By: Will Wetzel
Not many people have heard of Tuscola High School before.
As a small, public high school in the town of Waynesville, North Carolina, Tuscola isn’t a school that churns out prospects year after year. Named after a Cherokee word that means “Digging in Many Places,” Tuscola only has a handful of well-known alumni that walked through its corridors: the most notable names being Jonathan Crompton, who was a former NFL and CFL quarterback, and Stephanie Glance, who is currently the Columbia Lions women’s basketball coach.
However, this small school, despite its lack of name recognition, may be churning out one of the next under-the-radar baseball prospects—one who could both pitch and hit. That player’s name is Landon Henley.
Henley, a member of the Class of 2019, is a two-sport athlete, excelling in basketball and baseball. Like most talented athletes, he is good at more than one sport, which makes the college recruiting process more challenging since very few schools offer an athlete the opportunity to play two varsity sports.
It is a topic that transcends all collegiate athletics.
“It’s awful difficult in this day and age [to play two sports] with year-round conditioning that everyone’s got to do,” said Nebraska football recruiting coach Ross Els, according to dailynebraskan.com.
Henley, therefore, was faced with a difficult problem to have: choosing the right sport for himself. At 6′ 5” and 235 pounds, Henley was built for basketball success. He is arguably the best basketball and baseball player to come to Tuscola. Currently in his senior season, Henley has already amassed 1,300 points for his career and counting while also holding the school record for career rebounds. With his size though, there was one skill that he knew he would have to work at–footwork. Luckily for him, he was introduced to an activity that helped him become a more well-rounded athlete—dancing.
Landon’s mother owns Angie’s Dance Academy in Clyde, and it was there that Henley trained and improved his footwork. As a result of his dancing hobby, Henley acquired a skill that has helped him become a better athlete in both sports. Through the mother and son shared activity, Henley was able to turn a part of his game that was a weakness into a great asset. It is no wonder, therefore, that Henley was always sure to give his mother credit for his success, noting that her careful instruction and guidance helped him improve.
“I danced for 10 years with my mom and that helped me a lot,” he said, according to themountaineer.com. “It helped with my coordination. Otherwise, I’d be coming down the floor like a pterodactyl.”
Despite the benefits of dancing, Henley noted that he still received some good-natured ribbing from his friends and teammates about his side hobby.
“Some of my friends and teammates give me a hard time about it,” said Henley, according to themountaineer.com. “But it taught me a lot of skills that have translated to athletics.”
In basketball, Henley’s improved footwork helped him beat his opponents offensively and defensively since most of them did not have the overall quickness Henley possessed. In baseball, Henley’s footwork helped him become more agile on the field at first base, the main position he plays when he is not on the mound.
“Footwork is the big thing,” confirmed Henley, according to themountaineer.com. “If you have better footwork than a big guy, you’ll beat him every time. All those years of dancing have also helped me run faster, stretch muscles and increase endurance.”
All of those years of training had paid off. Henley entered his senior year of high school with multiple options to choose from. Unlike most athletes, Henley also made the decision to not focus on one sport: instead of focusing on one sport with the hope of landing an attractive scholarship, he continued to play both the sports he loved. It was his plan from the beginning, and it was one that he was appreciative of.
“I’m going to finish out my high school career playing baseball and basketball,” Henley said, according to themountaineer.com. “And whichever one wins out in the end, that’s the one I’ll probably end up pursuing.”
The conclusion of the 2018 year has resulted in Henley choosing a course of action for college. On December 26th, Landon Henley announced that he will play baseball at the college level next year. On Twitter, he told his followers that he would play baseball at Anderson University, a Division II baseball program in South Carolina.
“After a lot of thought and consideration, school visits, and coach conversations in both sports, I have decided to continue my academic and baseball career at Anderson University,” Henley wrote in a Twitter post, according to NCSASports.org.
With his decision made, Henley could now look to improve on his game in the spring. Over the course of his high school career, Henley has shown improvement each year especially as a hitter. As a junior, Henley had seven wins and 54 strikeouts on the mound while adding 22 hits and 10 RBIs at the plate to go with a .333 batting average, which is an improvement from his sophomore campaign where he batted .235 and only had six RBIs.
As a pitcher, Henley is slowly improving his walk-to-strikeout ratio. In his sophomore season, he allowed 14 walks and struck out 22 hitters. In his junior campaign, he allowed 21 walks but struck out 54 batters. With his collegiate plans finalized, Henley can now narrow his focus on becoming the best pitcher he can be. And Henley, regardless of whether his senior campaign ends with a division title, plans on enjoying his transition from high school star to collegiate ballplayer.
“I love to win, but I love the process even more. The journey has been a blast so far, and I look forward for what’s yet to come,” Henley’s statement on NCSASports.org read.