WOONSOCKET — Nolan Hayward did his homework. He talked to a number of colleges and spent some quality time researching them and their baseball programs.
But deep down, the Mount St. Charles Academy senior knew exactly what college he wanted to attend once his high school days were over. He knew the answer before he started grade school, and there really wasn’t anything that was going to change his mind.
“I grew up around Bryant,” said Hayward, who on Wednesday afternoon, with his parents, Mark and Laura, and Mount baseball coach Tom Seaver behind him, officially signed his National Letter of Intent to continue his baseball career at the Smithfield university, just a hop, skip and a jump from his Glendale residence.
“I wanted to go to Bryant since my family moved here when I was four and my mom got her job (as an assistant director of registration) at Bryant when I was five. Since then, I feel like I’ve been in the community and I’ve known most of the people that work there.”
Signing LOIs to Division I baseball programs has been nothing new for the Hayward family. The oldest of three sons, Vaughn, graduated from Mount in 2009 and attended Holy Cross before transferring to Bryant after his sophomore season. The middle son, Garrett, is a 2011 MSC graduate who is in his junior year at Duke University.
But unlike his brothers, who are relievers for their respective schools, Hayward (who was one of six players to ink an LOI with Bryant on Wednesday) is projected to be a corner outfielder or infielder with the Bulldogs.
He’s coming off a magnificent junior campaign with the Mounties that saw him bat .421 with a .667 slugging percentage and 17 runs batted in (earning Division II First-Team all-star honors) and his stock rise as he developed into one of the state’s top young players.
“Nolan has been our cleanup hitter since his sophomore year,” reported Seaver. “He is a terrific power hitter with great bat speed. He should fit right in with the Bryant baseball program.”
Before committing to Bryant, Hayward did his due diligence and glanced at some other colleges to see if there was a slim chance they could provide a better fit for him. Turns out none of them did.
“I really have a good feel for Bryant,” Hayward was quick to note. “There’s nothing about it that makes me not want to go there, but there’s so much about it that makes me want to go there. The coaches, the athletic facilities, it’s a small school that’s close to home -- I like just everything about the school.”
Getting to see the Bulldogs’ program up close through Vaughn, who will be in his final year with the ballclub, also helped make Nolan’s decision a slam dunk.
“My brother lives on campus, so I would go up and visit him in his dorm room and get to talk to the other guys on the team,” added Hayward. “I definitely know the team a little bit better than the other recruits.”
But before Hayward can look ahead to becoming a Bulldog, he has to focus on his final season as a Mountie, which will see him join shortstop Riley Young as the team’s senior co-captains.
Not only does Hayward want to help what will be a veteran team better its 11-5 mark from a season ago and return to the top of the Division II-North ranks, but he also wants to make himself a better player before he takes the quantum leap to the Northeast Conference.
“I just want to work on my game in every aspect, and speed is definitely something that I’ve been working on a lot this year,” he added.
As for Vaughn and Garrett, they are just two former Mount players who are presently playing in college. The others are Patrick Lydon (Class of 2010, Drew University, Madison, N.J.), Colins Uttermann (Class of ’11, Keene (N.H.) State College), Brian Campbell (Class of ’12, Stonehill College, Easton, Mass.), and Tyler Geffert (American International College, Springfield, Mass.).
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24