Kevan Smith leaves the turf to find success on the diamond

By Alex Oltmanns

Just three seasons ago, Kevan Smith was a quarterback for Pitt, starting three games that… Just three seasons ago, Kevan Smith was a quarterback for Pitt, starting three games that season.

Smith is still throwing a ball in a Panthers uniform, but there’s one difference — it’s a baseball.

Now in his second season as a catcher and designated hitter on the baseball team, Smith is reminding everyone why he was a two-sport star in high school.

He was a catcher at Seneca Valley High School, about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh. He was projected by some to be drafted into the major leagues, being named the class AAAA Player of the Year by the WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association. But he was also a standout quarterback.

Despite his football success, he still wasn’t sure he had a future in the sport.

“I actually didn’t think I was going to play football before my high school football coach said he’d get me a scholarship,” Smith said. “I didn’t believe him, and he got me one just through playing in camps and everything.”

Unsure of what his baseball future might hold, he took advantage of the attention from colleges. that the camps provided him and accepted a football scholarship to play for the Panthers.

He was quickly thrust into the limelight in 2007, his redshirt freshman season, when starting quarterback Bill Stull went down with an injury in the season opener.

Smith struggled at times, but showed off the strong arm that caught recruiters’ eyes in high school. He eventually gave way as the starter to Pat Bostick, but still finished the season with 415 yards and a 103.37 quarterback rating, despite throwing just one touchdown to four interceptions. Then he fell down the depth chart the following season.

Still, he missed baseball and had a passion to play both sports.

He desperately tried to play both, telling the football coaching staff that he was willing to play on all the special teams, but the coaches didn’t take him up on his offer.

It was at that point Smith realized it was time for a change.

“When I started seeing my opportunities dwindling with football, I actually started thinking about it and I started talking to [head] coach [Joe] Jordano,” Smith said.

On top of that, Smith’s friend and high school teammate Zach Duggan plays center field for Pitt and played an active role in drawing him to the other Pitt team that recruited him out of high school.

“Zach Duggan was playing for us, and I always told him to tell Kevan if he ever wanted to give baseball a try, we would be up for it,” Jordano said. “Kevan was a very talented quarterback with a pro arm. He was a legit football guy. We are obviously very pleased he decided to play baseball.”

After three years away from a sport, most people would be rusty, but not Smith.

“The only thing I was worried about was my hitting, just that coordination,” Smith said. “But it’s still there.”

Some would consider that an understatement. Smith hit .363 at the plate last season, which was good enough for second-best on the team, to go along with three home runs and 21 RBIs while starting in 27 games.

“Kevan is a natural hitter, his best attribute is his bat,” Jordano said.

Last year was a breakthrough season for Smith, but this season he’s taken the next step and is one of the reasons why Pitt is likely headed toward its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years.

He is batting .335 this season with five home runs and 44 RBIs, all while starting in 48 games.

“Kevan has been a great addition to our program,” Jordano said. “He works hard, has a quiet intensity to him, and he wants to get better each day.”

Though Smith had the opportunity to get drafted out of high school, his decision to go to college paid off as he graduated with a degree in business-marketing this month.

With a degree in hand and another year of eligibility left, it appears that Smith is still destined to become an MLB draft pick. Baseball Draft, a blog following baseball, has him ranked as the No. 30 catcher prospect in the upcoming 2010 draft.

Jordano feels that getting drafted is almost a certainty for Smith, regardless of when it is.

“I believe strongly he will play baseball at the next level,” he said.