E.A. Sports Today

Play in the dirt

Oxford softball pitcher Waldrep signs with Georgia Southern, still has senior season to play with Lady Jackets

Oxford pitcher Rylee Waldrep, flanked by her parents, signs with Georgia Southern Wednesday.

Oxford pitcher Rylee Waldrep, flanked by her parents, signs with Georgia Southern Wednesday.

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By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — You don’t get good in sports without getting a little dirty, but it took Rylee Waldrep a little while to grasp that concept.

When she was just starting school the rule was you had to wear tennis shoes to participate in gym class. Well, four out of five days, Oxford softball coach Wendy McKibbin recalled, Waldrep would leave the gym shoes home and stand over to the side while her classmates played in the dirt.

Then when she did bring them she’d find a way to rub dirt on the shoes to make it look to everyone like she did participate.

When they got to the middle school, McKibbin told her if she wanted a future in athletics she’d have to start participating.

That’s when the light bulb finally went on and now Waldrep can’t stay away from the field, even if she does still try to avoid the dirt at all costs.

“She’s always called me ‘Princess,’ because I didn’t ever want to change shoes, didn’t want to get dirty, and it just kind of stuck,” Waldrep said. “It really hit me when she came to the middle school and was like if you don’t start working you’re not going to be able to play and be successful in college and what you want to do.

“So I just started working really hard and realized I had to actually get dirty some and dress out.”

On Wednesday all the time she put on the field since paid off as she signed to play softball for Georgia Southern next spring. She still has her senior season for the Lady Jackets to get through first.

Waldrep chose Georgia Southern over Troy — after visiting both programs on the same day after a summer camp. She has been committed to the Lady Eagles for more than a year.

In her first three years with the Lady Jackets, Waldrep has 50 wins and 658 strikeouts.

“I’ve known Rylee most of her life,” McKibbin said. “I’ve seen her grow from a young child to a young adult. She works really hard. She’s going to challenge you. She’s not afraid of anybody.

“You can hit 20 home runs, she’s going to stare you down and in her mind she’s going to beat you — and most times she does. She’s been a big part of the success we’ve had the last few years and I expect great things out of her in her senior year.”

Getting dirty is still something Waldrep tries to avoid. She remembers that time two years ago when she celebrated the Lady Jackets clinching a trip to the state tournament by slamming her glove down on the infield; she was picking pieces of dirt from the fingers for weeks. The only dirt she gets now is the streak down her pant leg she rubs with the ball.

In the run up to her senior year she has been taking “way more” offseason batting practice than ever to prepare her bat for the times she isn’t pitching. That’ll mean more chances to get in the dirt, although sliding will be prohibited.

Three of Waldrep’s teammates will sign in January — Kaylynn Garrett (Gulfport CC), Amber Dempsey (Southern Union) and Haley Liner (Montevallo).

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