By Alan Richardson
Bulldog star leads North Georgia to Championship
You’ve heard the saying that nice guys finish last. Not so in the case of Dylan Peppers. His resume shows that he’s a winner who has proven his mettle at every level of play. However, when former coaches talked about this young man, the first thing they mentioned wasn’t his nasty curveball, not the fact that he throws in the low 90’s, and not his dozens of awards. Nope, to a man they talked about his character and being just a great young man. Coming from the people who know him the best speaks volumes about who Peppers really is behind the uniform and outside the lines.
Don’t let that veneer fool you though. On the mound at Morgan County High School, Gordon State, and North Georgia University (UNG), the 6’1” 185 pounder was a Bulldog. His list of accomplishments is too many to fit here. However, during his three-year career at North Georgia, Peppers was high on the list of statistical categories for the Nighthawks, the Peachbelt Conference, and Division II baseball. Dylan had the 2nd best batting average against (BAA) of 0.180 and was fifth in hits per nine innings in Division II. He boasted 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings and had a walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) of 1.08. In five starts in April, he gave up 3 runs in 34 innings and now holds the UNG school record with 17 strikeouts against Columbus State. Folks, if you don’t know much about baseball, those statistics are off the charts for any level of play.
His list of awards for 2014-17 includes:
— 2017 ABCA/Rawlings All-Region (2nd team)
— 2017 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Most Valuable Player
— 2017 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional All-Tournament Team
— 2017 NCBWA All-Region (Honorable Mention)
— 2017 Peach Belt Conference All-Conference (1st team)
— NCBWA Southeast Region Pitcher of the Week – April 19, 2017
— Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week – April 17, 2017
— NCBWA Southeast Region Pitcher of the Week – April 11, 2017
— Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week – April 10, 2017
— NCBWA Southeast Region Pitcher of the Week – March 21, 2017
— Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week – March 20, 2017
— 2015-16 Peach Belt Conference Presidential Honor Roll Bronze Scholar
— 2014-15 Peach Belt Conference Presidential Honor Roll Silver Scholar
Need we say more? The right-hander put up a smoking 1.14 earned run average (ERA) in his final year at Gordon in 16 appearances with 31.2 innings pitched while striking out 34. In 2012 he was named both the Region 4-AA Player-of-the-year and the Morgan County Most Valuable Player on a Region Championship team.
Dylan arrived for his interview in a big truck wearing a baseball hat, t-shirt, and shorts. It was obvious that he had been working on the Bucky Malcom farm that day. His smile and handshake said a lot about him before he spoke a word.
Peppers talked about his early years in baseball, “I played my earliest baseball in Morgan and Walton County and my Mom was my first coach. Dad (Donald Peppers) worked night shifts for a long time so she would throw to me and catch me while being the taxi that took me to all those games and practices. In middle school I met Coach Jerry McCullough and we really hit it off. He became my personal pitching coach for the next several years into high school where I played for Coach Branden Patch. I pitched, played third and in the outfield. During my last two seasons I began attending some showcases and Gordon started looking at me. I picked them and then North Georgia because of the coach. You want to play for someone you see eye-to-eye with.”
After transferring to North Georgia and playing a year, Peppers was heading into his final season with the Nighthawks looking for big things to happen. Old lady luck had other things in mind for him when a week before the regular season he injured his throwing elbow and ended up going through Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). He redshirted and endured weeks and months of rehabilitation. It was a tough, trying time for the youngster who went into his fifth year of college unsure of where the surgery would leave him. After somewhat of a slow start Peppers found his stride and put the team on his shoulders to carry them to a Peachbelt Conference Championship, the Southeast Division II Regionals where he was named the MVP and into the Division II World Series. The season ended on a low note with UNG losing their first two games in a double elimination format. Peppers said, “We should have won the World Series. We had the team to win it and were scoring 9-10 runs per games, but we just didn’t put it all together at the right time.”
