Pitcher Desmond Poulson (Photo by Johnathan Hardy/BYU Photo)
This story was originally printed in the BYU-Boise State football Gameday program, Oct. 25, 2013
They knew they were not allowed to, yet they lost the night before. The Cougar baseball team could not lose another conference game.
Junior starting pitcher Desmond Poulson made his way to the mound in the second game of the series against Portland. The trainers had given him a shot to help numb the pain, but his ankle still throbbed and his socks didn’t fit right. But determined to earn another win for the team, it would not hinder his ability to throw that night. He pitched seven innings on a sprained ankle and grew increasingly stronger on the hill. He struck out six batters and gave up only three earned runs to earn his fifth win of the season.
A few days prior, Poulson had taken one bad step and rolled his ankle. Shortly after, he took a line drive to the same ankle to add to the injury. But even a series of unfortunate events could not break Poulson’s mental toughness. As a senior and co-captain of the 2014 BYU baseball team, his confidence has only grown during his time as a Cougar.
He stands at 6 foot 2 inches tall and weighs in at 205 pounds. He gained 13 pounds from last season after pressure from coaches and scouts to get bigger. This summer, the right-handed pitcher skipped playing for a summer league baseball team to focus his time in the weight room with BYU lifting coach Justin McClure. He used the scouting pressures as his motivation and spent five to six days a week with McClure, gaining weight and building strength in his legs.
His teammate Jeff Barker was not surprised by Poulson’s decision to hit the weights and not play summer ball.
“Guys go out and play club ball because they can’t go out and get better on their own,” Barker said. “Des is the kind of guy that can do all that on his own. He has all the tools and all the motivation necessary to become better.”
But Poulson’s arm has always been strong for the Cougars. He has conditioned his arm so well that he is able to throw more pitches and more innings than a pitcher is typically allowed. He threw four complete games last season, with one against Northern Colorado where he had a career-high 10 strikeouts.
“Last season I threw every single day, so that when it came time, I knew I could give them [the BYU baseball coaches] what they needed,” Poulson said.
College baseball has been a learning experience for Poulson. According to him, his freshman year was a struggle filled with ups and downs. Out of high school, he came to BYU knowing only one pitch, a fastball.
“I always thought you just threw as hard as you could and hoped they didn’t hit it, “ Poulson said.
But his freshman naivety did not stop his ability to earn a starting position and a 6-0 record his first year. Over the course of his freshman and sophomore year, he practiced throwing three new pitches. Through muscle-memory, he soon started mastering a change-up, curveball and slider, which he now believes are all equally effective for him as a pitcher.
“My job is to control the other team,” Poulson said. “In a game I’m not just focused on one thing, I am focused on the overall game.”
In his junior year alone, he earned six honors and awards, including three separate West Coast Conference Player of the Week awards versus Colorado, Kansas and Saint Mary’s. He also earned honors for the College Sports Madness All-WCC Second Team, All-WCC Honorable Mention and Brooks Wallace Classics All-Tournament.
Poulson does not speak about or pay attention to any of his awards. In fact, he doesn’t even focus on his wins. Instead, he focuses on helping the team win ballgames.
He remembered back to the team’s 0-5 record against San Diego in the 2013 season.
All-American and first-round draft pick to the Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant nearly single-handedly defeated the Cougars in each of the five games against USD. The memories are especially sour for Poulson, so his goal is to be ready in 2014 for the next “Bryant”.
“If there’s anyone like him next season, I want to be able to beat him,” Poulson said.
His goals are to lead the team to a College World Series Regional and to add 10 wins to his current 14-5 record. Poulson would also like to see an increase in audience turnout at Larry H. Miller Field.
“Typically the crowd only shows up at the Utah games,” Poulson said. “I got the Utah start at home last season and I just remember the rumble I felt from the crowd when I threw a strikeout.”
He is expected to become a co-captain again in 2014 because of his ability to lead by example. Barker said Poulson is a “worry about yourself” kind of guy who generally keeps quiet.
“The fact that he got voted as a captain speaks volumes about him because he doesn’t really vocalize anything,” Barker said. “But if you watch him through a practice or workout, and follow him step-by-step, you’re going to be doing what’s right.”
Poulson is a perfectionist in his work. Not only does he work hard in school, he is constantly working on improving himself as a ball player. His teammates believe he is more competitive and more intense than the average player. In a game, he cannot be bothered by distractions because he is “in the zone”. Despite his actual knowledge about college baseball as an incoming freshman, Barker believed that Poulson seemed to already have it figured out.
“He got it right off the bat, he understood college baseball right when he walked in,” Barker said. “He understood how everything worked, he understood how coaches thought, and he was more mature than the other freshmen.”
But Poulson believes that his baseball knowledge has increased significantly with the addition of an entirely new coaching staff. Coach Mike Littlewood and his assistant coaches were brought on to coach BYU baseball right in the middle of his college career. Though a hard adjustment for any established team, it was the right move to help improve Poulson’s game.
“Having a new coaching staff has been a blessing,” Poulson said. “Coach Littlewood teaches baseball in a new sense. He’s the kind of coach I needed.”
The pitcher has been smart with his baseball career in the sense that he has made conscious decisions about who he let coach him to set him up for success. As an incoming freshman in high school, he made the choice to attend Cottonwood High School rather than local rival Taylorsville High School. The two Utah schools are known for their successful and competitive baseball teams. In making his decision, he looked at each school’s ability to land him a spot on a college team.
“I’m from Taylorsville, but I went a different route,” Poulson said. “Cottonwood had six D1 scholarship athletes the year before I graduated and six during my senior year. I’m very happy with my decision.”
At Cottonwood High, he was a three-year letter winner and first-team all-state as a senior. The Cottonwood High team made it to the 2008 state championship game, where he closed for the Colts. He also gained valuable experience while traveling and playing for the Utah Bucks and the Angels Elite scout team.
He is also happy with his decision to become a Cougar. Scouted by Cal State Fullerton, Stanford, Baylor and several other Utah colleges and universities, Poulson ultimately chose BYU after all of the recruiting.
“Other schools treated me like money,” Poulson said. “Coach Law and coach Applegate were good to me, and the guys showed me what the team was about. BYU had a lot of opportunities.”
Though diligent in his studies as a sociology major, deep down he aspires to make it to the major leagues. With no particular team in mind, he aims to land himself a spot on an MLB team.
“I told him all year last year that he’s going to get drafted,” Barker said. “And every time I say that he brushes me off and tells me, ‘No, I’m not, I’m not that great,’ but then again he’s our No. 1 starter and has been talked about by every scout.”
Poulson has a very humble and modest demeanor. He does not want to be an inconvenience to anyone and only shows emotion when he believes he is not playing at his best for his team. Though he is very reserved and non-vocal, he doesn’t need to say anything to perform for his team.
“He has told me that this is his last year in college, he’s a senior, and he’s going to put up some big numbers,” Barker said. “That’s why he put on the weight. He’s going to throw harder, and he’s going to throw faster.”
The rest of the team is excited to have their No. 1 on the mound this season. Poulson’s abilities are promising for the Cougars. He is expected to help provide strength and power to BYU baseball and to help lead them to another winning season.
“I stay focused because I get one shot and only one opportunity a week to go out and prove what I can do,” Poulson said.