Tipton’s effort, success produces future at Arkansas State

Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion baseball manager Darren Hurt recalled on Tuesday when his team was playing in a prestigious tournament in Memphis last summer and coaches from Arkansas State University were visiting with him about outfielder Drew Tipton.

“They were asking about him and I said, ‘He’s the guy you need to see play four games this weekend instead of one because he’s going to do something in every game where you’re going to say, “Wow.”’

Whether they actually said ‘Wow’ or not, ASU head coach Tommy Raffo and his staff were, apparently duly impressed because during the NCAA’s early signing period in November, they offered and Tipton accepted a chance to continue his baseball career and education under scholarship at ASU.

And, on Tuesday, Dec. 9, with his parents Chris Tipton and Paula Thompson, step-mother Heather Tipton and step-father Chris Thompson along with his teammates and current and past coaches, a formal signing ceremony was held at Bryant High School.

Whether it’s running down a flyball and making a diving catch, or tracking down a wide receiver and knocking away a pass;

Whether it’s flying in fully laid out with total disregard for his body to block a kick, or going first-to-third (or even first-to-home) on a base hit;

Whether it’s taking on and tackling a running back 80 pounds heavier than he is or coming to the plate after the previous batter was walked to load the bases and smacking a grand slam;

Drew Tipton is going to give full effort.

He’s done all those things (and more) as a star for a Bryant Hornets State championship baseball team that wound up ranked 10th nationally; Bryant Hornets football teams that won 23 games in three seasons and a conference title in 2013; and a Black Sox State championship team that came a win away from capturing a Regional tournament title and a trip to the Legion World Series.

Named a second-team all-American by Louisville Slugger and Collegiate Baseball after his junior year last spring, Tipton earned all-conference honors and this fall was named all-State in football. A three-year starter in the secondary, he was a vital cog on one of the best Bryant defenses in a while.

“They’re getting a very versatile athlete, a guy that can play the infield and the outfield,” noted Hornets head baseball coach Kirk Bock. “Tip’s big plus is his motor. He’s got a motor that’s running hard. He can run and his offensive production is going to be good.

“He’s going to go hard at everything he does,” he continued. “You can see it on the football field.

“We were talking about him this morning,” recalled the coach. “We were doing ‘plate-holds’ and when he first came in (as a freshman) he was the worst one we ever had. He can make 50 tackles in a year but he can’t hold a 45-pound plate for a minute. But now he’s one of the best ones. He just kind of took it to heart and he worked on it.”

That’s typical Tipton.

“He’s the kind of guy that you don’t really understand until you see him play several games,” Hurt resumed. “He just makes an impact in so many ways. He’s a team leader and just a kid that plays extremely hard. And I think that’s what it is. He just plays so hard. He doesn’t dog it on anything and he does everything really good.”

Said Tipton, “My brother Jake’s two-and-a-half years older than me and he’s always pushed me to be better than him. He never wanted me to be as good as him but, eventually, I outgrew him. But he always pushed me, and my dad has always pushed me to always try to get better. My dad always taught me never to settle, to always strive for everything you can get and you’re not going to get that unless you work as hard as you possibly can.”

He credited Bock for his improvement.

“Coming in freshman year, all I really had was a work ethic,” he related. “Thanks to Coach Bock; he’s really molded me into a good ballplayer, just smart, know how the game is going, know what to do in what situation. He taught me the mindset that you can do anything that you need to do as long as you’re strong mentally. It doesn’t have anything to do with how strong you are, how fast you are but, if you’re strong mentally, you can do what you need to.”

“He’s improved a whole lot,” Bock asserted. “He kind of got thrust into an outfield role last year and he picked right up on it. I’m not sure but that, in time, he won’t be a centerfielder in college.”

And, talk about consistent:

In 2013, as a member of the Bryant Black Sox’ first Junior American Legion State championship team that went 38-2, Tipton scored 47 runs, stole 21 bases and hit .385. In the spring of 2014, as a member of the Class 7A champion Hornets who went 33-2, he scored 30 times, drove in 26, swiped 16 bases and hit .384 (and, oh yes, hit that grand slam to beat the rival Benton Panthers). Last summer for the Senior Sox who went 46-5, Tipton scored 67 runs, drove in 33, swiped 34 bases and hit (again/still) .384.

“He’s certainly one of the ones you want up there in a big situation,” Bock related. “Pressure doesn’t really bother him. That’s just his competitive nature. He wants to be put in those situations where a lot of people try to shy away from them.”

And, oh by the way, Tipton led the Hornets’ football team in pass break-ups in each of his three seasons, eight as a sophomore in 2012, eight as a junior in 2013, and 10 this fall. He blocked three kicks as a junior and two more as a senior including an extra point to give the Hornets a 28-27 playoff win over Springdale Har-Ber. He was in on 93 tackles over the last two seasons.

Tipton said he chose ASU over Arkansas Tech, Drury University, Crowder College and the University of Arkansas-Monticello.

“I went up to a camp about a year ago or so and they saw me,” he recalled. “They liked the fact that I have potential at a young age and they came and watched me in high school and Legion. (Raffo) likes the way I hustle and he likes my speed and he thinks I could really contribute. I love the school. I love their coach. I think he’s a great guy.

“They want me to play the outfield but they do like the fact that I can play multiple positions,” added Tipton who came into high school as a middle infielder. “But they do think I’m going to mainly be a centerfielder for them. Obviously, I don’t have a guaranteed spot but they said if I work for everything, I definitely have the possibility of getting on the field soon.”

He plans on going into engineering or coaching.

But, first, there’s the upcoming baseball season.

“This makes it where I can focus, give all my heart to the team my senior year and go for a National championship and another State championship,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of focus. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to have to step up this year because we have some big holes to fill from last year, people like (Chase) Tucker, Korey (Thompson) and (Trevor) Ezell. But as long as we work hard, come together, I think we’ll be all right.”

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