By Cash Kruth
Most 14 year olds worry about social status or mustering up the courage to ask out their crush.
The big decisions, such as where they're going to college, are often put off until they're juniors or seniors.
Austin Kelly already has that one figured out.
Kelly, a 14-year-old eighth grader from Greenville, Miss., verbally committed this fall to play baseball at Mississippi State.
The offer came shortly after the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Kelly impressed Bulldog coaches at a showcase event and was invited back to campus for a visit and football game.
The commitment came just as quickly.
"I knew my answer," said Kelly, a big Mississippi State fan. "I just needed to talk to my coaches and see what they would say about it. I went back that night and talked to them and then I called [Mississippi State] back that next day and accepted it."
Young recruits giving verbal commitments isn't new; it's common in football, especially in the South. But baseball is different. Mississippi State told Kelly he was only the second eighth grader they've ever offered.
There are many question marks when recruiting a kid so young. One is how they'll mature physically. Kelly already has good size for a baseball player, so that's not as big of a worry as it might be in football.
Another is work ethic: Will a player coast on the field and in the weight room in the years between his commitment and arrival on campus?
Washington School coach Hunter Palasini is confident Kelly won't become complacent.
"As far as a kid, you would never know he was as talented as he is. He's a real humble guy, doesn't brag much about himself, and he encourages others and he always wants to work hard," Palasini said. "To have his ability and still want to work, a lot of guys with that God-gifted talent at that age wouldn't want to put in the effort. But he always wants to come in on days that we're supposed to be off."
Palasini attributes Kelly's humility and work ethic to his father, Joby, and mother, Tara. And while Kelly's parents had athletic backgrounds (Joby was a high school powerlifting champion), even his father isn't sure where his son's talent comes from.
"I don't know. He's definitely a good athlete in everything he does," said Joby, adding Austin scored close to 20 touchdowns as a running back this season and also plays basketball. "He's just been blessed, I guess."
NCAA verbal commitments are non-binding until an athlete signs a National Letter of Intent. So while Kelly knows the place he's always wanted to go wants him now, he's aware that he's not there yet.
Kelly is still a bit raw at catcher after moving behind the plate last year, so he's spending the offseason working on his footwork, release and delivery.
And although Palasini said Kelly's bat speed is "on another level" -- even compared to high school juniors and seniors -- Kelly is doing hitting drills to improve his opposite-field approach.
So, no, the work hasn't stopped. But a 14-year-old verbally committing to play collegiate baseball?
That's pretty cool, right?
"I try not to think about it," Kelly said. "I still try to stay humble and stuff. It hasn't really sunk in completely."
It's safe to say there's plenty of time for that.