It was at one time rare to see a high school athlete earn a Division 1 scholarship without the benefit of playing a single varsity baseball game. Actually, it was unheard of.
But the COVID-19 pandemic put the 2020 high school season in dry dock and forced Division 1 coaches — prohibited by the NCAA from seeing potential recruits in-person — to become highly creative in the recruiting game, as it did for the recruits themselves.
Nick Ferri was a sophomore last spring when he made the jump from junior varsity to varsity at Hunterdon Central High School and slid into the lineup to give coach Kevin Cuozzi a productive lefty-swinging bat. Ferri set his sights on a strong high school season and summer with the Diamond Jacks Super 16 team to foster his development and help realize his dream of a Division 1 scholarship.
“We had a bunch of really good sophomore players who were going to make an impact on the team,” said Ferri. “It was disappointing to lose the season.”
Ferri’s 2020 summer suddenly took on a lot more significance in his development while condensing the time frame in which he had to impress college scouts. It didn’t hurt, though, that Ferri had been elevated the previous fall from the Diamond Jacks Gold 15U team to the program’s Super 16U squad. That loaded Super 16U squad would draw a lot of eyes as it put together a stunning 46-win shortened summer.
“I was a Gold guy for a while,” said Ferri, who joined the Diamond Jacks program as a 14 year-old. “I had to fight my way up to the Super team. I knew I had to get better so I worked hard. Before I thought about getting recruited, my main goal was to get to the Super team and make an impact.”
Diamond Jacks Super 16U coach Steve DiTrolio watched Ferri’s development from an excellent vantage point and witnessed the impact he talked about.
“Nick’s resilience is a great lesson for younger athletes,” said DiTrolio. “It’s not where you start but how you finish.”
Ferri’s is finished with his college recruiting journey but is just beginning, it seems, in making significant jumps in his overall development as a player.
“Nick’s ceiling is very high,” says DiTrolio. “And I don’t believe he has even scratched the surface on what kind of player we will eventually become.”
When Ferri gave his verbal to Seton Hall University on Dec. 14, he remarkably became the Diamond Jacks Super 16U team’s 11th Division 1 commitment. Ferri is a 6-3, 185-pound corner outfielder slash infielder who began turning heads for his quick and explosive bat and power potential.
“July was the best month of my life,” says Ferri. “It was my first real season on the Super team and I stuck at the top of the lineup most of the summer. As we got into our season I started making an impact.”
He also opened some eyes on July 5 at a local Prep Baseball Report (PBR) showcase in which he registered a 92 mph exit velocity. “He has explosive bat speed, a simple swing plane and high finish,” read the PBR report. “He found multiple barrels with loud contact.”
Ferri was indeed often at the front of an explosive Super 16U lineup last summer. One such lineup on July 31 — a 5-2 victory over Tri-State Arsenal 2022 — had Clemson-bound Chris Maldonado leading off, Stetson commit Jayden Hylton batting second and Ferri in the No. 3 spot ahead of cleanup hitter Connor Dreyer, who has verballed to Boston College.
“Nick is a big left-handed bat and he hits with a lot of leverage,” says Travis Anderson, another one of his Diamond Jacks coaches. “Everything has come together for him and he’s taken advantage of his opportunities at Diamond Nation. Once he started working out I think he gained an inner belief in himself. He’s gotten stronger. This is what happens when you put hard work in and trust in everything we do. Some kids say they work but Nick puts in a lot of work on his own. It shows.”
Part of that development for Ferri has been his ability to play multiple positions and thus become more valuable to his team. He’ll either plug in a corner outfield spot or at first base for Hunterdon Central. He can also provide efficiency at third base should the need arise.
“My main goal is to help the team any way I can,” he says. “I’ve learned to play the outfield and mixed in a little first base. I think a big thing that attracted schools was my versatility.”
Ferri also had offers from East Tennessee State, Stony Brook and Lehigh and was in discussions with a few other schools before Seton Hall University swooped in to indicate its seriousness.
“The Seton Hall coaches wanted me to tour the campus before they would offer me,” said Ferri. “I went up to the campus with my family in early December. We loved the campus and the baseball facilities.” Seton Hall, in fact, christened brand new Mike Sheppard, Sr. Stadium at Owen T. Carroll Field on March 11, 2020 with a 13-3 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson. The NCAA pulled the plug on the 2020 season the next day due to the pandemic. So Seton Hall’s new baseball facility is, effectively, still only one game old.
“Seton Hall was the first school to reach out to me,” said Ferri. “It was after that PBR event in July. I talked to coach Pappas for a while.” Seton Hall assistant coach Mark Pappas serves as the program’s recruiting coordinator. “I had zoom calls with (head) coach (Rob) Sheppard after that.”
Ferri will have some built-in connections at Seton Hall in former Diamond Jacks in freshman Devin Hack and Matt Toke. The senior Toke is also a Hunterdon Central grad. “There’s definitely a lot of kids I know there,” said Ferri. “Plus the Diamond Jacks went to a camp there and I got to work out with some of the infielders and meet some of the guys.”
Ferri quickly saw he had a good fit academically and in baseball at Seton Hall and committed a little over a week later.
“Nick has made some great strides towards his overall development,” says DiTrolio. “We talk about consistency, patience and structure, followed by hard work in regards to overall player development. Nick has bought into a plan and it has rewarded him.”
Ferri’s focus now is on his winter workouts and preparing for his first varsity season at Hunterdon Central, the perennial Central Jersey power that owns five NJSIAA Group 4 championships, the last two coming in 2016 and ‘18.
“I’m lifting four or five times a week and hitting almost every day,” says Ferri. “I’m eating a lot of protein, trying to gain weight and muscle. From a hitting standpoint, I’m working on driving the ball the other way. If I can hit for power the other way that will help me and my team.”
Ferri’s versatility also brings him to the mound, where he logged some valuable innings this summer and fall for the Diamond Jacks and expects to contribute with his arm for Hunterdon Central, too.
“Coach Cuozzi asked me to pitch but I’m not sure how he’ll use me, relieving or starting,” said Ferri. The righthander throws a fastball and curveball and began mixing in a changeup in the fall. “The changeup has been working kind of well and I’m getting some good run on my fastball.”
There’s more to baseball than just the physical part and Ferri has worked on what goes on from the neck up. He slumped a bit at the end of his summer season but did not view that in a purely negative light.
“Ending the summer like that helped me learn that you can’t always succeed,” he said. “You control what you can control. Improving mental toughness is a big thing for me. I believe when someone sees me playing they shouldn’t be able to tell if I’m having a good game or a bad game. I’ve worked on that.”
Ferri hopes all that development, physically and mentally, helps his high school team this spring.
“We have a really good chance to make something special happen,” says Ferri. “We don’t have any holes in our lineup. We have a great group of guys and we feel like we can really go for it.”
Cuozzi is anxious to see Ferri’s development come to fruition.
“I”m really excited for Nick,” said Cuozzi. “He has worked extremely hard and has a tremendous amount of potential. His ability to play the outfield, corner infield and even perform on the mound make him an extremely valuable player. Combined with his dangerous lefty bat, there is no doubt he will have success now at Hunterdon Central and in the future at Seton Hall. I’m just glad I have him for two more seasons.”