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East Central standout TJ Dunsford commits to USM

East Central standout TJ Dunsford commits to USM
With his junior season underway, TJ Dunsford continues to perfect his craft on the diamond. (Credit: TJ Dunsford/East Central Athletics)

HURLEY, Miss. (BVM) — As the college baseball season marches on, high school prospects continue to prove they have what it takes to play under the bright lights. One of those prospects is Southern Mississippi commit T.J. Dunsford.

From a young age, Dunsford always knew he’d be playing sports. It was a choice between two sports: football and baseball. Football and baseball have always had the top spots in his heart, but it was the love of the game that ultimately drove Dunsford to the diamond. 

“Football has always been close, but I found the love for baseball at a really young age,” Dunsford said. “It’s something I like working on, whatever it is. I love football, but baseball’s got that No. 1 spot.”

However, Dunsford didn’t find that love of baseball by himself. He has his dad to thank for that.

“It [the love] didn’t start my first year because I was in the outfield chasing butterflies,” Dunsford said with a laugh. “I started to get the feeling of the game. Me and my dad, we’d always drive up to the park and get some work in.”

The bond between father and son really solidified the love of the game. Yet, there was another bond that, to this day, has impacted Dunsford and how he operates around the game of baseball.

“Honestly, the person I look up to the most is my little brother,” Dunsford said. “In second grade, he was diagnosed with dyspraxia. You best believe he’s always got some kind of stat, some kind of ballgame up on his phone. He’s big on strategy. Always keeping me updated, always keeping me on track.”

With his family playing a central part in his game, it’s no wonder why Dunsford has succeeded the way he has.

TJ Dunsford is hitting .349 in his junior year. (Credit: TJ Dunsford/East Central Athletics)

Dunsford played in 27 games before COVID-19 shut down the season as a sophomore. He was batting .346 with four home runs and 28 RBIs. He also pitched 32.2 innings, struck out 50 batters and finished with an ERA of 0.64.

“There were a lot of friendships on that team, and COVID took us out,” Dunsford said. “We were just about to get rolling. We were about to roll into district.”

As a junior, he is making an effort to better his play, and the numbers again show that his baseball skills are flourishing. Twenty games in and Dunsford is batting .349, has one home run and 16 RBIs. He also significantly improved when it comes to the mound. He has already struck out 73 batters, carries a 1.11 ERA and has won five of his eight starts. 

With this continued success, Dunford was drawing a lot of attention from colleges, including the University of Alabama. But with COVID-19 providing an extra year for players already at the collegiate level, it was difficult for players like Dunsford to stick with the school they had hoped to continue their athletic careers with.

“When COVID hit; that dead period, it was hard for people [colleges] to come to games,” Dunsford said. “I kind of got [down on myself]. Coach Bo talked to me last year, and he said, ‘It’s not going to be handed to you your whole life, and I got to put hard work toward it [playing in college].’ That got me hooked on wanting to be a better player and a better leader.”

Being a better leader and working hard to achieve his goals has led to many great things for Dunsford. It has led him to decide where he will be playing baseball at the next level. On Feb. 3, Dunsford announced on Twitter that he had committed to Southern Miss. 

Dunsford is a great piece to add to an exciting 2023 class for the Gold Eagles. But East Central head baseball coach, Bo Long, has seen what Dunsford can bring to the college diamond firsthand.

“TJ was one of those guys growing up; you always heard about how good he was,” Long said. “When he got high school tryouts, I was throwing BP to him on the field, and I threw him one on the inner third [of the plate], and he hit it in the gap in left field. I put [the next one] on the outside black, and he smashed it off the right center field wall. Then I went up and in, and he hit out of the park. I knew that day, when he was about 14 years old, this kid’s really special.”

However, being that good at an early age can sometimes make the game too easy. Players have to stay motivated and Long and Dunford have had some great experiences in progressing as an athlete overall.

“He and I had to have some eye-opening experiences,” Long said. “And to his credit, he accepted them and made some changes to the way he does things.”

Dunsford is a great ballplayer. He has proved that and will continue to prove that as he prepares for his future in Hattiesburg. What that will bring, who knows? And one better believe, Dunsford will put in the work to prove he belongs there. 

“He’s going to do great things,” Long said. “I love their program, and I love the way they play baseball. He’s going to fit in really well there.”

“I’m not the best player to [come to Southern Miss.],” Dunsford said. There are always people out there working hard and working just as hard as you. [But], I’ll bring a gritty and hard-working mentality to the team.”

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