Schools of Interest: Arizona, Clemson, Mississippi State, Oregon, Vanderbilt
Touki is considered to be one of the elite players in the class of 2014. His national ranking varies from expert to expert but all of them rank him among the top five pitchers in his class and project him as a first-round draft pick in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft. Touki, who recently turned 17-years-old, throws his fastball 90-95 consisently, topping out at 97. In this interview I not only ask about their official visit to Mississippi State but how Mississippi State got involved in Touki's recruitment and how the overall process of his recruitment has been from having to deal with college coaches, to pro scouts, to the media.
When did Mississippi State start recruiting you?
"They started recruiting me after the July 1st (recruiting) period."
Who was the coach at Mississippi State that called you?
"I talked to Coach Ming (Nick Mingione) first, then I talked to Coach (John) Cohen, then I talked to Coach (Butch) Thompson."
Is Coach Mingione your primary recruiter from Mississippi State?
How did Coach Mingione get involve in your recruitment?
"At first he talked to my (travel team) coach. Then my coach asked me if I would be interested in Mississippi State. I said, 'yeah, of course, that's a big-time school that went to the College World Series, no doubt.' Then (Coach Mingione) called me after a game that I had pitched and told me that he wanted to keep watching me. He said, 'I know more colleges are calling you.' I told him 'you are actually the first college that has called.' That's how it happened."
Prior to Mississippi State calling you, what did you know about them?
"I knew they were in the College World Series. And my friend, Dale Burdick, is committed there and he said they are top 20, top 10 in the nation. I knew it was in Mississippi but I didn't know what it looked like. When Coach Ming called me he said they were interested and I was like, 'what?' "
Had you ever visited Mississippi State prior to this past weekend?
"That was my first time."
What did you think about the visit to Mississippi State?
"It was great, awesome."
What made the visit great?
"They treat you like you are high class. And I love the atmosphere. The people treat their college athletes like they are celebrities. I went to the football game and I had never seen that kind of atmosphere before."
Had you been to a college football game before?
"That was my first time."
Describe your impressions of the football game.
"When I was on the sidelines and seeing the guys on the field, I was like, 'I want to play football.' Especially when they came out and the jets were flying over, it was crazy. And when the baseball team came out (on the field), wow, that was unbelievable."
Tell me a little more about when the baseball team came out. What did you see and hear?
"That was probably about as loud as I have heard it in awhile, probably since (playing on the) USA Baseball (team) in Mexico."
What does it mean to you as a baseball player to hear and see that kind of reaction to a baseball team?
"It shows that the baseball team is well-respected and that they carry themselves the way they are supposed to. At some schools you hear baseball, baseball, baseball but you don't see that during a football game, where all the football fans love the baseball team also."
Did that reaction to the baseball team surprise you?
"It actually did a little. I didn't think it would be that big but I knew it was going to be big. Before they announced them I heard the cowbells, then when they announced them player-by-player and showed their faces, it went crazy. I couldn't even hear myself."
What are your overall impressions of Mississippi State now that you have had the chance to visit them?
"My impressions are it's a great school and they carry themselves really well, the students, athletes, coaches, administration. The tutoring hall that I saw, everything that I saw was first class. They had a great schedule (for the students in the academic center). You have to be here by this time or there by that time."
How did you narrow your list down to the colleges that you are officially visiting?
"I went by the academics, how good the baseball program is and mostly pitching coaches. And I hear Coach Thompson is one of the best. And I want to be part of one of the best. Education is a big thing in my family. I also looked at the family atmosphere."
I didn't know that was Touki's first college football game. I knew it was yours but not his. I asked him his impressions of the game. What were your impressions?
"There were a lot of things going on at the same time. I was like, what do I need to watch now? I ended up keeping my eyes clued to the middle of the field and the jumbotron. I thought, this is very interesting. And watching the little section the other team was in was interesting. I knew LSU was far away but not that far away. I wondered why the sections weren't divided equally and why some were on that side and some on the other side. But it was fun. I had a really good time."
One thing that is unique about a Mississippi State football game is the cowbells. Did that enhance the experience for you?
"I wouldn't say it enhanced it but it did make it a lot more interesting. I enjoyed the Maroon, White (cheer). The cowbells, they get louder at certain times. I think after listening to them for about an hour, you become a part of it and become immune to them. If I had watched a football game on tv I would have known that the cowbells were a tradition. But it was good."
Touki mentioned the reaction the MSU baseball team received when they were announced to the crowd. As a mother of a baseball player, how did that kind of reaction make you feel?
"It was very interesting to see. But I want to mention something to you that I told Coach Ming and Coach Cohen. They have a fantastic group of young men. I had the pleasure to meet almost all of them and they were well-behaved and well-mannered. The hospitality that we received from them was really top level. They have a great team, great chemistry. When I witnessed them coming out on the football field and getting the standing ovation that they received, it was really nice to see. It's really nice to see a community, a college, really everybody support not only their football players but their baseball players as well. And I'm sure they are the same way with basketball and all the other sports that Mississippi State has."
