Welcome to Interview #65.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NJCAA Baseball Coach of Miles Community College, Jeff Brabant.
Coach Brabant is in his 25th year coaching baseball, fourteen years at Miles, six as Head Coach. In his first three seasons as the Miles head coach, Brabant earned Mon-Dak and Region IX Coach of the Year honors. In 2014 he was named the Mon-Dak Conference Coach of the Year.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen? If a baseball player personally contacts you by phone or email, what will you do next?
Contact, contact, contact! Being from a JUCO, we normally don’t have great recruiting budgets to either fly to locations or to fly in recruits. Our best form of getting guys on a radar is by either developing relationships with high school coaches, subscribing to recruiting services or athletes actually doing their own homework on contacting us as individuals.
Once contact is made, assuming we don’t know anything about the players, we start doing character checks with their coaches or other coaches who compete in their same league. We then move on to look at academic standards and then if those all check out we determine, hopefully through video, if the athlete has the necessary skills we need to compete at our level. If those check out, we set up a visit.
How do you find players for your team? What type of student and athlete do you focus on?
We travel regionally to see athletes. We attend tournaments, camps etc. Again as stated in the first answer, a lot of our recruitment has to rely on athlete contact and recruiting services. Believe me, I’d love to be able to fly to Australia to recruit.
I want our student athlete to have great work ethic and character, come from a program that qualifies that and competes against other great competition and finally, does their job in the classroom.
Why do you think athletes should consider a NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association)? What are the benefits of an NJCAA school specifically?
I believe the biggest draw is giving students who are not NCAA qualifiers out of high school the ability to play, earn an education and possibly get on track to move on to a four year school. Smaller class sizes and a more one on one approach to help those students.
I also think that with many athletes coming out of high school, they have the ability to compete right away for a spot on the field. Going to a four year school becomes very difficult for an 18 year old to compete with a 22 year old. That being said, I know that JUCO is still great baseball and to me we provide great experiences and opportunities…it is a stepping stone to the next stop.
Could you share, in whatever detail you are comfortable, what the athletic scholarship break down looks like on your roster?
We are able to scholarship 24 athletes and since we are the DI level, we can fully fund those 24. In our situation specifically, we are not fully funded. Most programs are not, therefore we need to take our allocations and disperse them as best we can to find the best student athletes we can find. Some years we aren’t able to spread the ‘wealth’ among 24 players and may only have 22 on scholarship. It is a difficult task for sure and in our program we hover in the 20+ for walk-ons. In a Utopian world I wish we could scholarship everyone, but we cannot of course.
What are some things that would keep you from recruiting a player?
If I get the chance to watch a player, my number one turn off is a poor attitude. If I see a player throw gear in anger, not hustle or see him being a bad teammate, he is automatically not recruitable in my eyes. So I look for those intangibles, because we can teach the game, but it gets difficult to teach heart.
How should baseball players use video of themselves during the recruiting process?
Haha…no offense to moms and dads, but if live video is taken, I don’t need a play by play of how great Johnny is or screaming in the video. I get a kick out of some of them that I watch. To answer your question, I’d rather see controlled environment things. Bullpen sessions, fungos, tee work, front toss…where we can see multiple reps in 5 minutes as opposed to watching a live game recording. I also like different angles in the video so that we can see mechanics. It never hurts to see actual velocity readings as well…either exit or arm.
What does the off season, fall season and summer look like for a NJCAA baseball player?
Off season we get limited with the number of hours we can spend with our players, so here we get into the nuts and bolts and do more individual work rather than team aspects. It turns out to be longer days for the coaching staff but I feel that is when our players improve the most.
Fall season is more of a litmus test as to where we are, where we need to be, and who is going to be there at the end. It is our identity time…who is or is not going to be on board. We cover some basics and introduce philosophy of course, but I’m evaluating and seeing what chemistry issues we may or may not have.
