In the midst of three consecutive weekends on the road to start the season, Madison Nickens and Will Watson will reunite with friends, family and former teammates during Maryland’s upcoming series against LSU.
Even though the Terrapins will spend the weekend more than 1,000 miles away from College Park, LSU’s Alex Box Stadium will play host to a homecoming for the two Louisiana-native outfielders.
Nickens grew up in Gonzales, La., just 35 minutes south of Baton Rouge, and Watson hails from Monroe, La., about three and a half hours to the north. But the two outfielders aren’t just linked by their home state. The two played together for one season at LSU-Eunice, a junior college located 90 minutes west of Baton Rouge. That Bengals team went 49-10 en route to a 2015 NJCAA National Championship.
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But Nickens and Watson won’t be the only members of that National Championship team to play at Skip Bertram Field this weekend. Former Bengals Nick Coomes and Jordan Romero both transferred from LSU-Eunice down Route 190 to LSU following the 2015 season.
“We’re excited to see each other,” Watson said. “We went through a lot in junior college. We won a National Championship together so obviously it’s going to be good to see them and play against them.”
Coomes has played in three of the Tigers’ four games, collecting one hit, while Romero has yet to see action.
Listen to Madison Nickens and Will Watson (at the 34-minute mark) talk about returning to Louisiana on the Maryland Baseball Network Podcast.
Nickens never considered joining Coomes and Romero to go to LSU. He was initially recruited to Maryland head coach John Szefc, who has ties in Louisiana after his tenure as the head assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2003-2008.
On a visit to Maryland, former-player and now student assistant coach Anthony Papio hosted Nickens, who said he felt he had found himself a second home in College Park.
“You come on a visit up here [and you] get the feeling of a blue-collar atmosphere and it’s just kind of how I’ve grown up,” Nickens said. “We’re really a bunch of grinders here.”
While Nickens left the Bengals for the Terps, Watson remained with LSU-Eunice through the 2016 season and hit .312 with 11 doubles, four home runs, 21 stolen bases and 40 RBIs. That Bengals team was ranked first throughout most of the regular season, finishing with a 51-6 record, but falling just short of a second-straight title.
Watson’s breakout season caught the attention of the Maryland coaching staff, who then began to recruit him. During that time, Nickens was having a strong season of his own in College Park. He started 54 games for the Terps as junior, hitting .260 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs. Watson, who became intrigued by his former-teammate’s success, began asking Nickens about the program.
“[Nickens] didn’t have a bad word to say about it,” Watson said. “Once I got here I kind of saw what the coaches were like during practice and during the games and really got to see how they interact with the players. I really noticed this perfect place for me to fit in.”
Watson’s transition from junior college proved to be successful in his first series as a Terrapin. Last weekend in the Clearwater Tournament, the outfielder started two of the three games, collecting two hits, two walks and a stolen base.
“He’s a quiet guy, but he’s a confident guy,” Szefc said. “He certainly has enough skill to compete at the level we’re asking him to and I think he just fit right in and did his thing.”
Nickens and Watson have both found a second home in Maryland, but this weekend, the pair of outfielders will return to their birthplace where familiar faces will be waiting.
“A lot of my friends go [to LSU] so I know they’re excited to come see me play,” Watson said. “All my family is coming so it’s a big deal for me to just to get there and then try to perform at my highest level in front of a big crowd.”
Both have played at Alex Box Stadium before, during various high school games and showcases growing up. Both, too, grew up as LSU fans.
“Any Louisiana boy would be lying if he said he didn’t want to be an LSU Tiger when he was younger,” Nickens said on the MBN Podcast. “But that’s when I’m a little kid; that’s who I grew up watching.”
Alex Box Stadium, which set then-record of 12,373 fans during the 2013 season-opening game against Maryland, could yield upwards of 10,000 people this weekend. The field is surrounded on all sides by fan seating, creating an atmosphere that Szefc is looking forward to testing his team in.
“Obviously if we want to do well in the postseason, the NCAA tournament, we try to put our guys in that atmosphere as much as we can,” Szefc said. “Playing there is definitely that kind of atmosphere.”
While Watson and Nickens are excited to reconnect with friends and family during their time down to Baton Rouge, they both recognize the tough test the team faces in not only playing at Alex Box Stadium, but against an LSU team that is ranked No. 5 by D1Baseball.com.
“This is a big series for us and definitely one that we need to hit strong in to come away with a big series win down there in Baton Rouge,” Watson said. “It’s going to be fun playing in front of friends and family, but obviously we have some work to do.”