By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – New faces arrived at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex at Bush Stadium recently, and we're not talking about the 2014 signing class. Tennessee Tech head baseball coach Matt Bragga announced the newest additions to his staff, welcoming Justin Holmes and Derek Weldon as assistant coaches of the Golden Eagle squad.
"What really drew me to this position was Coach Bragga," Holmes said. "He's done a fantastic job bringing the program to unprecedented heights in its history. He has a plan and he knows how to win. I'm very excited to be a part of that and learn from him and help continue what he's been able to build."
"I was really drawn to Tennessee Tech and was happy to have the opportunity to even apply for the opening," Weldon said. "This program has had a lot of success and Coach Bragga has a great track record and reputation around the country. Everyone I talked to had nothing but tremendous things to say about him and the program here at Tech."
After taking a brief respite from the coaching game in 2014, Holmes, who is expected to fill in as Tech's recruiting coordinator and infield coach, eagerly joins the Golden Eagle staff with a strong baseball background, both as a player at the University of Georgia and minor league baseball, and as a coach at Georgia and Mercer.
"I'm just looking forward to being back out on the field," Holmes said. "This past year I've been away from baseball and I've missed it immensely. I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of a program, especially as good as Tennessee Tech's. I can't wait to put on a uniform and see the sights and hear the sounds of the game of baseball. I can't wait to get out there and compete and help the guys to do their best to bring home a championship to the university."
An assistant at Mercer University from 2010-2013, Holmes served as both the hitting coach and first base coach to the 2013 Atlantic Sun Championship squad. The Bears earned a 43-18 record on its way to its first ever regular season championship and NCAA Tournament berth. The team also found itself ranked for the first time in program history.
During his tenure at Mercer, Holmes helped develop and coach a First-Team All-American, three Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans, two Capitol One Academic All-Americans, three ABCA/Rawlings All-South Team members, the 2013 A-Sun Player of the Year, the 2012 A-Sun Freshman of the Year the A-Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year, 10 All-Atlantic Sun selections and three players who went to play professional ball. He also helped coordinate a defense that finished first in the NCAA in fielding percentage in 2013.
"From a recruiting perspective, Justin Holmes has done a great job in his career," Bragga said. "He's very persistent and brings a different mentality to the recruiting picture that I really like. He has championship experience and success at the highest levels of college baseball. Justin is going to be a phenomenal recruiter. He knows what he's looking for in players and he knows what our program is looking for as well.
"I know he can't wait to get working with our guys and they are going to love working with him," Bragga added. "He's just a headsy baseball guy with a very bright future in this profession. I truly believe he will recruit at a very high level and that we will experience a seamless transition in both our recruiting and in our infield coaching."
Mercer won 121 games during his three seasons as a member of the coaching staff, finishing in the top 100 in RPI as well.
Prior to working at Mercer, Holmes served as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, from 2007-2010. He served as the first base coach while preparing and conducting practice sessions devoted to hitter development, base running and infield defense on a daily basis.
In 2008, he was part of the coaching staff that won the 2008 SEC Championships and finished second at the College World Series. Holmes coached and developed two All-Americans, the 2008 SEC Player of the Year, two All-SEC First Team selections from the infield and a Rawlings NCAA Division I Gold Glove winner. He saw six former UGA players move on to professional baseball in his time as coach and helped develop a defense that led the SEC in fielding percentage in 2008.
After playing one season at the University of South Florida, Holmes transferred to and played three seasons at the University of Georgia, starting at shortstop from 2002-2004. The captain and co-MVP of the 2004 SEC Championship team, Georgia finished third in the College World Series and finished the season with a 45-23 record. He earned an All-SEC Second Team selection that year, as well as All-Regional and Super Regional honors while batting a team-best .332 with eight home runs and 56 RBI. He finished his career as the program's all-time leader in fielding percentage for a shortstop and as a two-time Scholar Athlete Honor Roll recipient.
A 26th round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2004, Holmes played in the Indians organization for two years, spending time in Burlington, N.C. in the Appalachian League and Eastlake, Ohio for Lake County in the South Atlantic League. He also played for the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums of the Frontier League where he was a two-time All-Star selection and finished as the franchise's all-time hits leader.
"I've just been fortunate to have been around some really good baseball people throughout my career," Holmes added. "I think I've learned many lessons from all of the guys I've worked for in the past. But I think what will prepare me the most is this upcoming fall and spending it with Coach Bragga. I'm excited to learn his system and be able to plug in and be a part of that. I can't wait to play my part and help this program succeed."
A graduate of UGA in 2005, Holmes earned his bachelor's degree in classical culture. He is married to the former Elizabeth Newsome of Washington, Ga., a 2008 graduate of the UGA veterinary school and member of the Georgia's 2003 and 2004 national championship equestrian teams. The couple lives in Cookeville with their son, Rider.
Weldon joins the Tech baseball staff after spending the past six years coaching at various high schools. A graduate of Southern Arkansas University, he will work primarily with the Tech outfielders and assist with hitting instruction.
"Derek brings a certain maturity about him to the coaching staff that I really liked off the bat," Bragga said. "He's had a lot of success as a high school coach and I believe that he will translate that success to our program seamlessly."
Most recently, Weldon served as the associate head baseball coach, hitting coach, and third base coach at Muskogee High School in Muskogee, Okla., a role he held since 2012.
Prior to his stint at MHS, he spent five years at Timberline High School, where he earned the Narrows League 3A Baseball Coach of the Year in both 2011 and 2012. He served as the head coach for two years after spending his first three seasons at the school as an assistant for both the baseball and football teams.
"He's a high-energy guy that brings a very positive, go-win mentality to the program and I was just enamored with those qualities," Bragga added. "He will work with our outfielders and be in charge of our baserunning, as well as assist with recruiting duties. I have no doubt that he will help us to continued success with our program."
Weldon played two seasons at Southern Arkansas University, enjoying an impressive senior campaign that culminated with the 2006 Gulf South Conference title, the programs first conference championship. Weldon took home GSC All-Tournament First Team honors, as well as earning a place on the GSC Honor Roll.
He earned Southern Arkansas' Outstanding Athlete Award for baseball following his senior year and also was named a finalist for the Auburn Smith Award. While finishing up his degree, Weldon served as a student assistant coach for the Muleriders during the 2007 season.
A two-year member of the Eastfield Community College baseball team, Weldon took home Metro Athletic Conference First Team honors in 2003, as well as First-Team All-Region Accolades. He was also named to the Texas Junior College All-Star Team in 2003.
A holder of five different teaching licenses, Weldon earned his bachelor's degree in education from Southern Arkansas University in the winter of 2007. He then collected his master's of education from the City University of Seattle in 2012.
"This was a really unique opportunity for me and I fell truly blessed to have a chance to help contribute to the continued success of Tennessee Tech baseball," Weldon said. "All I can do is come in and work relentlessly every day. I just want to come in and be the best coach that I can be and the best asset possible to this program. Hopefully that hard work will inspire our players and translate to success for the team."
Weldon and his wife, the former Jennifer Pinkston who is a 2003 graduate of Southern Arkansas with a degree in accounting, reside in Cookeville with their two-year old son, Callum.
"I'm just really excited for the whole process," Weldon added. "Working for six months towards that first game and then the grind of the season is why I do it. I enjoy everything that goes into building a team and I look forward to keeping the strong tradition of Tennessee Tech baseball growing."