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Bond Between Jack Leggett, Kevin O'Sullivan Remains Strong

Florida and USA Baseball’s 18U national team on Sunday will meet in Port Charlotte, Fla., for an exhibition game as the Gators conclude their fall practices and Team USA prepares for the Pan-American Championships. In addition to the high-end competition on the field, the game will also be the first time Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan will face a team coached by Jack Leggett, his mentor and former boss at Clemson.

Leggett spent 22 seasons as Clemson’s head coach before he was fired in 2015. O’Sullivan spent nine of those seasons as Clemson’s pitching coach before he was hired to be Florida’s head coach in June 2007. In the eight seasons they were both head coaches, their schedules never lined up for a matchup. But O’Sullivan and Leggett remained close and are excited by the chance to coach against each other.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to be on the same field as Jack,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m looking forward to being on the same field as him.”

“We talk a lot and talk baseball a lot so I’m excited about seeing what (O’Sullivan’s) got for a team next year and trying to compete against him,” Leggett said. “He’s always been on my team so now it’s a little different.”

The bulk of O’Sullivan’s career as an assistant coach came at Clemson and Leggett was very influential on his career. O’Sullivan said what stood out the most about Leggett was his attention to detail and relationships with everyone involved in the program.

“What I learned from Jack is what encompasses the entire program,” O’Sullivan said. “What you need to do from A-Z to run a program for the long haul. When you’re young, you think it’s all X’s and O’s but it’s tremendously more than that.”

Leggett said he is proud of what O’Sullivan has accomplished as a head coach. But their relationship goes far beyond baseball.

“He’s got great loyalty and a bond that nobody can break,” Leggett said. “It’s a long lasting, lifetime deal that we’ve got going. He’s always been a big part of my life and he always will be.”

Leggett, 64, has been working with USA Baseball for the last two years and will coach the 18U team through the 2019 World cup in South Korea. He said he is enjoying being back on the field again.

“When I hit that green grass, I seem to turn into someone that’s got energy and enthusiasm and tremendous respect and love for the fundamental of this game and doing things the right way,” he said. “I’m excited about being a part of these kids’ baseball career and their lives.”

As always, this year’s 18U national team is made up of the top players in this year’s draft class, led by shortstops Bobby Witt Jr. and C.J. Abrams. The team was selected over the summer and this week came together in Florida to train for a week before traveling to Panama for the Pan-Am Championships. In addition to their game against Florida, they are playing other college teams including Miami-Dade JC and Nova Southeastern, as well as Canada’s 18U national team.

Team USA has hit the ground running, Leggett said.

“Our pitching and our defense has been pretty good, and our timely hitting has been good,” he said. “We’ve got some good arms, but we’ve also got some good, athletic baseball players.”

Team USA will have its work cut out for it Sunday against Florida. The Gators are reloading after another run to the College World Series and have plenty of talent on the roster.

As the Gators approach the end of their fall practices, O’Sullivan said they are a talented team, but still a work in progress. He said this group is reminiscent of his 2010 and 2014 teams, which both got big contributions from top-ranked freshmen classes. This year’s recruiting class was only ranked No. 5 nationally, but O’Sullivan believes it can have the same kind of impact.

“This class may not have come in as heralded but seeing them perform on the field I would be very surprised not to see them make an impact on the field or on the mound come spring time,” he said.

In the meantime, the Gators are looking forward to their chance to play against the top high school players in the country.

“It’s a great opportunity to play somebody else,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re playing the best amateur players in the country and a lot will be high drafts. I know our players are looking forward to it.”

Chase Dollander (Bill Mitchell)

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