If all goes according to plan, Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price just officially added two talented, home-grown players to next year’s recruiting class.
Sporting sharp blue polos and crisp fitted caps embossed with Jayhawk logos, Free State High seniors Cody Kukuk and Colin Toalson — both Class 6A All-State first-team selections last season — signed their letters of intent to play collegiate baseball at KU on Wednesday morning at FSHS.
“I’m just very happy for them and their families,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “This is a great accomplishment for them. They’re talented players, otherwise they wouldn’t be signing with (KU), but aside from that, they’re also really hard workers. Their work ethic is one of the reasons they’ve reached this level.”
For Kukuk, who orally committed to KU earlier this year, it was merely a matter of putting pen to paper.
“It’s kind of relieving just to get it out of the way,” Kukuk said. “When you decide where you’re going, it’s kind of a huge weight lifted off of your shoulders.”
But Toalson, who was named All-Sunflower League following his junior year, was still mulling his options before meeting with Price last week, when he was offered a preferred walk-on spot on the club.
“It feels great,” said Toalson, a dual threat as a pitcher and shortstop for the Firebirds. “It’s kind of unreal. I don’t think I’ll fully grasp it until next year when it’s happening.”
Kukuk, a two-way standout (pitcher and outfield), was honored with a number of accolades following a stellar junior season. He was last year’s Class 6A state player of the year, the Sunflower League’s player of the year, and was named the Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year in Kansas.
Given all of Kukuk’s accomplishments and his still-developing talent, the 6-foot-4 lefty had offers from many other big schools across the country.
Did he ever truly consider playing out west, further south or out east on some sun-soaked field?
“Not as much really,” Kukuk said. “I got letters from all of those places, but I just decided I wanted to be a Jayhawk.”
“I think it says a lot about coach Price’s program,” Hill said. “I mean, Cody is a talented kid who probably could have gone anywhere in the U.S.
“To stay home and play for coach Price speaks volumes about where KU is and where they’re headed. I think he feels comfortable here, and playing at home was important to him and his family.”
Though Kukuk may have felt relieved finally to make his decision official, an even bigger one still looms.
“He’s certainly going to get drafted (in June’s MLB Amateur Draft),” Hill said. “The issue is how high and what’s put on the table. Ultimately, he and his family have to make the decision.”
For the moment though, Kukuk was willing to enjoy the moment.
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” Kukuk said. “But I kind of have to play this year out and just see where it goes from there.”
Kukuk and Toalson will be just a few of the important pieces on the Firebirds this spring, when the goal is a state championship.
“Those two would be the first to tell you, we need to have lot of people to be successful,” Hill said. “We’ll have to have some other people step up and help us.”