Quarterbacking the Youngsville High School football team to a perfect regular season and Region 2 championship, it was football that provided most of the headlines for recent graduate Cory Craig during his senior season.
But baseball has always been his first love.
While his terrific high school athletic career ended with graduation last Friday, Craig hasn't played his final innings on the diamond.
Times Observer photo by Allen Seybert
Youngsville High School graduate Cory Craig, front, signs his letter of intent to play baseball for Division II California University of Pennsylvania, Tuesday at Davis Street Field in Youngsville. Joining Craig is grandfather and Youngsville baseball coach Tom Craig.
On Tuesday, Craig signed an official letter of intent to pitch for Division II California University of Pennsylvania, beginning with the 2013 season.
"Baseball has always been my first choice," said Cory. "The game came more naturally to me and I always found myself having more fun on the baseball field than the football field."
That love of the game started early on in life.
According to Cory's coach and grandfather Tom Craig, parents Shawn and Paula spent countless hours working with Cory in the backyard. They also sacrificed several days of work vacation in order to allow Cory to participate in travel team games with other local kids.
Craig first experiences with travel ball came while playing with many of the members of Warren baseball's senior class that recently helped the Dragons to their first District 10 Class AAA championship in 35 years.
"I give a lot of credit to Ted Morrison and Ed Dorunda," said Tom. "They really helped Cory get started in baseball. They taught him a lot of the skills he needed, but also taught him to have a strong work ethic. That's one of his best traits."
While at Youngsville, Cory had no trouble working himself into the varsity lineup. Despite having some rough outings as a freshman, Cory still managed to impress his grandfather with the way he handled his setbacks.
"That's another one of his better traits," said Tom. "I tossed him out there against some really tough teams during his freshman year and he got knocked around quite a bit. But he never got down on himself. He just continued to give it everything he had and he did so with a smile on his face. It takes a strong person to do that."
The struggles seen by Cory in his freshman year didn't last. As years went by, he was at or near the top of every statistical category for the Eagles.
Offensively, Cory won the team's batting title in each of his four seasons and finished with a .405 batting average in high school. He smacked two homers and drove in 41 runs. Things got better on the mound as well. Despite a record of 1-5, Cory had an outstanding senior season pitching for the Eagles. He pitched a total of 48 innings in 2012, allowing 22 runs on 33 hits while striking out 85 and walking just 13. Only nine of those runs were earned for an ERA of 1.69. The season included a stretch of 34 straight innings pitched without allowing an earned run, and he had a season-high 16 strikeouts in eight innings in a game against Titusville.
While he enjoys hitting, the pitcher's mound is where he feels most comfortable on the ball field.
"I enjoy being in control," he said. "When I'm on the mound, I have control and I feel like the game is in my hands. It's comparable to football where I was the quarterback calling audibles and signals. I'm having the most fun when I'm in control of things."
His father Shawn said he saw something special in Cory at a young age.
"Early on, we knew he had the ability athletically," said Shawn. "He always hit the ball well and up until a few years ago, I was thinking maybe he could get looked at for shortstop. But then he started developing his pitches and getting them to work for him. Arms are valuable in baseball and it became pretty clear that's where his future was."
As his senior season approached, schools began recruiting Cory en masse. Despite getting looks from such Division I programs as Saint Bonaventure, Canisius and Niagara, Cory said he made up his mind fairly early that a Division II school like California (Pa.) was more his style.
"I went to a Cal doubleheader against Clarion and the pitcher from the first game was a position player in the second game," said Cory. "I knew that's what I was looking for. I definitely want to be able to swing the bat as well and that's something that D-2 offers than D-1 typically does not. I want to play every game if possible."
His love for baseball made it easy to leave football behind - even with all the success. Despite missing his entire junior season with a collarbone injury, Cory finished his quarterbacking career with 103 completions for 1,782 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. In his senior season alone, he was 54 of 123 for 1,090 yards with 15 touchdowns and five picks.
Those kind of numbers got him looks from Division III schools like Hiram and Lake Erie College, but Cory said he never seriously considered playing football collegiately.
"When scouts came to the school or contacted (head football) coach (Luke) Alex, I asked him not to talk much about me," said Cory. "I knew I was going to play baseball if anything, and I didn't want to waste anyone's time."
Still months away from any on-field competition, Cory already has defined his goals for when he finally dons the Vulcan uniform.
"I want to help contribute to California wins," he said. "I want to play as a freshman - right away. That's always the goal. That's what I'm there for."
Tom knows exactly what kind of player California (Pa.) is getting next season.
"They are getting a tremendous ball player and really a tremendous kid," he said. "No matter what they throw at him, he won't be overwhelmed. I'm sure they will develop him into a better pitcher as well. I've been coaching him the past four years, but I'm no pitching coach. I think he will be a lot like (Youngsville grad Ben) Oviatt at Waynesburg. He was a good pitcher in high school, but the right coaching made him a great pitcher in college."
No matter where Cory's baseball career goes from here, he's already his father his number one fan.
"Obviously his mother and I couldn't be more proud of him," said Shawn. "His whole situation has really reinforced to me that hard work does pay off. Cory wanted this and he made it happen. He didn't pick the ball up in March and put it down in June. He worked year round to get to where he is today and signing the letter to play ball in college is the payoff to that work. Where he goes from here is up to him. I think he'll do just fine."