University City

He plans to turn Knights baseball into a winner

Northside Christian Academy is coming off a 2-20 baseball season. The year before, the Knights won just one game.

On the field, wins have been hard to come by, but new head coach Brian Larsen has a plan to step in and make a difference.

Larsen has been coaching since 1998 and brings a proven track record of success at turning around struggling programs.

Larsen "is coming from south Florida to help continue to build our athletic program," Knights head of school Tony Fajardo said.

Fajardo and Larsen knew each other in Florida through baseball. Larsen has been looking to move to the area for some time, and after speaking with Fajardo about his plans at Northside, the two decided to make it work.

"Tony and I spoke, and it became apparent that we wanted the same things," said Larsen. "He wants to change the culture of the school's athletics, and I have experience with a similar situation in Florida. It will work great for both of us."

The Knights' roster last year featured six freshman, a sophomore, two juniors and one senior. The player of the year, junior catcher Trajan Brown, returns and hopes to pick up where he left off on a 10-game hitting streak.

Senior captains Kurt Abernathy, a first baseman and pitcher, and outfielder-second baseman Connor Cox also will be back.

Despite the returning talent, Larsen said he is starting fresh this season.

"When I get there I am going to see who can play and who is willing to put in the work," he said. "To me, there is no player of the year on this team and no starters are returning from last year. Everyone will be evaluated and everyone will have to earn their spots."

"I am a very blunt and straight-forward guy, but I know what it takes to be successful. We are going to get after it and see who has the desire to turn this around."

Larsen, who has worked in education for the past 13 years, began coaching in 1998 with the Florida Pokers, a nationally recognized traveling team that produces many college players.

He left the Pokers the following year to become the assistant coach at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., a nationally ranked program where he worked with several Division 1 players, including Eric Hosmer. Hosmer, now the Kansas City Royals first baseman, was the third player drafted in the 2008 MLB draft.

For the past six seasons, Larsen has been head coach at Dr. Michael Krop High School in Miami. At Krop, Larsen took a team in a situation similar to Northside and led it to a regional championship and back-to-back appearances in the regional playoffs.

"I have dealt with a similar situation to this and have had success. It is not going to be easy by any means, but there is a formula to doing it, and it starts with a change in culture and attitude," said Larsen.

"You have to get kids buying into the system first. Once they have the system down, they can start learning how to play the right way."

While at Krop, Larsen was named district coach of the year and will serve as USA Baseball Under 15 coach in Cary, N.C., this fall. He also has worked the Florida Athletic Coaches Association senior all-star game in 2008 and 2009, working with the best senior players in the state.

"I have had some success as a coach and have been around some good players," said Larsen. "The sooner we can get everyone on the same page and believing in the system, the better off we will be."

Larsen stressed it won't be easy. The returning players will have to put in hard work. Changing the culture of a program that has struggled the past two years will take dedication, but Larsen said he feels he can be a good fit.

Fajardo said Larsen is an old-school baseball coach who believes in discipline, self-confidence and character.

"I am a straight-to-the-point guy; I call it like I see it," said Larsen. "I am demanding of my guys, but want them to be as good as they can be. The way to get there is through hard work and discipline."

Larsen said he looks forward to the challenge.

"We are going to start almost immediately. The changes will start in the fall even though we don't start until the spring. It is the work that gets put in now that will make us better," Larsen said.

"Like any coach should say, I want to and expect to win the state championship. It may take a little time, but we can get this turned around. I am confident in that."