By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
Current pitching coach John Couch decided to attend Concordia in 2006, then unaware of the profound impact his choice would have on the Bulldog baseball program. Couch’s migration up north via Santa Fe, Texas, paved the way for current Concordia stalwarts Daniel Wilkerson and Andrew Yerrell.
Like Couch, Wilkerson and Yerrell spent their prep playing days at Santa Fe High School, located about 35 miles to the southeast of Houston. While not necessarily planning to attend the same college, the two longtime friends left The Lone Star State and headed roughly 900 miles north after completing high school.
“When we were recruiting them, I told (head coach Jeremy) Geidel, ‘if we get one it’s going to be a package deal,’” Couch said.
Now in their junior years, the Santa Fe combo is thriving in the No. 3 and 4 spots in the Concordia batting order. Yerrell leads the team with a .352 batting average while the muscular Wilkerson has cleaned up with a team high 27 RBIs through 28 games.
Having looked up to Couch, who coached both during summer leagues back home, the young Texans naturally were all ears when the possibility of playing baseball at Concordia came up in conversation. Couch quickly went to work recruiting them upon his hiring as a graduate assistant on Geidel’s staff.
It wasn’t hard for Couch to get the dialogue going. His family already had strong bonds with the Wilkersons and Yerrells. Independently, both decided Concordia was the right opportunity.
“Up to my senior year I had no intentions of playing college baseball until Coach Couch approached Dan and myself about coming to Concordia,” Yerrell said. “Knowing Couch as my summer coach for the previous two years, I trusted what he had to say about the university and the program.”
Trust in Couch, a four-year letter winner as a Bulldog pitcher, also proved crucial in Wilkerson’s decision.
“Coach Couch played the biggest role in my coming to Concordia,” Wilkerson said. “He approached Drew and I when we were at school one day and told us how much playing for Concordia helped him grow on and off the field and how much we would both benefit from the experience if we chose to come here.”
Considering both cite family as the biggest things they miss about life in Santa Fe, their pledges to Concordia may have been seen as a long shot at one time. Couch says they passed up offers from schools in San Antonio and east Texas for the chance to be Bulldogs. Wilkerson also had opportunities to further his golf career.
“Drew came up first in January and then Daniel came up in March or April (of 2011),” Couch said. “I believe Drew signed first. He’s always been the independent type. He’s going to go by himself and prove that he can do it on his own. Daniel on the other hand, he’s a mama’s boy. He’s a family man. His parents, his mom especially, had to make sure this place is safe. This place is a right fit. He took a little longer.”
Any wait was well worth it for Concordia baseball, which has seen the two grow into a formidable pair of right-handed hitters (deep) in the heart of the lineup. The two played significant roles for Geidel immediately as freshmen. After feeling things out early in their careers, Wilkerson and Yerrell have busted loose in 2014 and have the Bulldogs averaging nearly 6.5 runs per game.
Couch says the two simply needed a little experience to develop and adapt to college pitching. All three Santa Fe natives agree that it was just a matter of time before the production came in Texas-sized form.
“It's definitely a great honor being given such important roles on the team although I can't say I'm very surprised because Drew and I work really hard and set our goals high in anything we do,” Wilkerson said. “We are our biggest critics and do not ever get complacent with our performance. We certainly try to better ourselves with every game, every at-bat and every practice so it is very rewarding finding success through our hard work.”
The two friends complement each other perfectly in the 3 and 4 slots in the lineup. Yerrell (third base/DH) has gotten on base at a .455 clip, helping Wilkerson (right field) rank in the top five in the conference in RBIs. The Santa Fe duo has a combined 50 RBIs, 50 runs and 17 stolen bases.
It just makes sense that they came to Concordia together and now bat one after the other.
“Hitting in front of Dan has many advantages,” Yerrell said. “Many teams can tell that he is a big guy and can hit the long ball at any time. But because of Dan and our entire lineup swinging the bats so well and getting on base, it makes it easier for me to do my job at the plate.”
Their successes bring joy to many in the Santa Fe community, which supports a population of 12,222. Wilkerson and Yerrell are well known back home as outstanding athletes and young men alike.
“Both are looked up to in Santa Fe,” Couch said. “Everyone always wants to talk with them and hang out with them and see how they’re doing. They have people always checking up on them. They have people calling me all the time asking how they’re doing. They’re role models to the youth in Santa Fe just like they are to the youth here in Seward. I think they understand that. It’s something to be proud about.”
With that kind of support in Santa Fe, it’s unlikely either Wilkerson or Yerrell will forget their roots. After all, Wilkerson chose Pat Green’s “I Like Texas” as his walk-up song for this season. There’s also little doubt that they will have no regrets about skipping town for Concordia.
Couch calls Geidel a second father and both Wilkerson and Yerrell credit Concordia and its staff for helping shape them.
“Coach Geidel and Coach (Rich) Eber have really helped me grow as a ball player over the past two-and-a-half-years,” Wilkerson said. “They have really helped me understand the game better and to realize the things we need to do to become successful.”
Added Yerrell: “I give a lot of credit to Coach Eber who has helped develop my swing since I was a freshman. Coach Geidel and my teammates have also helped push me to my full potential throughout the years I have spent here. I try to never get complacent with my performance and always strive to be better.”
Wilkerson (criminal justice major):
After graduation I plan on returning to Santa Fe. I will most likely try to get in to law school or join the U.S Marshals Service. I haven't fully decided which one I will do yet.
Yerrell (physics major):
After graduation I plan on going to Officer Candidates School in the Navy. I will enter the engineering field and hope to make a career for myself in the military.