By RICHARD ROBERTS
Banner Sports Editor
BENTON — The journey has been a long one for Polk County’s Jared Allen, but for the successful quarterback and outfielder, it is really just beginning. Allen, who has made a name for himself as field general for the Wildcats, decided to take a different tack when it came to college, and signed a scholarship to play baseball for the University of Tennessee.
The decision was an easy one for Allen. Even though he was courted by a couple of other schools, he always has known where he wanted to continue his education and his athletic careers.
Allen thinks the Volunteers will use him mainly in the outfield and possibly third base. Also unknown, he said he is still undecided on what will be his academic major.
“Living an hour and 30 minutes outside of Knoxville everybody wants to grow up and play for Tennessee — at least I did. In know most people do,” said the double sport star. “This is a dream come true. It’s hard to get much better than this. I considered Belmont and Middle Tennessee. But living here, I always wanted to go to UT. It was hard to turn down an offer like that.”
Polk head baseball coach Bill Triplett said he is simply glad for Jared and for Polk County High School.
“He has always wanted to go to UT. It is a good day for the school. We don’t have a lot of Division I signees,” said Triplett. “We have only had five or six athletes play Division I anything. You have to work at it. We are just happy for Jared.”
Allen feels his hitting skill is what pointed the Tennessee spotlight in his direction. He understands the transition will not be an easy one but he is ready to put in the work it takes to have his name listed on the starting lineup.
“I guess they like that I can hit it a long way every now and then. But I like to play. I think they like my drive and my love for the game,” said the modest future Volunteer.
“I hope to work my way into the starting line up. That is my goal. It’s a pretty big transition especially going into the SEC. The kids are a lot bigger and the pitchers are a lot better. They can really control the ball,” he acknowledged. “But, you also have umpires that are better too, so the strike zone shrinks a little bit. It kind of gives you a better hitting zone.”
Allen does not intend to make Tennessee a final destination; rather he plans to make UT a stop on the way to even bigger and better things after his tenure as a Volunteer. Ultimately, the athletic standout wants to see his name in the starting lineup of a professional baseball team.
“It is going to be a whole different chapter of my life. You have to grow up as a human being and you have to grow as a baseball player. In all aspects of life you have to grow. I hope it all turns out well. I think it should,” he said.
“My goal is to go to Tennessee and play three years. After that hopefully I can get drafted and go on from there. But who knows? Four years would be fine, but my goal is three years to get there, get drafted and signed.”
Triplett said he feels Allen has what it takes to be a success on the baseball field. The head baseball coach said his star has the attributes to make a name for himself in Knoxville and the SEC.
“I hope we have coached him up and taught him the game. I also hope we have taught him the mental side of it and how to prepare. He has got the physical ability to play at the next level,” Triplett related. “We have talked about the mental part of it a little bit. He is going to go up there and probably struggle a little bit. There are growing pains. Everybody goes through homesickness. Everybody goes through it but I think Jared is going to be fine.”
“The thing we try to do is give everybody an opportunity to go to the next level. That is what every coach in high school wants to do. Jared has always had an interest in UT. It is just another really good day for Polk County athletics.”
Zajac wanted D-I
By LARRY C. BOWERS
Banner Sports Writer
The University of Tennessee baseball program is hoping to bolster its Southeastern Conference pitching staff with talent from Bradley County’s Walker Valley High School.
The Volunteers have signed Walker Valley senior Brandon Zajac to a baseball grant.
Zajac, a tall, hard-throwing lefthander, committed to Tennessee in midsummer while he was playing with the Tennessee Twisters ... a traveling team out of Chattanooga that played throughout the Southeast.
Jared Allen, a teammate of Zajac’s on the Twisters team and a standout at Polk County High School, also signed with Tennessee this week. Zajac has played with the Twisters since he was 13.
Zajac said he is pleased with his decision to join the Volunteers. He said he is glad to get it over with so he can focus on his senior year in high school and on the Mustangs baseball season this spring.
“It great for Brandon, and its great for the Walker Valley baseball program (in bringing recognition to our program),” said coach Joe Shamblin. “It’s great to have him sign with such a prominent Division I collegiate program,” Shamblin added. “We’re proud of him and happy for his family.”
Brandon’s parents, Carrie and Jeff Zajac, are also pleased with their son’s decision. “He’s always wanted to play for a Division I school, and he’s worked hard to get to where he is,” said his dad. “Playing for Tennessee, he’ll be close enough where we can see most of his games. It’s a dream for him to sign with UT.”
Jeff Zajac is a plant manager for the American Bicycle Group in Ooltewah, while Brandon’s mother works in accounting for BlueCross BlueShield in Chattanooga.
The Mustang lefthander has improved his skills through the summer, according to coach Shamblin. He’s been working with Walker Valley pitching coach Dustin McPherson and Jason Davis, a 1998 graduate of Charleston High School with major league experience who is in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system.
“Brandon’s potential is as high as he wants to take it,” said Davis at the signing ceremony. “He’s a hard worker with good work ethics and has a good arm. He’ll have time during his senior season in high school, and through college, to work on his game.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Zajac credited all of his coaches, included Davis, for his progress and improvement. He said he would like to be a professional baseball player one day, but realistically added that he still has at least five years of schooling ahead.
Shamblin, the Walker Valley coach, said he is anticipating great things from his lefthander this season.
“He’s got a live fastball, which hits 93 mph with a lot of movement,” Shamblin said of his star pitcher. “He also has a good curve and a quality change-up.”
Perhaps Shamblin’s biggest compliment was “Brandon is one of those guys who wants the ball (in a game situation).”
Zajac joined the Walker Valley baseball program in the middle of his sophomore year. He attended Chattanooga McCallie for the first year and a half of high school.