From the sidelines to the limelight

Injuries forced redshirt junior Tommy Eveld out of football, but it didn't take long for him to be back on a field as he now pitches for USF baseball.

Tommy Eveld was playing catch in the front yard with his older brother Bobby when he started to think about playing baseball again.

“I started realizing, ‘Hey, I can throw a round ball just as hard as I can throw a football, so that’s what motivated me to get back into baseball,’” Eveld said.

Eveld’s heart was dedicated to football, but a slew of leg injuries in practices over his three seasons on the team forced him to consider other options.

Following Bobby, who briefly started at quarterback for USF in 2013, Eveld committed to play for the Bulls after winning a 5A District Championship at Jesuit High School as the starting quarterback, connecting on 65 percent of his passes his senior season for 2,326 yards.

He waited patiently on the sidelines for his first two years at USF, redshirting his first year and playing on scout team the next — winning the 2013 USF Scout Team Offense award. 

But just when Eveld was reaching the cusp of meaningful playing time, his football dreams would be dealt a fatal blow.

“It was on the turf field, running down on a punt,” Eveld said. “My cleat just got caught up in the ground when I was trying to make a tackle. I knew right away something wasn’t right. I could feel the bones slide on each other and my knee was unstable.”

The result was a torn ACL, partially torn LCL, damage to meniscus cartilage and a contusion on his femur. 

The injuries kept Eveld off the field for yet another season, bringing questions of his future in the sport to the forefront of his mind. During recovery, he began to play slow-pitch softball, where he rediscovered his passion for baseball. 

“I kind of started to realize I’m not going to be able to run a 4.75-4.80 40 (yard dash) and go play wide receiver in the NFL,” Eveld said. “They’re just not going to take that. 

“Whereas I can work on building velocity and getting better command of pitches and have a chance to play pro baseball. So it wasn’t until about the spring football game I missed when I decided I was just going to stick with baseball.”

But even though the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Eveld had the throwing power to play for USF, the last time he played organized baseball was before he could drive, as a Little League player in Citrus Park. 

Fortunately for Eveld, his sports-centric family had prepared him for doing the near-impossible: playing a D-I college sport with no high school experience. 

“We aren’t a very big video game family just because my dad would come home from work and we knew that at that time all the TVs needed to be off,” Eveld said. 

“We would go outside and play so we didn’t get in trouble. My dad did a really good job growing up when he was coaching my teams of pounding the fundamentals of the game into my brain.”

Regardless of his time away from the sport, Eveld asked USF football coach Willie Taggart for permission to try out for the baseball team. 

Taggart happily complied and the redshirt junior pitched three bullpen sessions over the course of roughly a week, making a good enough impression on the coaching staff to earn a walk-on position.

“Tommy literally went straight from football to baseball after not having played in six years,” pitching coach Billy Mohl said. “I was surprised, I mean not playing for six years and coming out and throwing 86-88 mph in your first bullpen, you don’t see that every day.”

Senior pitcher Ryan Valdes, who played with Eveld in Little League, said he had to watch when he heard Eveld would be trying out for the team after taking such an extended hiatus from the sport. 

“From playing with him, I always knew he had the baseball skills,” Valdes said. “He’s an athlete, you can just tell. When he was doing his walk-on tryout we actually got to see some of his stuff out there and see him throwing, so I definitely saw he had some talent.

“We were skeptical because of the lack of work capacity, but we knew he had the stuff. Once you get the mentality that you’re better than these hitters, and he is, all the skepticism goes away.”

Eveld said he was unsure of his chances of making the team until he pitched his third bullpen session, hitting 89 mph on the radar gun. 

Not only did Eveld make the team, but he was immediately thrust into duty because of the lack of bullpen depth in the 2015 season. 

“Coming into baseball, the second game of the season against Louisville, I got to play and I had spent three years on the sideline for football,” Eveld said. “So that was a huge relief just being able to put a uniform on and step between the lines.”

But Eveld once again encountered knee problems in the 2015 season, pitching through the pain all year long. 

“Preseason I did a pick-off move and I felt something in my knee tweak very similar to the first time when I tore it. I was just really hoping it was breaking scar tissue. So I pitched the whole season and then against UCF, the last time we faced them, I threw a slider and my knee just buckled and gave out. v

“The coaches came out to check on me and the umpire kept telling me to leave, but I wasn’t about to leave against UCF. So I actually got back up, threw another pitch and ended the inning.”

Eveld had surgery in the offseason and now that he’s back to full strength, he’s shown the coaching staff enough to earn the closer role, which was vacated when former pitcher Tommy Peterson was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the offseason. 

“There’s always debate (on who will be the closer), but in terms of profile, Tommy Eveld fit that profile the best,” Mohl said. “We’ve always had guys at the back-end of the bullpen with good breaking balls and Tommy’s got one of the best breaking balls on this pitching staff, so it’s a role that suits him well.”

The 22-year-old pitcher said he doesn’t have regrets about playing football and he would do it all again, but his sights are now set on a new goal: playing professional baseball. 

“At the start of last year, I wasn’t concerned with getting drafted or going to the MLB, it was more just I can’t believe I’m on the team,” Eveld said. “At the end of last year, coach Mohl and some scouts told me, ‘If you keep working, you have potential.’ That was kind of when it settled in, I am pretty good at this game. It took me a while to realize it though.”