May 20, 2011
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It all started with a recruiting pitch. In this case the roles were reversed — Zach McCool was the one selling himself to head coach Jack Dahm and the University of Iowa baseball program.
McCool was a three-sport standout at West Delaware High School: an all-state baseball and football player and a state champion wrestler. Options were plentiful for the Manchester, Iowa, native in all three sports coming out of high school, but all came at the Division II or Division III level.
There was one problem: McCool always had his sights set on being a Division I student-athlete.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to play Division I, somewhere in some sport,” said McCool. “That’s what my goal was my entire life and that’s what I looked for. I played hard every single day, playing for myself in order to get to a Division I university.”
McCool had the resume, will and work ethic of a Division I athlete. He just had to find the right place and for someone, some coach, to give him a chance.
Dahm was familiar with McCool. After all, he’d seen him play while recruiting (and eventually signing) his high school and current UI teammate Phil Keppler. McCool made it be known to Dahm that he was interested in playing for the Hawkeyes.
“We didn’t know if he was going to be talented enough, to be honest with you… if he could play at the Division I level,” said Dahm. “After watching him in the state championship — they won a state title his senior year — I met with Zach and his dad. I told him we’ll give you the fall to show you what you can do.
“He wasn’t assured a spot on the team when he came here, but he’s definitely made the most of it.”
After being a role player during his freshman and sophomore seasons, McCool had a breakout junior campaign. He posted a .344 batting average with 12 doubles, three triples, two home runs and 36 RBI, which led to him being named a third team all-Big Ten selection.
“Coming in it was kind of scary,” said McCool. “I had the fall to make it… that’s the one thing I worked for. That’s one thing I look back on and ask `Could I do something different to actually get myself in the line-up?’
“After realizing I belonged on this team and knowing my role of bringing the energy and being a leader, it kind of brought it (the junior breakout) out of me. I told myself to relax, play how I always played, it’s the game of baseball… you’ve played it since you were young. I did, I relaxed, looked at it one pitch at a time.”
Once McCool started letting the game come to him, Dahm had a player that was instrumental in team success.
“Zach had to understand who he was and how he needed to play,” said Dahm. “Once he embraced that role and understood he was going to be a utility player for us, all of a sudden, we couldn’t keep him out of the line-up.
“He had a tremendous season and was a huge reason why we had the success we did last year.”
The Hawkeyes won 11-of-14 games to close the 2010 season and finishing 30-28. Iowa was third in the regular season standings before finishing runner-up at the Big Ten Tournament, the team’s highest finish since 1983.
McCool did most of his damage as the No. 2 hitter in the Hawkeye line-up because of his versatility with the bat. As a junior, he had 62 hits and laid down a school-record 11 sacrifice bunts. This season, he’s established a new record, putting down 16 sacrifices.
“I like being in the two-hole because they talk about the two-hole being the action guy,” said McCool. “I like when coaches on the other side say this is the action guy… you never know what’s going to happen.
“You don’t know if he’s going to hit-and-run, bunt, slash… there are a lot of things you can do with a two-hole guy, and I think I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in that spot.”
“He’s a guy we can sac bunt with, hit-and-run with, and he’s a great situational type hitter,” said Dahm. “We know he’s going to get the job done, and he’s very unselfish.”
McCool has been extremely confident in the classroom during his time at the UI. The two-time Academic all-Big Ten selection earned a bachelor’s degree in health, leisure and sports studies with an entrepreneurship certificate last weekend. He has been a member of the team’s Unity Council the last two seasons.
“Zach was an outstanding student coming out of high school and he’s carried that through,” said Dahm. “He is a true college athlete. He’s a guy that does well academically, works extremely hard in the weight room, works hard on the baseball field, but he’s also a social kid.
“He’s one of the guys that understand how to be a college student-athlete. To still be a college student and have his fun, but to be very disciplined and responsible.”
When asked about reflecting on his four years as a Hawkeye, words are hard to come by for McCool.
“For it to come through and for Coach Dahm to give me an opportunity to come here and do what I’ve been able to do is humbling,” said McCool. “There is not much to say… it’s hard to talk about.
“In the next 10 years, I’ll be talking to my kids, saying I was a part of the Iowa baseball team, part of the foundation of the Big Ten finals squad, I was a Big Ten candidate of academics and also as an athlete. I never would have had this chance if coach Dahm didn’t give me an opportunity.”
McCool’s recruiting pitch paid off. He left his mark on the Iowa baseball team and on his head coach.
“Zach McCool is going to be very successful in life because of his work ethic, because of his personality and because he’s not going to accept anything other than being successful,” said Dahm.
Chalk one up for McCool. His recruiting pitch is complete.