Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorback signee Varnado pumped about Diamond Hogs
As he watched Arkansas rally Monday night for a 6-2 win over Nebraska to earn a berth in the NCAA Super Regional, Razorbacks shortstop signee Drake Varnado was envisioning being a part of the Baum-Walker Stadium atmosphere next season.
Varnado (6-1, 180) shined this season at IMG Academy, hitting .434 with 7 home runs, 23 RBI, an .819 slugging percentage, a 1.348 OPS and 20 steals in 21 attempts over 25 games.
“That was awesome,” Varnado said of the game played before 11,084 fans. “That’s baseball. Just goes to show you the chemistry of the Hogs, and something I’m excited to be a part of.
"The best part is that DVH is focused on sweeping NC State next weekend. A bunch of dudes digging deep.”
Arkansas (49-11) will host North Carolina State (33-17) Friday at 5 p.m. in the first game of a best-of-three series whose victor will advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“I think they really put it together and it is one of the best college teams I have ever seen in my lifetime,” Varnado said. “It is a program that is up there with anyone and I can’t wait to get up there and be a part of it.”
Varnado, a Port Neches, Texas, native who had a .938 fielding percentage this season, is one one of 10 finalists for MaxPreps National Player of the Year.
Previous winners of the award include current St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty and minor league phenoms Nolan Gorman of St. Louis and Bobby Witt, Jr., of the Kansas City Royals.
“It was as a great year and we had a great team,” Varnado said of his 23-2 squad. “I started off hot and stayed hot, so I didn’t have to think too much about what I was doing.”
Varnado is one five Arkansas signees ranked high in MLB Pipeline’s Top 150 prospects of a draft that is scheduled for July 11-13.
Haughton, La., second baseman Peyton Stovall heads up the that list at No. 27 while shortstop Max Muncy (44) of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Texarkana outfielder Braylon Bishop (70); left-handed pitcher Hagen Smith (96) of Bullard, Texas; and Varnado (144) all made it into the top 150.
Varnado could have a tough decision to make if he is drafted high.
“Obviously the Hogs are close to my heart and I know what I am worth,” Varnado said. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in the SEC. It is going to be a life-changing decision whatever I decide to end up doing, but the Hogs are the thing in my mind right now.”
His mindset at the moment is to report to Arkansas in July.
“I am just kind of training right now in Houston, getting in the weight room and trying to put on a little mass before I get to campus,” Varnado said. “I think they want us up there on July 28.
Varnado committed to South Carolina as a ninth grader and then switched that pledge to Arkansas as a junior after visiting Fayetteville.
He was on hand for a September 2019 weekend that included an Arkansas-San Jose State football game and an Arkansas-Oklahoma baseball scrimmage.
“Honestly, the thing that tripped my mind was when I went up there in the fall of my junior year,” Varnado said. “It was the the weekend of the Arkansas-San Jose football game. I thought it might be the only football game of the year they might win and then there was the scrimmage that night against Oklahoma and there were 9,800 fans there in the fall.
“That just blew me away and DVH is probably one of the best college coaches on this earth, so I can’t wait to get up there.”
Varnado is one of three IMG standouts connected with the Razorbacks with pitcher Drew Gray also a 2022 Arkansas signee and 2023 pitcher Jawood Cho pledged to the SEC regular season and tournament champs.
He is happy that he made the decision to move to IMG Academy for his junior and senior seasons.
“I would say that the biggest thing for me was that IMG just has everything I need in my backyard,” Varnado said. “I could focus solely on getting better and not have to travel three hours to train. That was the biggest decision maker for me.
“Obviously the facilities speak for themselves. As for this year, I just made the routine play and then showed out this spring a little bit.”
Varnado started his high school career as a catcher and has played both shortstop and second base at IMG Academy.
“The one thing I know I am going to do is hit, so I am not really worried about where I’ll play,” Varnado said. “I’ll play wherever they need me. If I hit, they will find me a place to play.”
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