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Arizona baseball: Landon Faulkner leaves southern comfort to join Wildcats

An obscure SEC rule led to Arizona landing a great junior college pitcher

College World Series - Coastal Carolina v Arizona - Game Two Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Landon Faulkner was all set to join the Georgia Bulldogs this year.

But then an obscure SEC rule prevented that from happening.

“I transferred from Chattahoochee Valley to Chipola College, and being ineligible out of high school for D-1, there’s an SEC rule saying that you have to stay at the same JUCO for three semesters for you to be eligible for SEC and ACC,” Faulkner explained. “So I signed my letter of intent (with Georgia), and Coach (Scott) Stricklin at UGA called me in January (2016) and said ‘Hey, we have a problem here’ and I failed with compliance.”

“So one of the coaches at UGA played for Coach (Sergio) Brown at Fullerton, and my name got thrown out there and (Arizona) started watching me, and I fell in love with U of A.”

“It took about a month and a half, two months after, sometime in March,” Faulkner added about the timeline. “It came out of nowhere, I had no idea, so it was pretty cool.”

“We talked to the Chipola coach, because we knew we needed some transfers on this team and were looking for some late pitching help,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson added. “So I called Scott Stricklin at Georgia, I asked what happened, he explained to me ‘This is somebody you would want to talk to. We signed him here with the intent to help him at the top level of the SEC. I don’t know if he’s going to start on Friday for you, but I know he can positively impact your pitching staff’.”

Faulkner had spent his entire life in the south. He’s from Kennesaw, Georgia, Chattahoochee Valley is in Alabama, and Chipola is in Florida. So the fact that Arizona even became an option seems strange on the surface. But there are some U of A ties in the Faulkner family.

“Actually, my uncle went to U of A,” Landon explained. “When I was younger, he gave me this U of A putter cover because I play golf, and I’ve always had it on my bag, and now that I’m here, it’s kind of cool that I ended up here where he went.”

“I still use it,” he said through a smile about that putter cover.

So Arizona reaches out in March, and the only one to have seen Faulkner in person was Sergio Brown. Pitching coach Dave Lawn and Johnson had only seen video.

“Nobody works the phones and knows more people than Sergio,” Lawn joked. “His contact list in his cell phone has gotta be amazing. Sergio went about the business of calling around because we needed to add an arm or two in the spring after getting a chance to evaluate things.”

“The reason we really liked (Faulkner) is that he’s a short right-hander,” Lawn continued. “Typically they don’t profile out professionally, so at the very least, it’s not that much of a draft risk, so we brought him out.”

After the UCLA series in 2016, which was the last weekend of March, Faulkner got on a plane and visited Tucson, where the coaches got a chance to see him throw.

“That’s when I met him,” Johnson joked. “We saw a lot of video on him. Their games at the end of the season last year were web streamed, and I watched all of ‘em if I had the chance, and was very pleased with how that came out.”

“He’s got that southern gentleman-ness to him; yes sir, no sir, all that kinda staff,” Lawn recounted of his first in-person impressions of Faulkner. “A lot of kids don’t realize that when they come to visit, we’re also checking them out too. It’s not just trying to get ‘em to say yes, it’s also trying to find out if there’s some sort of little flaw in there or something you don’t really like personality-wise, and with Landon, there were certainly no red flags.”

That also happened to be one of the more miraculous comebacks in college baseball last year, with Arizona scoring five runs in the ninth and taking the series in walk-off fashion.

“I missed it, I was on a flight out here,” Faulkner reminisced. “I saw the video of all of them running on the field and seeing Coach Jay run. It was pretty cool.”

This was Faulkner’s only encounter with the Arizona program and coaches before going to Tucson for fall classes this year.

“It’s scary leaving my family and not knowing anybody, but I feel like it will get me ready for pro ball in the future because when you get drafted you don’t know anybody on the team or the coaches and you just get thrown out there,” explained Faulkner about his mindset when leaving the south. “You have to face adversity, and when I got here, the team and coaches were very welcoming and made sure I was comfortable even though I’m far away from home.”

“It probably took not even a week, so it wasn’t too hard actually.”

He was able to watch the 2016 team make it to the final series against Coastal Carolina, but being so far away and not growing up in the region, all he could do was watch since he didn’t know anyone on the team.

“I didn’t have anyone’s phone numbers or anything,” he said. “I didn’t really talk to anyone while they were in Omaha, but when I got here, it was cool to hear all the stories. Like the first night I was here, I was at my apartment and Ryan Haug and JC (Cloney) were over grilling out by the pool, and they were telling stories about how it was in Omaha, and just the experience with the fans and everything.”

Faulkner says his velocity has jumped from 88-92 MPH up to 90-94 MPH in Lawn’s throwing program, and his command of all three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) has vastly improved. Considering he was 7-1 in 72 13 innings at Chipola last year, that could be a scary thought for opposing hitters.

“I’d venture to guess he’s going to pitch a lot of important innings this year,” Lawn said. “And we’re really glad to have him.”

“His numbers were stupid good in a really good conference in terms of hits to innings pitched, strikeouts to innings, all of those were really impressive,” Johnson added. “Really glad that one worked out.”

Faulkner hasn’t seen much of the Pac-12 though having grown up in the south.

“Honestly, last year I didn’t really pay attention to Pac-12 baseball being from the south,” Faulkner explained. “I’ve always known that it was great, like I saw U of A in the College World Series in 2012, Oregon State always in it, and UCLA obviously, but it’s just cool being part of an elite conference like this around all these great players.”

It seems like a pretty decent bet that Faulkner could vault himself into that category of great players in the conference, using his velocity and his changeup that has the coaching staff giddy to get him out there.

And having someone that was signed by Georgia is never a bad thing either.