Aztec High School graduates Jake Taylor and Beau Crawford will continue as teammates in Nebraska
AZTEC — Jake Taylor and Beau Crawford have been playing baseball together since they were in elementary school.
And after signing their national letters of intent today at Aztec High School to play at Concordia University, the best friends will continue as teammates at the college level.
Ever since the recent Aztec High graduates roamed the halls of C.V. Koogler Middle School together five years ago, they have talked about attending college together. A couple of weeks after this year's state baseball tournament, they followed through on those talks by officially committing to the school in Seward, Neb.
"They're pretty much best buds, and I think they're not quite ready to move on from each other yet, which is great," Aztec athletic director Bryan Sanders said. "They're a couple of good kids, and the school will be lucky to have them."
Aztec assistant coach Ryan Lane facilitated the conversations between Concordia coaches and his two former players, who each also received offers from Kansas Wesleyan University and Central Christian College. As Lane looked for a school where the boys could play, he said education factored into the search.
"A lot of Midwestern colleges have a very good reputation for having a very good education, so I looked around out there," Lane said. "They really liked the program, and really like the coach's vision, so Concordia's what they settled on."
Ryan Dupic coaches the Concordia Bulldogs, who were 28-27 last season while competing in the Great Plains Athletic Conference as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Last high school season, Aztec reached the 20-win plateau for the first time in 12 years, and Taylor and Crawford were integral in the team's success.
A vocal leader who manned the shortstop position for Aztec, Taylor batted .344 as a senior, while hitting either first or third in the batting order. He paced the Tigers in stolen bases with 21.
Crawford was a jack of all trades for coach Wes LePlatt, spending time at seven different positions on defense, all while more than holding his own at the plate, where he sported a .326 average.
Good base runners with the ability to hit for both power and average, Crawford and Taylor shared a similar skill set, according to LePlatt. The boys themselves think they have a pretty good sense of each other's tendencies in the batter's box, having played with or against each other since they were 11 years old.
"Beau's an aggressive hitter, I'd say," Taylor said. "He likes to attack."
"He's way more patient than me. I swing away," Crawford added. "He's got a good eye for the ball. I think he had the most walks on the team."
Taylor, who easily led Aztec in walks with 25, was the backbone of the team, according to LePlatt, who said Taylor was almost like another coach on the field. The former Tiger often directed early-morning team workouts.
"I remember he missed a couple ballgames after he had his wisdom teeth taken out, and we could hardly start morning exercises without him. Everyone was just looking at each other confused," LePlatt said of Taylor. "He evolved over the years from a lead-by-example guy to an upfront leader, who would pull guys aside if they needed help with something. The players really looked up to Jake."
Crawford wasn't always as focused and team-oriented as Taylor. After missing a high school game in 2015 to go on a family camping trip, then-Aztec coach Brett Alexander punished Crawford by sitting him out the next time the Tigers played. Crawford responded by quitting the team.
The two have since smoothed things over, and Crawford currently plays for Alexander's Flat Bill Ducks in the Connie Mack City League. Crawford admitted he wasn't the easiest player to deal with a year ago.
"I was a little turd back then, I guess," he said. "We butted heads a little bit, but we're totally cool now."
Alexander said it's all water under the bridge now.
"The way he handled everything, it wasn't as mature as I would have liked," Alexander said. "But he's made a ton of strides, on and off the field. ... I look for him to go to Concordia and have a very successful career."
Taylor and Crawford will hit the road together en route to Nebraska in August. Taylor said sharing the journey together will make the life change easier to handle.
"Having Beau out there is gonna be awesome," Taylor said. "Going out there by myself would have been a little bit scary, a little hectic."
"I'm not nervous about it at all, knowing Jake will be there," Crawford agreed.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.