Young Ole Miss players and prospects reflect on the national championship and embrace the opportunity to play at their dream school.
Written by Eugene Stockstill | Illustrated by Frank Estrada | Photos contributed by Ole Miss Athletics
According to the wisdom of the sporting world, you forget the big game behind you and take care of the business in front of you if you want to keep on winning.
Way easier said than done, for those who lived through last year’s extraordinary baseball season that ended with Ole Miss as the national collegiate champion.
“It was awesome,” sophomore pitcher Hunter Elliott said. “Ole Miss hadn’t been since 2014. To bring home a national championship was huge: It was a surreal experience. I started the final game.”
So where do you go after a run like that?
Back to the well where you took your first sip of baseball, which helps you remember that dreams take lots of hard work to come true.
For some young players, the dream is just beginning.
Take Bo Gatlin, who this year starts his first season at Ole Miss as an infielder. Gatlin grew up watching his father, Guy Gatlin, play baseball at Ole Miss.
Bo earned three letters at Oxford High School (he also played football and basketball) and captained the baseball team his senior year. After graduating in 2019, he took what he called “a kind of sideways journey.”
His college baseball career started at Southeastern Louisiana University. It hit a bump when the COVID-19 pandemic paused the season and Gatlin had to have arm surgery. Then he went north to Meridian Community College, where he played for two years. Gatlin was named a Division II All-American in 2022, hitting .411.
Encouragement from family and coaches played a big part in his journey to Ole Miss, Gatlin said, and, as the season starts, he knows his mindset will be a key to success as he adjusts to life in the Southeastern Conference.
“It was always a dream,” Gatlin said, but “I’ve still got to work and play baseball. I can’t think of it as a dream. It’s definitely a jump for me. Everything’s a little faster here. The difference here is that every single player is good.”
Some players are so good they carry a college-sized reputation through high school. At least that’s what’s happening to Campbell Smithwick, the senior catcher at OHS and a top-tier Ole Miss recruit.
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, Smithwick later moved with his family to South Carolina. He made a verbal commitment to Ole Miss in 2020, then relocated to Oxford. After helping the OHS Chargers win the North Half championship last season, Smithwick played for a Team USA Under-18 squad that won a gold medal at the U-18 Baseball World Americas Cup Qualifier in La Paz, Mexico.
Smithwick signed his official college commitment on his phone while he was in Mexico, he said. He seems to have adjusted to a young life filled with scouts, publicity and big plans by learning to keep his mind on the game instead of who might be watching.
“It’s one of those things where you never really know who’s in the stands. You get locked in and you don’t lose that until after the fact,” Smithwick said, adding that it won’t be that hard to keep his focus on this year’s season with OHS, either.
“I fell in love with Oxford High School as much as I did with Ole Miss,” Smithwick said. “It’s going to be hard to look past this year.”
Knowing that college baseball waits in his future, though, has pushed Smithwick to amp up his training regimen, which he doesn’t mind in the slightest.
“It’s not a grind,” he said. “It’s what we love to do.”
Hunter Elliott, one of the big stars in last year’s College World Series, could not agree more.
“I’ve always had the largest passion for baseball,” said Elliott, who had an epiphany about baseball in his teen years.
“When I was 15, we won (a national championship) in Atlanta,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
The 6-3, 205-pound left-handed pitcher, an Amory native and Tupelo High School graduate, had quite the freshman season in 2022.
Playing travel baseball in Louisiana before he came to Ole Miss, Elliott blinked, and he found himself pitching under the biggest spotlight in college baseball. Elliott finished second in the pitching rotation in earned runs and strikeouts and notched impressive postseason numbers, allowing two runs and striking out six in the final game. Elliott made College Baseball News’ 2023 Preseason All-America team.
A four-time letterman in high school and once tabbed the state’s fourth best player, Elliott said it was a no-brainer about where he wanted to play college ball.
“It was always Ole Miss,” he said. “It was my first offer, and I knew it was the place for me.”
And now it falls to him and the rest of the fellas to help Ole Miss carry last year’s momentum into a new season, which isn’t quite as hard when you approach every day as a challenge, Elliott said.
“You don’t feel that different,” he said. “You’re just hungry for more.”