BYU baseball: Freshman star Jacob Hannemann could give up football to pursue pro baseball career
PROVO — BYU freshman Jacob Hannemann has a monumental decision to make in the coming weeks that will impact not only his future, but also two programs in the Cougar athletic department.
While Hannemann is enjoying an outstanding season on the baseball diamond for BYU, he is attending school on a football scholarship. The speedy Hannemann is playing so well, he is expected to be taken in the early rounds of the Major League Baseball first-year player draft June 6-8.
So, if Hannemann turns out to be a high-round draft pick and is offered a lucrative signing bonus, does he leave BYU — and his promising football career as a cornerback — behind?
Will he pass up on one dream to pursue another?
That's the dilemma Hannemann faces.
"If I stay here, I'd definitely fight for that starting spot in football," he said. "When the draft comes, we'll see what the opportunity is and see where I could be playing baseball for a long time. The possibility of staying here and getting drafted the next year is an option, too. I'll have to pray about it and weigh my options and see what the best thing is for me to do when the time comes."
While it's a tough position to be in, it's also a favorable one.
"These are problems," Hannemann said, "but they're pretty good problems to be having right now."
Speaking of problems, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall was hoping to have Hannemann fill a void in his depth-challenged defensive secondary this fall.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from Alpine did not participate in spring practices due to his baseball schedule. But when the spring depth chart was unveiled, Hannemann was listed as Mike Hague's backup at boundary corner.
The Cougars could certainly use Hannemann's speed and athleticism at the position. BYU lost junior college transfer Trent Trammell on the first day of spring drills to a season-ending knee injury. Another promising corner — Jacob's younger brother Micah — impressed coaches last fall, but he has left the program to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I would have loved to be playing with him and being out on the field at the same time as him," Jacob said of his brother. "He's going to be gone for the next two years. I thought I would be here for at least two years."
What does Mendenhall think about Jacob Hannemann's future?
"He's really lucky. He's got some great choices that lie ahead of him," the coach said. "I know that he'll be selected pretty high in the Major League Baseball draft. My hope is that he has the option to do whatever he wants to do. I'd love to have him play football. He is currently on a football scholarship. When you're on football aid, that's the aid that provides for this opportunity to play baseball."
Originally, BYU interest in Hannemann was because of baseball. Former Cougar baseball coach Vance Law offered him a partial scholarship while Hannemann was at Lone Peak High. Then, Hannemann turned in a stellar junior season on the football field, attracting the attention of football coaches.
When Mendenhall recruited the two-sport star, he offered him a full-ride scholarship and made a promise to Hannemann and his family that Jacob would have the chance to play both football and baseball for the Cougars.
"I just knew that I loved both sports. The football scholarship was obviously the better opportunity," Hannemann recalled. "I love playing football. But that possibility to play both was there, too. It was kind of a verbal agreement, a promise that during baseball season, games would override practices and I'd just do baseball."
While Mendenhall allowed defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi to play basketball for BYU after the football season ended last year, Hannemann is the only player that Mendenhall has promised, during the recruiting process, the opportunity to play two sports.
Hannemann accepted the scholarship to play football at BYU and left for an LDS Church mission to Little Rock, Ark. After returning home from his mission last July, Hannemann joined the Cougar football team.
"I got back right before fall camp. I wasn't feeling all the way in shape yet," he said. "So I just redshirted and was planning to play the next four years."
In February, Hanneman started playing baseball, and has quickly become a star outfielder. As of May 13, the fleet-footed leadoff hitter was batting .337 with 13 doubles, seven triples and five home runs.
"It's been going better than I expected. My goal was to start at center field and lead off," he said. "But I didn't think I would be doing this good. I wanted to do this good, but I didn't know how long it would take to come back (after a mission)."
Hannemann has been drafted before — he was taken in the 48th round of the 2010 baseball draft by the Kansas City Royals. But this year's draft is expected to provide Hannemann a much better situation.
"It just takes one team to really like me," he said. "Out of the 30 (Major League) clubs, 27 have contacted me. Out of that, probably half of those are really interested in drafting me at least in the top 10 rounds. I don't know what's going to happen."
The amount of money Hannemann is offered after he's drafted will play a major factor in his decision.
"It would have to be a big thing financially. I know playing in the minor leagues are a tough few years. You don't get paid a lot, so I'd have to live off that signing bonus," he said. "I'm looking to get married, too. So I just have to see what happens and definitely pray about it when that time comes. It's all coming down kind of quick. Hopefully something good and something big happens here soon."
Mendenhall said he is supportive of Hannemann — no matter what he chooses.
"I would love to see him on the field for us," Mendenhall said. "We loved what we saw from him as we got ready for our bowl preparation (last December). We are counting on him being in the lineup in the secondary for us. However, if baseball is his dream and his passion and a great opportunity presents itself, I would support that 100 percent. My job is to help young people reach their goals and dreams. Football isn't the only way you can do that.
"College can be about more than football," Mendenhall continued. "It is a sacrifice on the football program, but eventually it will work out where the young men like Jacob will choose. I'd love for him to play for us this fall. My guess is his baseball stock would only go up if he had another year like the one he's having this year. But I'm not an expert regarding that."
BYU first-year baseball coach Mike Littlewood has enjoyed the production his team has received from Hannemann this season.
"Jacob Hannemann is swinging the bat well. We like to see him drive the ball up the middle with his swing," Littlewood said. "He is getting better and better every game. We're going to ride him as long as we can. We talk about quick, fast-twitch muscle fiber, with his elbows, wrists and hands. He is so quick he can wait longer than the normal guy on pitches. It's pretty incredible when you consider what he's doing."
While Hannemann is trying to concentrate on finishing his freshman baseball season strong, the upcoming draft can be a big distraction.
"A lot of things keep me thinking about it," he said. "There are a lot of scouts that come and talk to me and call me all the time. But I'm able to focus on the games."
Meanwhile, Hannemann knows his decision will have long-lasting implications.
"Staying here at BYU, going to school and playing both sports is another great opportunity. I just love sports," he said. "I want to be playing sports as long as I can in life. I wouldn't want to do that church ball and that church softball stuff. I'd rather play at the highest level."
As much as he is looking forward to playing pro baseball, Hannemann admits that there's something about the allure of playing football in front of more than 60,000 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"That's always a dream, right there," he said. "Growing up, you always hear people telling you, 'The chances of playing football or baseball at BYU is really slim.' So I just had fun. I was really competitive at everything I was doing. I never really thought until my junior year of high school that I should be playing college sports. Especially, I never thought I'd be playing both on a full-ride scholarship. And then I definitely never thought that I'd be drafted. That was always a dream."
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