The ongoing success story of perseverance and overcoming odds for 2022 Extra Elite 100 infielder Rylee Cloud hit another milestone this week as the junior from Mitti, Louisiana committed to Arkansas this week.
If you remember from our previous article detailing Rylee overcoming an ACL injury, her motto was “obstacles are meant to be overcome.”
After moving to the Birmingham Thunderbolts 16U – Roberson team this summer, the power-hitting shortstop saw her stock continue to escalate and in her latest blog details her journey to becoming an SEC commit and explains that she had to overcome not only a tough injury, but doubts that she had the size to play major college softball!
As Rylee so well puts it, it’s not about just “your physical size but the size of your determination, drive, desire and your heart!”
A great writer as well as a softball player, enjoy her tale of how she realized her goal to play for her dream school…
Have you ever heard the saying “size matters?”
Well, let me tell you: it’s absolutely true! But before you get discouraged, there’s a catch to that saying.
September 1st 2020 was a day many had been impatiently waiting for, the first day college coaches could reach out to those in my class, the Class of 2022. This day is HUGE!
Data shows the percentages are low to be a college athlete and even lower to play for a Power 5 Conference school. Now throw the SEC into the mix and you are more likely to win the lottery (not really, but close).
I can remember a couple years ago when kids in my class were going on unofficial visits, showing sideline passes for football games, getting offers and committing.
I definitely felt like I had missed the train, but I kept a positive attitude. I was determined to play in the SEC. I remember very well one coach told me: “It’s better to be green and growing rather than ripe and rotting.” Honestly that has been my work ethic since Day 1.
Here I am coming in at a staggering 5-foot-3 and college coaches would literally look over me if they saw me in the parking lot. No surprise here, I’ve been told many times that I don’t pass the eye test.
This is where the saying size matters comes into play. It doesn’t have to be your physical size but the size of your determination, drive, desire and your heart!
I just played ball like it was the last time I would ever get to play. I practiced like it was the last practice. And unknowingly at the time, this had caught quite the attention of more than a few coaches.
Please keep in mind that this journey hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies.
There have been many days where I cried my way through drills because I just couldn’t field a simple ground ball. Batting practice doesn’t always go like it should. Some days I look like a tee baller trying to just make contact. It can be very frustrating!
My parents always remind me—in a nice tone of course!—that this is part of the process. You fail more than you succeed.
I joined Coach Jay Roberson’s Thunderbolt team earlier this summer. If I was going to have even the smallest chance to play in the SEC, I knew I had to push myself way beyond my comfort zone.
The move couldn’t have been more perfect. I came into an atmosphere surrounded with top players in the ’22 & ’23 classes and many of them were already committed to Power 5 schools.
I’m not going to lie, I definitely struggled to stay in the lineup and on the field. I was used to having a secured position and batting in the top of the lineup. After my first tournament this summer, reality set in! My comfort zone was out of the window.
Thankfully – this is what I have prepared for.
Midnight of September 1st finally rolled around and, I have to admit, I was overwhelmed with the calls, texts and emails. Never would I have dreamed so many coaches would at least consider me playing in their program.
It was kind of surreal knowing that all the hard work and preparations was paying off. I was really just hoping for one opportunity, but now I had to make a decision and had quite a few options to choose from.
Throughout the week following September 1, I continued to get calls, texts, emails and zoom meetings. All of this while just enduring a Category 4 hurricane which left us without power, home damage and extensive debris to clean up (that’s a whole different story).
Just having a basic phone call was challenging to get through, but there was one school that stole my heart a couple years back.
I had been fortunate enough to be able to attend a couple camps at Arkansas and have even been to a couple home games at Bogle Park. Coach (Courtney) Deifel, Coach Yo (Yolanda McRae) and Coach Matt (Meuchel) made me feel like this was the place to be!
Fayetteville Arkansas is an absolute beautiful place and the campus is amazing. It’s a country setting with a touch of civilization—exactly what I was looking for. I heard Coach Yo once say, “It’s a hidden gem” and she couldn’t be more right. I had my mind made up for quite some time: if they offer, that’s where I’m going.
I also got to spend some time talking with Danielle Gibson (a transfer infielder) while at camps. She pretty much confirmed I was on the right track on school choice.
September 8th around 7 pm, I made the FaceTime call I had dreamed about making: I verbally committed to the University of Arkansas and couldn’t be happier. The coaches reaction was priceless and thankfully my mom got to record it! I’ve watched it at least 100 times.
So now the real work begins.
I’ve made my commitment and will have an opportunity to play college softball in the SEC… an opportunity that not many will have. I have definitely been blessed and humbled through this entire process, but I know if I am to make an impact when I step foot on campus, I better bring my ‘A’ game!
My advice to anyone that is undersized like myself is that, yes, size matters, but it doesn’t have to deter your dreams. You have to make up the difference somewhere else. Your work ethic, preparations, training and, most importantly, your heart.
If you set your heart to something, it’s always within reach.
There are so many people that have helped me get to this point, so many coaches starting with my Dixie Youth League, my beginning travel ball coaches, speed and agility trainers, high school coaches, strength and conditioning trainers, hitting coaches, fielding coaches, national travel ball coaches, my teammates and especially my family.
To get to this level it takes a community. I could never pay them all back for their sacrifices – but maybe being named an All-American would be a start!
--- Rylee Cloud