills are just a little more developed and polished. They just seem to know the game a little bit better, but the downside is that they can be burned out. Pitchers for example may have thrown more than a guy in the New England area that doesn’t play year round. It just depends.”

In his first recruiting class with Temple this season, nine freshmen joined Wheeler’s Owls, three of which were from outside of the tri-state area. Freshman pitcher Connor Staskey of Virginia Beach, Va., freshman outfielder Texas Williams of Clifton, Va., and freshman infielder Zach Lain of Cheyenne, Wyo., join nine other student-athletes on Temple’s roster that hail from outside of the tri-state area.

“I liked the coaches, I had a good visit, and I liked all of the players,” Staskey said of why he chose to attend Temple. Staskey said he was also considering Western Carolina, Campbell University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Staskey and Williams also had the advantage of not being too far away during the period when Wheeler was scouting talent.

“I did get a chance to see both Texas and Connor before they joined us [at Temple],” Wheeler said. “Having ties to high school coaches and legion coaches [in Virginia] made it easy for me to continue with those inroads. We certainly continue our recruiting efforts down there just because of spending 14 years down there.”

As the third freshman that joined Temple from outside of the tri-state area, Lain is also the freshman who had to travel the farthest. He stated a number of reasons as to why he chose Temple instead of Illinois State, the University of Northern Colorado and various junior colleges in Arizona.

“It was really the relationships with the coaches,” Lain said. “They did a really good job creating relationships with me. You have got to feel comfortable around the coaches that you’re going to be with for the next four years. They are kind of like a father figure. You want to respect that person and feel comfortable around them.”

Along with developing relationships with the coaching staff, Lain said the rich history of the baseball program at Temple, as well as the move to the Big East Conference next season were two deciding factors that led him to Philadelphia.

“That’s big time,” Lain said. “I wanted to be part of something special. I think [Temple] is going to be special and we are special and it’s a direction that I wanted to go and a lot of the other recruits did too.”

Similar to Lain, Staskey also cited the Big East as a reason he chose to join Wheeler and the Owls. Besides a change in conference beginning in 2014, Staskey said he wanted a chance to make an immediate impact at the collegiate level, an opportunity Wheeler told Staskey was very likely.

“Those guys have come in and have done a tremendous job,” Wheeler said of Staskey, Williams and Lain. “They are certainly going to get a chance to compete for starting time and they are going to get a chance to play, but right now as freshmen, not really having played any games, they need to get into the flow of things and that is where the upperclassmen can do a great job by leading early on and then we will lead those guys into the mix.”

In Temple’s opening game against Wright State on Friday, Feb. 15, Staskey pitched one inning, recording two strikeouts and no hits or runs allowed in the 8-3 loss. Following the loss to Wright State, Lain got his first chance to pinch hit for the Owls but struck out in his only plate appearance in the 8-4 loss to Delaware.

“Players from all over the country are interested in Temple and you have got to get out there to see them,” Wheeler said. “If they are better than guys that are in the area then we are going to take the best players available.”

John Murrow can be reached at john.murrow@temple.edu or on  Twitter @JohnMurrow12.

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