Nalesnik signs with Lehigh
bob ford/times news Lehighton's Jacen Nalesnik (front row, center) signs to attend Lehigh University. Nalesnikplans to play both baseball and football for the Mountain Hawks. Flanking Jacen for the signing are his father B.J. Nalesnik and his mother Wendy Nalesnik. Standing behind them are Lehighton Athletic Director Kyle Spotts and Indian baseball coach Brian Polaha.
Lehigh University baseball coach Sean Leary knew about Jacen Nalesnik, the player.
But once he found out about Jacen Nalesnik, the student, there was an added interest.
Now, that interest is mutual as Nalesnik, ranked first in his class at Lehighton, has signed to continue his athletic and academic career as a Mountain Hawk.
"All along I've wanted to play baseball more than football but for awhile it was looking like I might play football," said Nalesnik. "When Lehigh came along, I was really excited.
"Lehigh came into the picture during the middle of the summer and by the end of the summer we were talking a lot. I took a visit to the campus and I liked it there. I wanted to find somewhere that was a good fit for me, and I think Lehigh is a good fit."
Nalesnik's high school coach, Brian Polaha, was talking to Coach Leary on the phone one day during the summer and the Lehigh mentor brought up Jacen's name. Little did Leary know that the conversion would be the start of pursuing the current Indian catcher.
"I know Coach Leary from the summer leagues," said Polaha, who also coaches the Northern Yankees in the Tri-County League. "He played in the summer league and has some of his Lehigh guys playing in the Tri-County and Blue Mountain Leagues. I had a phone conversation with him, and we were talking about coaching and players.
"He brought up Jacen's name, and he asked how his grades were. I told him he was first in his class and he was like, 'Oh really'. He asked me if he had any interest in Lehigh and I told him yeah. From that point on things moved quickly."
Leary watched Nalesnik hit some balls during practice and obviously he liked what he saw.
"He wanted to see Jacen take a round of BP," said Polaha. "He saw the ball jump off Jacen's bat to all fields ... Shortly after that there was an offer."
While Nalesnik, who was the 2012 TIMES NEWS Baseball Player of the Year, knows he will be going to Lehigh, he doesn't know yet where he'll be playing. In fact, he may find himself almost anywhere on the field.
"They recruited me more as an athlete than as a catcher so they're saying I could play outfield, first base, third base or catching. I'm just excited for the opportunity. I'll play anywhere. I just want to get on the field."
One field Nalesnik won't be playing on anymore is the football field. Despite offers from Ivy League and Patriot League schools to continue on the gridiron, that career is now behind him.
"It's rough and I don't think it's really set in yet that I'm never going to play football again," said Nalesnik. "It's been fun, the four years that I've played and I enjoyed every second of it."
Nalesnik's family has to enjoy the fact that Jacen won't be far from home.
"My dad went there," said Nalesnik, who plans to major in engineering. "My grandma and grandpa and aunt all went there too so it's pretty cool. I'm excited it's close to home."
The Mountain Hawks were just 18-31-1 overall and 6-14 in the Patriot League last season, but are hoping to turn that record around.
"Their sports programs are starting to elevate," said Polaha. "They're good in football again and their basketball team was in the NCAA tournament. They want to get better in baseball. They're really trying to build something in the their athletic program.
"You know about their academics, but they're trying to build their athletics as well. I think it's a great fit all-around. For him to get a Lehigh education is phenominal."
Also phenominal for Jacen is that fact that the decision has been made.
"It's definitely a relief. I was hoping to get this done as soon as possible, just so I'd know and have less to worry about. Now I can focus on my schoolwork and the rest of my high school sports career.
"I want to thank my parents and my family for all the support and Coach Polaha for all he's done. I also want to thank Coach Hedash and Coach Rossino for the help they gave me in Little League."