Lefty pitcher Yakopec enjoying fresh start at Rutgers
Dave Yakopec's college baseball career needed a changeup.
His progress becoming increasingly stagnant and his long-term forecast darkening at Pitt, the hard-throwing left-handed pitcher from Burrell transferred to Rutgers and is sitting out the year to satisfy NCAA rules.
What he does with that year could determine where his career goes from here.
“I feel like when you have to sit a year, it can help you or it can hurt you,” Yakopec said. “It's all how you attack your redshirt year. A lot of kids look at it as a year off. I look at it the total opposite (way). It's a year to look at myself from a much more critical standpoint.”
Yakopec (6-foot-3, 195) said after he developed tendinitis in his throwing arm last season, Pitt “threw me in the back of the bus” and he didn't see many pitchers ahead of him departing at the next stop.
“Pitt wasn't a good fit for me in the long run,” said Yakopec, who had eight relief appearances, one start and a save in two seasons at Pitt. His sophomore season was drastically limited as he came out of the bullpen for two brief appearances.
“I had a good freshman year, but I didn't feel like Pitt was utilizing my God-given talents to their fullest potential,” he said. “The way I saw it, you only have one opportunity to play this game. You do this once in life. At the end of the day, I want to look in the mirror and have no regrets.”
Yakopec also considered Ohio University and Cincinnati. He said a junior college was not an option because he'd have lost a year.
Additional tendinitis forced him to close things down early last summer instead of pitching a second full season with the Butler BlueSox.
In 2012, he struck out 32 in 39 innings across eight starts.
He'll rejoin Butler this summer.
“Dave is a great team guy, and when he is on, he is very tough to beat,” BlueSox manager Anthony Rebyanski said on the team's website. “He has been persistent in returning to his natural form ... you can never have enough left-handed pitchers on your staff.”
Pitt denied Yakopec from transferring to another ACC school and restricted him from going to Penn State. So, he scoured Division I rosters on the internet and discovered that Rutgers, which also met his academic requirements, was going to be running low on southpaws.
“As a lefty, you have an advantage, kind of a hot commodity,” Yakopec said. “I saw that they were losing most of their pitching staff. It was on to a new chapter.”
Like Pitt, which shifted from the Big East to the ACC, Rutgers soon will be on the move. It will leave the American Athletic Conference for the Big Ten in July.
Yakopec has been on campus since August. He practiced through the fall and is on this season's roster, but is serving his redshirt season. When he returns, he'll be a redshirt junior and have two more seasons of eligibility.
Yakopec follows a spreading trend of Alle-Kiski athletes changing schools at the Division I level. The moving-day list includes basketball stars Micah Mason of Highlands (Drake to Duquesne) and Nolan Cressler of Plum (Cornell to Vanderbilt); Springdale track star Kim Watterson (Syracuse to Duquesne); and golfers Nadia Luttner of Fox Chapel (Kansas to Coastal Carolina) and Shady Side Academy's Kendall Allen (Michigan State to Ohio State to Penn State).
Yakopec has worked out at the gym with another prominent local transfer, Valley grad Toney Clemons — now in the NFL as a member of the Carolina Panthers' practice squad. Clemons first signed with Michigan before leaving for Colorado. His sister, Mycaiah, ran track and Virginia Tech, Clemson and Pitt.
Yakopec said he often talks to teammates about the recruiting process, which he's learned expansively more about since he left Burrell.
“In high school, you don't know what it's all about, but once you see how things are run and you get a better feel for people, you do,” he said. “It's been pretty exciting going through the whole process again.”