Four former coaches weighed in on Dylan the man and Dylan the player. High school assistant Coach Mike McSherry commented, “I had the pleasure of coaching Dylan in middle school and high school. Dylan was relatively quiet, allowing his work ethic and determination to speak for him. Dylan truly led by example. Never the biggest or fastest player, nor the hardest thrower or hitter, Dylan was one of the few you really wanted on the hill or at the plate in crunch-time. When the stakes were highest, Dylan was at his best. Throughout my 22 years of coaching, I witnessed the vast majority of players leave the field as quickly as possible once practice ended. Friends, homework, girlfriends, parties and hunger were some of the many reasons for the rapid post-practice departures. However, Dylan was on the short list of players I saw over two decades who ASKED to stay after for more work. Whether it was extended batting practice, an additional bullpen session, or extra buckets at third base, Dylan was never satisfied with “okay”; he strived for greatness. The one thing Dylan and the select few other dedicated players had in common was the fact they all played at the next level. Something can be said about dogged determination and commitment to one’s craft. As much as I enjoyed coaching Dylan over the years, I can honestly say I derived even more fulfillment getting to know him as a person. Dylan Peppers is truly one of the most genuinely nice people in this world.”
Former head Morgan County Coach Brandon Patch said, “Dylan Peppers was not only a joy to coach, but he was truly a pleasure to be around. He was always a young man that I could count on to do things the right way both on and off the field. You just knew that Dylan was going to work hard even if a coach wasn’t standing right beside him- he was driven and extremely competitive. He was a leader for us in every way. Dylan started for us for four years and was a huge reason why we were successful. He had an incredible senior year and was awarded the 2012 Region 4AA Player of the Year. (As a pitcher he finished with 74K’s in 48 IP and a 2.46 ERA. As a hitter he led the team with a .420 batting average with five homeruns and 26 RBI’s.) I’m sure many people would remember Dylan for being a great pitcher, but he was an all-around baseball player. He could hit anywhere from the two hole to clean up and he was an excellent defender at any position on the field. We knew that Dylan was gifted when he was in middle school, but Dylan also worked very hard year-round to keep himself in the best shape and to continue to grow as a player. During his senior year, we had a few freshmen that had to play up and I vividly remember how Dylan took on a leadership role with those guys. He was able to make them better players by encouraging them and they responded and looked up to him. I always appreciated that about him. It’s great to see Dylan have so much success after high school, but I’m really not surprised, he had the tools and the desire to do so.
Coach Tom Cantrell, North Georgia’s head baseball coach, talked about Dylan’s career. “Dylan Peppers is one of the finest young men you’ll ever come across. He had a good career and a good season after battling back from his arm injury a year ago. He got it together by the end of the season and really came on for us. In my 22 year career (all at North Georgia) he’s in my top three of pitchers I’ve coached that I’d want to pitch the big game. The bigger the game, the better he pitched. I hope someone will give him a chance in the pros because he deserves it. I’d like him to get that opportunity, but I don’t control anything from this point on. There’s not much I can do except contact the people I know. Dylan understands what it’s about, but he’ll be good at whatever he decides to do. He loves the outdoors and comes from a good family. We’re the ones who have been blessed to have him at North Georgia. I love him dearly.”
Jerry McCullough gave these remarks about his protégé saying, “When Dylan decides he wants to do something, he usually gets it done. He dedicates himself to being successful. With that, he motivates others around him to be successful, too. He has always shown leadership by doing everything he can to learn, to improve, to be a winner, and in that he inspires those around him to do the same thing. It has been no more evident than two years ago and this year at UNG. The baseball team two years ago was one run and one out away from going to the DII Championship – Dylan was the iron-man on the mound then. They lost the last game in the southeastern region championship to the eventual 2nd ranked team in the nation – they lost in the national championship game. Dylan was reminded over and over again that baseball was a way for him to pay for a college degree. It is not the other way around. He now has something that no one can take away from him: A four-year degree from UNG. He has lots of certificates and wonderful memories from baseball, but the degree is the end result he should appreciate the most. Where he goes from here – further in baseball or in fishing, I know he will set his goal and give it his best. Dylan has never given up on a dream, or better, a goal for himself. We worked many hours every year in the gym on drills, on the field bringing his arm up, and running to build leg strength. More than all of those, Dylan wanted to know more and more about pitching and how to get better. He has worked with some good coaches. More importantly he knows the game and way to do things right, the things that make sense if you want to be successful. He is part of a leadership team, not a show-off team. Even when he dominates on the mound or is recognized for outstanding effort, he remains humble and basically shy with it all. He is one of the finest young men I have ever coached. It has been my honor to be his coach and friend over the years. AND, this apple did not fall from the tree – his family is made up of some the finest folks around, and has been Dylan’s most supportive fans. His mother and father could not have done more for their son in order to be able to meet all of his goals and dreams.
