My Carolina Experience: Kent Emanuel
By Zoya Johnson, GoHeels.com
In high school, Kent Emanuel was not only a top-ranked baseball recruit as a college prospect but a highly-ranked major league draft projection. Because of this, he had the option to play anywhere he wanted.
In order for Emanuel to consider going pro instead of pursuing a career as a collegiate athlete, he set very lofty criteria for professional teams to meet. As proceeded through the process not very many teams were willing to meet his demands. Thus his decision to pursue a college career was made.
"I knew I wanted to be a part of a top team that played in a top conference, while also being a reasonable distance from home (Woodstock, Ga.). This narrowed my decision down to schools that were a part of the ACC or SEC. From there, to be honest, it came down to a gut feeling. I had a really hard time deciding which school I wanted to choose because they all seemed to have a lot to offer," Emanuel says.
"At the end of my recruiting process, I remember my friend Nick Crocker asking me which school would make me the most upset if it retracted its offer. Once I looked at it that way, I knew UNC was the university I wanted to attend."
Coming into college, all of Emanuel's goals were based on him capitalizing on his overall experience. As a student, Emanuel wanted to see what the classes and professors had to offer him and to take advantage of all the resources available to him. Socially, he wanted to use the time to make life-long friends and try to enjoy college as much as he could.
Those goals remained the same throughout Emanuel's time at UNC but as an athlete he saw many changes in the type of person he thought he wanted to be and the type of person he became.
"If I remember correctly, my sheet my freshman year read something along the lines of: 'Go to the College World Series, win the College World Series, be All-ACC, be a Freshman All-America, be on the All-American team, set this record, set that record etc. etc.' This list went on and on basically just setting the highest goals one could possibly set. They were all focused on being the greatest player possible. As my career went on and developed, my goals changed. I learned a lot my freshman year, and I had a lot of success as a freshman to the point where coming into my sophomore and junior years, I was viewed as one of the leaders of the team."
"I remember my sophomore and junior years I only had one line filled in on my goal sheet and if memory serves me correctly I wrote something along the lines of, 'help this team win a national championship.' I think that exemplifies my development as an athlete in college. I went from focusing on being the greatest player possible to wanting to help my team achieve its goals, focusing on being the best teammate possible and having the team achieve its goals because if the team was achieving its goal, that meant I would be achieving mine."
Emanuel attributes his ability to make this mental transition from simply being a talented and very driven player into a leader to his participation in the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy. It was through the CLA that Emanuel was able to take the tangible feedback he got from his teammates and use it to help make him better for the team in so many ways. The academy's impact was something Emanuel felt not just through the success of the team but in how he and his teammates interacted and treated one another. The academy provided him with skills he will continue to use as a professional athlete surrounded by players who may not always be able to mesh well but who will all want to come together in order to reach a common goal.
Because he and his teammates shared so many experiences with each other and had the pleasure of calling each other not just teammate but friend, Emanuel felt it was easy to lead once he put in the work. As a professional Emanuel feels he will have to utilize his experience with the CLA even more than he had to in college because the intensity level has gone up and the level of connectivity has gone down. The dynamics of the team are different when the sport transitions from being a privilege into your entire livelihood.
Something else Emanuel was able to capitalize on while at Carolina was his ability to improve as a player. Coming in, he was known as a pitcher that was able to throw in any situation. When Emanuel came to Carolina and became a pitcher in the ACC that changed dramatically. The talent, drive, and intensity of the game all rose to another level so gone were the days of simply throwing the ball.
"I had to know what to throw to different hitters in different situations. I even developed a slider while at Carolina so I could have a harder breaking ball to throw to hitters. Having that experience and continuously learning how to attack different hitters undoubtedly helped me be a successful college pitcher and will help me become a successful professional as well," says Emanuel.
In college, Emanuel also had to mature physically in order to improve his performance, and with the help of his strength and conditioning coaches, led by Greg Gatz, he was able to do so. By the time Emanuel left Carolina as a junior he had gained 25 pounds of "good mass, while still being able to condition at a high level." The change in size and strength aided in helping Emanuel improve and have no doubt made him a better player in his professional career. The gains he made at Carolina however were not all on the diamond.
Though being on the baseball team was a very important part of Emanuel's Carolina Experience, as he expressed his feelings about the impact the CLA had on him, it became clear that baseball was not the only enriching part of it. Emanuel says the greatest thing he gained at Carolina would have to be the relationships he formed along the way. Not just his relationships with his teammates but those with classmates, professors, fans, his coaches, and the staff of UNC athletics as he felt all of these relationships played a role in making his experience as fulfilling as it was.
Although Emanuel signed professionally after his junior year as a Tar Heel, he returned to complete a semester after his first season and plans to do the same this year so that he can finish his exercise and sport science degree. He plans on a December 2014 graduation date.
Emanuel's experience as a Carolina student-athlete was a positive one indeed.
"I know when UNC is talked about negatively, it is probably coming from individuals who misunderstand what this University really is all about or it is coming from individuals who just didn't seize the opportunity to take advantage of what a great place UNC is. I know that all of my experience with Carolina has led to me to having nothing but the most positive views of the school in all facets."