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Conversations with College Coaches: Occidental College

Baseball Factory works with programs from every level of college baseball and every region of the country. Recently, Dan Mooney went one-on-one with Jason Hawkins, the head coach at Occidental College. Occidental, located in Los Angeles, California, is a Division III program in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. From their use of video to the type of players he recruits and the academic rigors of Occidental, Coach Hawkins gave some insight into his program.

1. How long have you been coaching? How long at Occidental College?
This is my 20th season as a baseball coach at the high school and college level combined. Seven of those were at the Division III level, including the last three as the Head Coach here at Occidental.

2. Who are some of your mentors or coaches that you look up to?
Probably the man that has had the greatest impact on me as a coach over the course of my career is my father. He was my high school football and baseball coach. I grew up in his dugout and on busses and the sidelines with his teams. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been influenced by his actions and decisions on and off the field. I was also fortunate to coach for some high school legends in my home state of Oregon early in my career. Pat Casey at Oregon State is a friend and colleague and is part of that baseball lineage that I was lucky to be a part of cutting my teeth as a coach in the Northwest. I have tremendous respect for his professionalism and leadership.

3. What is the first thing about your school and program that you’d want a recruit to know about?
Our school is incredibly demanding academically but the culture is conducive to success on the field given the importance of being self-motivated, goal-oriented and responsible for managing the time that we’re all given each day. We are very aggressive on the field. We pitch to contact, attack on the bases (we’ve been ranked in the top 10 nationally in stolen bases in each of my three years here) and throw our bodies around defensively—emphasizing the great play. We are also a very close family and work hard to build relationships with our players. We find this key in motivating our guys to achieve high standards everywhere.

4. What do you look for in a prospective recruit on the field? Off the field?
On the field, we are looking for athletic young men that have a high baseball IQ. We want young men here that thrive in a competitive environment, that want to be pushed to their limits. And we look for players that are mentally tough—we define this as the ability to consistently play in the moment.

5. How has video helped you in your recruiting?
Video is a tremendous tool for us. The Division III recruiting budget is somewhat limited so it is difficult for us to get out of Southern California, especially during our season; therefore, video is often the best way for us to track the progress of our recruits.

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6. Do you recruit Junior College Players?
We have found that Junior College players adapt very quickly to our baseball style and the demands of our classrooms. We have had great success recruiting players from JC’s. I believe this has to do with the maturity that they bring, having been on their own for one to two years.

7. Given Occidental’s tough academics, do you have any advice for a prospective baseball player looking to attend a school like OC?
For high school players, I would recommend testing (SAT/ACT) early and planning on taking [the] test more than once—a few points can mean the difference between receiving a merit scholarship or not. Also, the importance of the 7th semester (Fall of senior year) cannot be emphasized enough. Often this is the determining factor. Whether you are in high school or college, take courses that will challenge you academically.

8. Can you break down your fall practice schedule? What do you try to accomplish?

At the Division III level, we have 19 weeks each year to work with our team on the field. That usually means we get three weeks (of “non-traditional practices”) in the fall to evaluate our team and begin to make decisions that will affect us in the spring. That time is very important to us from a teaching standpoint; however, we also want to see our guys compete, so the result is a combination of drill/teaching and interactive intra-squads. Beyond these three weeks our guys are always on the field working to get better. A great deal of the responsibility outside of the Fall non-traditional practices falls on them.

9. Do you have a strength and conditioning coach?
Our strength and conditioning responsibilities are divided among three staff members. All of these coaches are on campus year-round. We are very fortunate to have a coach working with our athletes in the weight room from the moment they arrive on campus until they leave in the spring. My staff and I are also involved in the strength program during the spring season.

10. What do you think of the new BBCOR bats?
I think the new bats have leveled the playing field to a great degree. They have increased the tempo of the game. They have forced teams to manufacture more runs and allowed pitchers to be more aggressive (without the fear of fly ball mistakes leaving the yard). I love the bats. Having coached in collegiate summer leagues where wood bats are used, I’ve always enjoyed the purity of the game that wood brings about, emphasizing all facets to a larger extent. The BBCOR’s perform very similarly.

11. Is there anything you would like to add about your assistant coaches, recruits, parents, or program that we have not asked you about?
I am very fortunate to have five assistants on staff that work as hard as anyone to help our guys maximize their potential. My coaches, our players, the support staff here at Oxy and our parents are committed to putting this program back on the map. It takes a special kind of person to do what we do. It takes a family built on trust. That’s what we’ve established. That’s what we want our recruits to strive to be a part of.

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