As signing day approaches, the Nebraska football coaches have been hard at work, reeling in four new commits in the past week.
But they weren't the only ones getting things done. Darin Erstad and company joined the party by securing the commitment of Angelo Altavilla, a shortstop from Lakewood North HS (Minn.).
Altavilla becomes the third commitment of the Huskers' 2015 class, joining outfielder Trey Beckman and middle infielder Alex Henwood.
Altavilla hit .281 with 19 RBIs for Lakewood North last year, but it wasn't his bat that got him on the field. Despite the fact that the team had a senior shortstop returning, Altavilla so impressed with his slick fielding that even the incumbent had to admit the sophomore deserved to play.
"We're at a big school, so you have to provide something at a pretty high level for us to crack the lineup." Lakewood North coach Tony Market said. "We had a senior that was going to return at shortstop, but honestly it was a no-brainer when it came to it. It was even a no-brainer for the shortstop - he said, 'Angelo's a heck of a lot better defensively than I am.' That kind of takes some of the pressure off of a kick offensively when you tell him, 'What we need you to do is play really good defense.'"
Altavilla posted a .921 fielding percentage in his first varsity campaign, providing the defense the coaches hoped he would. But Market was also pleasantly surprised with Altavilla's bat.
"What we didn't expect was for him to perform as well offensively as he did considering he's just a sophomore," Market said. "He was among the tops on our team in driving in runs even though he was hitting in the ninth spot. He did an outstanding job of accepting his role, but also of embracing the job that he had. He's a switch-hitter, so that provides even more value. He's a great contact hitter and he understands the plate. He has all the things you look for in a prospect, especially coming out of just one year of varsity baseball. He has a big upside."
Playing at a school that routinely sends four or five players on to some level of college baseball each year, Market said Altavilla compares favorably to some of the best players he's ever coached. Market said the shortstop is close to where Mike Kvasnicka, who went to Minnesota and is now in the Twins' organization, and Nick Judkins, who played at Creighton, were at the same age.
"We like to think that if you play here as a sophomore, you've got a pretty bright future considering the conference that we play in and the type of baseball you have to play day in and day out in that conference," Market said.
In Market's eyes, the No. 1 thing Altavilla has to work on now is maturing physically. He stands 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds at the moment, but Market believes the opportunity to play at Nebraska will motivate him to all to that frame.
"He's going to have to fall in love with the weight room and work on things physically, and he's started to do those things," Market said. "Now that he has this carrot out there, he knows what he needs to be able to do physically."