His coach and mother, Rhonda, said, “God blessed Dylan with many talents and one was his ability to play baseball. The sport has taught him way more than just throwing a ball as he has learned commitment, perseverance, team work , leadership plus more. I am extremely proud of Dylan and his commitment to the teams he has played on and for all the accomplishments he has made as a player and a student. Most of all I am proud of the man he has become today and so thankful for each blessing God has given him.
I have long list of many great memories but one of my favorites is the following. Dylan’s senior year at the awards ceremony he was one of the students chosen to receive a brick with his name on it that would be placed outside the front doors of the school to represent him being part of the school’s foundation and a leader. I was so proud that day when his name was called as it represented years of support from family, teachers and coaches that had helped him get to that point. Many people have prayed for him and supported him over the years but one that stands out as strong mentor has been Jerry McCullough. He started in Middle School not only teaching him the mental and physical preparation to be a success on the ballfield but more importantly teaching him importance of education and a strong character.”
She then shared a humorous memory of the young star, “Dylan was so excited when he was old enough to be on his first real baseball team at age four. He got up to bat and hit the ball to the outfield. He then proceeded to run around all the bases. He touched home then ran to me in the stands and asked, “Do I get a trophy now?”
I have been so fortunate to be able to take this baseball journey with Dylan from the first T-ball game to the last college appearance at the World Series. I have always labeled myself as his #1 fan. We spent hours together at home throwing and hitting to prepare for games. We spent many hours on the road traveling to games and sitting in the stands cheering him and the team along. I was blessed to share those days when games went well and be there on days things didn’t go the way they were planned. I enjoyed every minute of it. The time you spend with your children is so precious and goes by so quickly.”
Just to let you know how down-to-earth he is, Dylan was asked what his biggest sports thrill was and he answered, “Becoming Georgia’s first Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) bass World Champion at 13.”
Biggest Sports Thrill: Becoming Georgia’s first FLW World Champion
1. This is your time to brag, so brag! Lol. Tell us all how and why you are so proud of him. This is mainly what I need:
2. What is your favorite memory of him? Doesn’t have to be baseball.
3. Give us a funny story about him growing up.
4. It sounds like you were his first coach in the yard when dad was working nights. How special was that for the two of you? Did it strengthen the relationship you still have today?
Jerry McCullough- This year Dylan came back from a season-ending (the day before the season began!) elbow injury he sustained last year. He sat out the entire season watching the guys play baseball without him. No conference championship, no conference playoff championship, and no invitation to the regional championship last year. When Dylan decided that the injury was not going to end his career at UNG without a fight, a fight he made it. He slowly rehabbed the arm beginning late summer and through the fall. It was slow and frustrating. Yet he continued to work out, run and drill with the team. He just couldn’t get on the mound until November. His progress was impressive, but still frustrating. His body mechanics were not fluid at the beginning of the season. Coach Cantrell gave him the chance to start the first home game of the season against the #1 ranked team, NOVA. He won. For a couple of weeks after that, he struggled – no got rocked in 2 straight games. He skipped a start on the weekend. UGH! How devastating. He was determined to get his spot back. He worked very hard with his pitching coach to get his arm and lower body in sync again. He missed a Sunday start, but was allowed to throw a few innings mid-week. He was successful again. He moved from a Friday night series opening game, to the Sunday afternoon series ending game. He pitched the Sunday after the mid-week start and was “lights out.” PBC awarded him the first of three “pitcher of the week” honors for that come back. From that point on, his work ethic took over and everything he wanted to do began to take place. UNG now had the best three starters in the conference – he was pulled from a game in which he threw a no-hitter into the 7th inning, and the other team started cheering!
Dylan go any further without some evaluation by professionals. His mother took him to Birmingham to the Sports Clinic there to have him evaluated while pitching. The results of the data showed one major and two minor flaws that needed fixing. At that point the work was on and when the season started he was a different pitcher. He realized that making adjustments in pitching mechanics was the only way to get better. No problem for a young man who listened and reasoned with his coaches to improve. From Morgan County to Gordon College to UNG, he has improved at every stage of baseball.