When his transfer from Red Bank High School left him ineligible, Signal Mountain's Gunter Barton thought his baseball career might be over.
He gambled on the transfer being approved by the TSSAA and lost. The earliest he could play - sitting out 365 calendar days from his last game at Red Bank - won't be until next week, and most of Signal Mountain's players may well have moved on to spring football practice by then.
"Some people might think I'm crazy, but I offered him a scholarship and he signed earlier this week," Tennessee Temple University coach Greg Bartley said after talking with Signal Mountain coach Bumper Reese and Barton.
Bartley said he expects Barton to pitch and play elsewhere, and Reese said Barton had played every position on the field during his four years with him.
Though he hasn't been able to play varsity baseball this year, Barton has carried on with the Eagles.
"He hasn't missed a day of practice. He does the [pitching] charts, and having played for me for four years he knows to look for things that I look for as a coach," said Reese, who moved to Signal from Red Bank after the 2010 season. "Sitting out has made him appreciate the game even more, but he has been a huge asset."
Both coach and player feel Barton has reached new understandings about himself and the game.
"This season has been hard, watching everybody go out there and play and have fun. I have felt like I was missing everything," Barton said. "It would have been great to be able to play. It has been horrible taking the year off, but I think taking that year has allowed me to grow as a player. I think I have a better understanding of the game.
"This year off has made me realize that this game is really important to me."
He has been part cheerleader and part mentor.
"I've tried to help the younger guys, make them realize that they're playing high school baseball and that they need to have fun but that they also need to step up," he said.
Barton was 8-0 with two saves and an ERA of 0.83 a year ago.
"He'll be a tremendous asset to Coach Bartley," Reese said. "But I think the same could be said for what Gunter gets from Greg. He's a great coach and a great person, and he's a godly man. Gunter is so appreciative of the offer Greg and Tennessee Temple have given him."