Staff Photo: John Bohn Austin Meadows has recently returned from Mexico after helping USA Baseball's U16 Team win a gold medal at the IBOS World Championships. Austin also plays football for Grayson.
While most students at Grayson High School have been back in the classroom for about a month now, and the Rams football team has been sweating it out on the practice and game fields a few weeks longer, Austin Meadows is just now returning to his regular schedule with both.
But his late start to the 2011-12 school year and 2011 high school football season wasn't just an extended summer vacation.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior spent the latter half of the summer representing his country with USA Baseball's U16 National Team, and came home with a gold medal that the team won at the IBAF 16U World Championship, which were completed Aug. 28 in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico.
"I missed it a little," Meadows said of school and football. "It was a little weird being away from my friends, but being in Mexico and winning a gold medal was worth it."
And Meadows wasn't just any part of Team USA's gold-medal winning effort.
The junior outfielder hit a whopping .537 (22-for-41) with nine extra-base hits, including a home run, and rolled up a 1.446 OPS in eight tournament games.
But his biggest contribution to the team was that he became a run-producing machine.
Meadows set a new tournament record by driving in 28 runs during Team USA's 7-1 mark during the 10-day competition, which included a tournament record-tying seven RBIs in a single game during the tournament-opening 21-11 win over Australia.
In addition, he led the team with six stolen bases in nine attempts and 36 total bases and tied for the team lead with 16 runs scored.
While he's had plenty of confidence this summer even during the team trials in Cary, N.C., in June, even he didn't see his outburst during the World Championships coming.
"I don't know. I guess during the summer, I worked every day with my dad. I guess I was pretty confident," Meadows said. "But it felt like I could hit anything (by the end of the tournament)."
It's not hard to see Meadows' strong summer as a surprise. The first surprise was the fact that he was the only player from Georgia to be selected for the team just a year after two other Gwinnett high school stars -- Parkview's Matt Olson and Brookwood's Lucas Sims -- starred for the team.
Meadows' outburst might also seem surprising given his statistics from his sophomore season at Grayson last spring, which were solid (.388, 1 HR, 18 RBIs, 19 R, 11 SB in just 49 at bats), if not spectacular.
Still, Rams coach Seth Rhine isn't shocked at all at Meadows' summer accomplishments, though he says his biggest challenges may still lie ahead
"His statistics weren't overly impressive," Rhine recalled. "But remember, he missed the first four weeks with a broken wrist, and he was still a sophomore and kind of asserting himself. When you see him day in and day out, the ball just goes off his bat differently (from most other hitters), and he's a physical specimen.
"We have high hopes for him and our program. I worry a little bit about expectations. But Lucas and Matt were already accustomed to those kind of expectations when they played (with Team USA's U16 team) last year. And we've been around 11 years now, but we've never had someone with the kind of notoriety Austin's getting right now. It's a unique experience for him and for us, but if there's a young man who can handle it, Austin is that young man."
Meadows' performance in Mexico, along with what he accomplished with the Rams and during the rest of the summer with the Team Elite travel program, has begun to catch the eyes of college coaches throughout the Southeast.
While only a junior, he already holds scholarship offers from big-time programs like Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina, as well as sparking interest from other big programs like South Carolina.
But for now, Meadows is happy to be home, and ready to settle back into his role with the Grayson football team as the Rams' starting punter and a reserve at the running back and linebacker spots.
"Actually, (making the transition back to football) has been easier than I thought it would be," Meadows said. "I thought I'd be really out of (football) shape, but so far, I'm not."