High School Sports

Football or baseball? College or pro? Garner’s Nolan McLean ‘can do almost anything.’

Garner High School senior Nolan McLean belted a two-run home run and picked up a pitching win in the United States U18 National Team 5-3 baseball victory over Panama in the final game of pool play in the 2019 World Baseball Softball Confederation World Cup in Gijang, South Korea on Wednesday.

McLean pitched two innings of relief, allowing one hit and striking out two. His home run staked the U.S. to a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning.

The victory gave the U.S. the No. 2 seed from Group B in the Super Round of competition. The U.S. again beat Australia on Thursday, 2-1, as McLean drove in a run with a single in the first round of the Super Round. The U.S. will play Canada on Friday and Korea on Saturday.

McLean’s exploits were illustrative of his abilities. His pitches have been clocked at 96 miles per hour and his longest home runs have been more than 500 feet.

“One professional scout told me that there are probably 10 or 15 guys in the world that can do that,” Garner baseball coach Derik Goffena told The News & Observer. “That gives you an idea of how special Nolan is.”

The 6-3, 225-pound McLean also is good enough to play college football at the highest level. He was the Trojans’ starter at quarterback for the past two seasons (passing for 2,600 yards as a sophomore and 3,600 yards as a junior).

He is expected to play football when the World Cup competition is finished later this month. He’ll probably return to quarterback, but Garner football coach Thurman Leach said McLean could start as a linebacker, safety, running back or receiver. He also has been the club’s long snapper on place kicks and is the club’s punter.

“He can do almost anything on the football field,” Leach said. “Plus, he is a great leader, a great student and a person of great character. He doesn’t talk much, but he knows how to lead. His leadership is impressive. He is an elite football prospect.”

Eventually, McLean will make a decision — football or baseball, college or the pros. His plan now is play football and baseball at a Power 5 school. That could change, though, if professional baseball offers a life-changing financial offer.

“He may have to make a decision one day,” Derek McLean, his father, told the N&O. “But that is somewhere in the future.

“Our advice to him is to enjoy the chance to do something you really enjoy. Have fun and play as many sports as you want to play for as long as you can.”

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Garner quarterback Nolan McLean on the sidelines. The Clayton Comets played football at the Garner Trojans on Friday, August 17, 2018. Ray Black III newsobserver.com

Football awaits for Nolan McLean

The Garner football team is 1-1 with a 28-17 win over Sanderson and a 56-33 loss to Cleveland with senior Daeveon Dunn at quarterback.

McLean practiced with the football team before leaving to join the U18 team and is eligible to play football when he returns. He possibly could play against Clayton on Sept. 13. Garner’s first South Wake 4-A Conference game is Oct. 4 against Holly Springs.

He also plans to add basketball to football and baseball this winter.

“We have told him to have as much fun playing as he can,” his father told the N&O. “He has a passion for competition and a passion for any game with a ball.”

His excellence in football and baseball has tempered expectations by college coaches and professional scouts. Some college football coaches fear that McLean may bypass college for professional baseball, according to Leach. Professional baseball clubs are hesitate to use a high draft pick on a player who may choose college.

“Because he is a two-sport athlete, his signability (to a professional baseball contract) will be a consideration in the draft,” Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo told the N&O. “That is something teams will have to weigh in the draft.”

Baseball America has McLean ranked among the top 50 high school baseball players in country and he competed with 85 of the top high school players in the country to win a berth on the 20-player national team. Baseball America currently projects him to be selected in the first four rounds in the Major League draft next spring.

“We are a long way from the draft,” Collazo said. “But the scouts really love his size, his physicality and his power. He also is very athletic. And he can pitch.”

Goffena expects McLean’s rankings in baseball to soar now that he is on the national radar.

“Nolan really hasn’t been totally into the summer baseball play and travel ball, because he is a football player,” Goffena said. “But when I saw him compete with the best high school players in the country in workouts in Florida, he hit as well as anybody and he pitched as well as anybody.

“He has a very natural swing and makes great contact. As a pitcher, he usually throws around 94 and he has a great slider. One of the goals for the spring is for him to develop a good change up.”

Towering home runs

McLean generated a national buzz this summer in a pair of national high school home run derbies.

In the Prospect Development Pipeline League Home Run Derby, he placed fifth with 12 home runs. Using a metal bat, he hit one homer off the large scoreboard above the left field bleachers at the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field, site of this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

The blast was estimated at more than 500 feet, further than any home run hit by Major Leaguers on the same field the next day in their Home Run Derby.

McLean also smashed a towering home run out of the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field during the Under Armour All-America Game Home Run Derby. His home run cleared the scoreboard in left field and landed in Waveland Avenue. It was another 500-foot-plus shot.

“I saw him hit that one,” Collazo said. “I had already seen him in Florida with 80 of the top high school players in the country and his power in batting practice really stood out. He has great raw power. What you’d like to see is that power translated a little bit more in game situations against good pitching.”

There may be some debate about which is McLean’s better sport, but not by Leach and Goffena, McLean’s coaches.

“We, all of us at the school and in the community, are so proud and pleased for the opportunities he is having in baseball right now,” Leach said. “Can you imagine going out and representing the United States while you are still in high school?

“We are looking forward to him coming back to play with his friends, but we’re thrilled with what he is accomplishing.”

Goffena, who is in his 19th season as the baseball head coach, said the attention that McLean is generating reminds him a little of the excitement surrounding Trojan pitcher Scotty McCreery while he was winning the National Idol singing competition. McCreery was the Trojans’ best pitcher that spring.

“It is really a lot of fun to see something like this,” Goffena said. “This is really special.”

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