Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan After taking a year off from softball Brookwood graduate Brandi Jones has decided to play softball again. Jones recently signed with Florida Southern to resume her career.
The normal college life seemed to suit Brandi Jones just fine.
She enjoyed Georgia Southern and her Phi Mu sorority, doing what students who don't play college sports consider their daily routine. Then this past spring, the freshman was in tears as she watched a GSU-Mercer softball game.
A one-time Mercer softball commitment, she had changed her mind on college athletics when the Bears' head coach resigned during Jones' senior year at Brookwood. At least until she found herself crying at a college softball game.
"I just sat in the stands and started crying," Jones said. "I knew it should be me out there. I just wanted to be out there. That's when I knew I wanted to play again. ... Yeah, it was sad. I called my dad and I'm like, 'Dad, I have to play. I should be playing for Mercer right now.' But everything happens for a reason and now I'm excited to be going to school with my best friend and, hopefully, my sister."
That school is Florida Southern, where her best friend and fellow Brookwood grad Kelsey Gouge is a star swimmer. Both the men's and women's swim teams there have recruited Gwinnett athletes heavily in recent years and one of the Moccasins' top golfers, Jackie Rajek, went to Collins Hill.
Jones is the only Gwinnett product on the FSC softball team, which didn't recruit her out of high school but developed interest when the pitcher reached out to the coaches during the spring. She talked to a friend who played at Eckerd College, then started looking at other schools in that area. One of the top choices was Florida Southern, thanks to the connection with Gouge.
"It's far away, but my best friend goes there and my sister (Ansley, a rising Brookwood senior pitcher) is also looking to go there," Jones said. "I started looking at it when I was thinking of playing again. It's really pretty. It's small. When I first started looking at schools, Mercer was small and that's what I really wanted. It was perfect.
"They are really competitive in their conference and they've won one national championship. The coach started the program and she's been there since the beginning. She's really kind of old fashioned and I like that. The assistant coaches are really, really nice. I haven't met the players yet but it's a growing program. They're about to start building a new stadium."
Florida Southern doesn't recruit Georgia heavily --only six Moccasins on the softball roster aren't from Florida, and Jones is the only Georgian --so the coaches there didn't have much to go on with Jones when she reached out to them.
Her credentials were good, having earned Class AAAAA pitcher of the year honors her senior season at Brookwood with a 21-5 record, a 1.10 ERA and 152 strikeouts. She also hit .330 with 17 RBIs.
But the FSC coaches couldn't exactly sign Jones without seeing her pitch.
"Yeah, I did nothing (with softball) for a year," Jones said. "The coach said 'OK, let me know when you want to visit and you can pitch for us,' because obviously they'd never seen me pitch. I was like, 'Oh crap. I've got two weeks.' So I got one of my friends and he caught me at Southern three or four times before I went down there.
"They knew I hadn't pitched in a year except for those four times. I did pretty good for being out for a year. I've started back with my lessons and my training now. I'm getting back to softball life."
Jones did well enough in those hitting and pitching sessions that the FSC coaches made her one of seven newcomers for the 2014 season. She will have four seasons of eligibility since she never played at Georgia Southern.
Her summer is filled with workouts and pitching lessons, in addition to practices with her younger sister's team to face some live batters. She hasn't pitched to a real hitter in roughly a year, so that experience will be crucial.
She wants to play well for her new college team, so her training and pitching form are two areas of focus over the next few months. It's a lot of work to regain her previous form, but after a year away, softball is fun again.
"I think it's going to be exciting to get back out there," Jones said. "I realize it's going to be harder than I thought coming back after a year, but I feel like once the season comes all the hard work I'm putting in now is going to pay off, just like it did in high school and travel ball.
"I want to go down there and hopefully be a leader even though I'll be a freshman again. They have a lot of new girls coming into the program, too, so it should be fun. It's kind of nerve-racking because I want to go down there and impress them. But I know my hard work will pay off when I get there."