As a mother, you are giving part of the responsibility of taking care of your son to the people at the college that he chooses to attend. What are your feelings about the people at Mississippi State now that you have had the chance to get to know them better, the coaches, the administration, etc.?
"I heard where Touki mentioned to you about the family atmosphere there. That was very, very evident. That went a long way (with us). They made us feel at home. They made me feel that if he went to school there he would be in a secure and safe environment. I wouldn't have to worry about whether he is getting all of his work done. I feel like it would be an extension of myself. They did a good job of getting that message across.
"The academic center that Mississippi State has built, the tutor rooms, all of the (educational) tools that are provided to all the students is top notch.
"I would feel that he is safe and in an environment that would push him and help him succeed in all aspects.
"I had a very, very positive visit with Mississippi State."
Summarize your overall impressions about Mississippi State now that you have had the chance to visit?
"It's a great college life, great college facilities, very good, humble, nice, polite - I can't think of all of the words to use - people. Everywhere we went it was yes sir, no sir, thank you sir. It was a really nice atmosphere. I enjoyed my visit. I really did. And I liked the fact that Starkville is the backbone. Mississippi State is the center but the citizens of Starkville have Mississippi State's back. They take great pride in their school and in their city, in their community. That was really, really refreshing to see."
How did Mississippi State become one of his official visits?
"Mississippi State was the first one to place a call to him. I enjoyed my conversations with Coach Mingione and Coach Thompson. I did my homework as a parent and told Touki, 'if you would like to take a visit there, I would like to take a visit there.' He did his homework and we sat down and discussed it."
Other than Mississippi State, what other schools has he either visited or is set to visit?
"We have visited Vanderbilt. We are going out to the west coast and visit the University of Arizona and the University of Oregon. I'm hoping Clemson will be his last visit. He may decide not to go to Clemson. He may decide to go to a college in Florida or somewhere else on the west coast."
When did Touki start playing baseball?
"His first sport was soccer because that was the sport that we played in Haiti. When we moved here, he joined the youth soccer league. He tried out for ice hockey as well. He played it for less than a full season because that is when he started playing baseball. He couldn't do soccer, baseball and ice hockey at the same time so I asked him to make a choice and he chose baseball and soccer. I don't think he liked baseball at first because he stopped playing it and went back to playing soccer full-time. His best friend, the one person that he felt really comfortable with when he moved here, played baseball. Since they weren't able to see each other much on the weekends, because one is playing baseball and the other is playing soccer, his best friend said, 'since you are playing soccer I will also play soccer and you can also play baseball.' That's how Touki got into playing baseball."
Touki has a special talent on the mound. Did you know early on, when watching him play baseball, that he had a special talent?
"Honestly, no. When Touki first started playing baseball he wasn't even pitching. He was catching. He went from catching to the outfield. When they are young they pretty much play every position. But he was mainly a catcher and an outfielder. He wasn't really a pitcher. I think a father of one of his friends, who was a coach at the time on one of the teams he played on, put the ball in his hand and told him to try pitching. He tried it and felt that he liked playing in the outfield (more) because he liked playing every single position. He didn't feel pitching was for him because he likes to hit and run. But I believe once he got to jv and varsity they started using him a little bit more as a pitcher.
"Right before he started CSCA, where he is now, he was selected to Team USA. And I think they took him as a pitcher and an outfielder. When he got to school, his coach said he really needed a shortstop but he also said he understood Touki pitched so he said he would also use him as a pitcher. As the fall season went on, he was used on the (mound) a lot more. He worked him on the field at different positions and he finally saw him as a pitcher. But if you ask Touki, he'll tell you that he likes to hit and pitch. This season, when he's not pitching, he'll be playing first base."
Dealing with this entire process - talking to college coaches, pro scouts and media - has it been a little overwhelming for you?
"I will not say that it has been overwhelming. My boss will laugh when I say this but I'm a pretty organized person. I have pretty much been able to organize Touki's schedule and my schedule, most of my calls, his calls and emails, in an orderly fashion so that it does not overwhelm us. I have pretty much talked to everyone that has called me because that is what I was taught. My parents always taught me to be polite. So, it hasn't been overwhelming. I'm not going to say that it won't get overwhelming down the road because I have been told that we will get a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails. But I think once you have structure and you are organized (it helps to keep it) from becoming overwhelming. I'm not going to say that it has been a piece of cake because it has been a lot of work. There have been nights where I have had to look through my emails just to make sure I didn't ignore anyone. I don't want anyone to think that I'm ignoring them because of the reputation that Touki has. I don't want them to think we have become too big to speak to someone. That's not how we feel. My mom and father always taught me to treat people how I would like to be treated. And I think that I have passed that on to my son.
"I am very proud of my son. I am very proud of what he has accomplished."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.