For the summer we push our guys to collegiate leagues across the country. We don’t have a go to league where a majority of our guys play, rather I focus more on what the parents and players can afford to go to that will also give them the best opportunity to get reps, compete and get better during the summer.
How do you help players transition to a four year college? When looking at a 2 year school, what are some questions student athletes should ask about the help they will receive to get into a four year school and to continue playing?
The idea of JUCOs being a stepping stone to four year schools is very important. We stress that we want our guys to move on and that this isn’t necessarily a stopping point with either education or competitiveness. If our guys don’t have a goal to move on, then I’m not interested. With the advent of recruiting services, I feel an athlete can’t ‘hide’ and the ease of promoting athletes is present in today’s social media. No different than we connect with high school coaches, we also connect with four year coaches for the same purposes.
I feel the number one question I get from recruits is, ‘Where do your athletes generally move on to after Miles?’ Great question and we have those answers. In the end, if you put up numbers you’ll get recruited. I’ve had calls from schools in every major DI conference…and we live in the ‘sticks’. We have a lot of contacts all over the country. I’d say if our guys graduate, they have opportunities somewhere to continue.
You have been with Miles for over a decade. You have had a lot of great athletes come through. How do you see collegiate baseball impacting an athlete’s life?
Again, our number one goal is to give our guys a great experience and give them the tools to move on to the next step in both athletics and academics. I feel we do a very good job of that. Anytime you can provide the means and methods of propelling a student to the next stage in their careers, the impact is insurmountable. The fact that we, in this industry, GET to use baseball as our catalyst is certainly a privilege that we don’t take lightly and that we preach not to take lightly to our athletes. Any of us can be replaced. These athletes work hard on the field and in the classroom and they need to realize they are a pivotal chess piece of how they impact their own lives.
What do you enjoy about coaching at a community college?
I really enjoy the small town nature of both the community and the college. The atmosphere is always friendly, the community support is tremendous and the campus’s attitude towards the individual is very important. You’re not a number and you’re not taught by a TA. The President is active in student’s lives; not stuck in their office. Everyone knows who my athletes are and my athletes gain an appreciation for how much they are supported because they know those people by name…not just a booster club.
From an athlete standpoint, I enjoy coaching high school athletes that come in and are still raw, still eager to learn and still coachable. I feel I have a bigger impact on those lives…albeit the hard part is that I only have them for a few years and I may not quite see the fruits of our labor at the finish line.
Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?
My coaching philosophy is pretty simple yet all encompassing. ‘Do the right thing and make great choices.’ If you can do that, you’re on the right path for success in anything you do. Our athletes are 18 and 19 years old, they are going to make mistakes…we all did at that age. If we can try to instill that process, growth and maturation we are doing these athletes a great service that is much more important than an 0-2 hitting philosophy.
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or baseball players in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
I do have a few things.
- We are recruiting you, not your parents.
- Someone is ALWAYS watching you from a recruitment standpoint. Heck, I have parents of former players in the stands every once in a while. Just because you don’t see a polo and a hat in the stands doesn’t mean someone isn’t recruiting you.
- Promote yourself, do the research and be informed. You are interviewing us just as much as we are interviewing you. By the time you’ve walked on campus I’ve done the background checks…have you done yours?
- Realize that there is a huge difference in high school athletics and academics compared to college. The commitment level, work needed to be done, improvements needed to be made etc. are all huge factors. Are you truly ready for the next level? Can you handle the adversity and being away from home?
- Dot your I’s and cross your T’s…get things ready. Transcripts, immunization, FAFSA/financial aid, scholarship applications etc. Get these things ready and organized, you will need them regardless of which campus you first walk onto in the fall.
Next, take a look at A Bite of this Apple Could Crush You.
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Brabant started his coaching career in Miles City with the legion programs from 1992 to 1996 as both assistant and head coaching roles. During that tenure, Brabant was part of the 1996 state championship team.
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