Despite having some physical attributes, Thomas Bruss didn’t know if he would get a chance to play sports in college.
In high school, Bruss was a lanky 6-feet-8 kid who played both baseball and basketball. His height might indicate that basketball would have been his sport of the future, but it turned out to be baseball.
“My junior year, I had no idea if I was going to play in college, if I had the skill to play in college and if I did, at what level,” he said. “Then I remember we had an (American) Legion practice in mid-June and my coach, Vinnie Mannese, gave me this envelope after and it was an invitation to a junior showcase up in Minnetonka, 200 juniors from around the state for a full day of workouts.”
Despite attending the showcase, Bruss was hardly a hot commodity. While he played baseball at Century, he was actually homeschooled and he played basketball for the Rochester Area Home School Defenders.
“I didn’t have many offers at all,” Bruss said. “I was tall and not incredibly strong, kind of an uncoordinated young kid. I was big, but that was about all I had going for me. I didn’t throw incredibly hard or have offspeed (pitches).”
‘A BIG DIVISION II PROGRAM’
It was around September of his senior year back in 2016 that Bruss heard from Augustana University coach Tim Huber.
“I did some research on them and was like, ‘This is a big Division II program,’” Bruss recalled. He then took a recruiting trip to Augustana later in September.
“I was kind of overwhelmed with the whole college touring experience, but I knew as soon as I toured and met coach Huber and I threw a bullpen (session) on their field and talked to the pitching coach, I knew immediately that’s where I was going,” Bruss said.
Bruss said he did take a few more recruiting trips to please his mom.
“But I knew Augstana was where I was going for sure,” he said.
“I’m kind of an easy-going guy, and I could find my niche about whatever school, but I knew baseball was something I really wanted to do,” Bruss added. “Once I realized I had offers, I immediately chose Augustana.”
Bruss carried about 220 pounds on his 6-8 frame in high school, and his fastball topped out at about 86 miles per hour.
“I think what got me an offer was I was tall, but also how fast I caught on,” he said. “I came in and I wasn’t set on ‘I have to throw this, I have to throw this. This is how I throw.’ I was like ‘Whatever you want me to throw, I’ll give it a shot.’”
Bruss not only followed his coach’s advice when he got to Augustana, he also started hitting the weights.
“One thing I tell high school kids when I see them is, ‘Make sure you’re lifting.’ Because that’s a big thing,” he said. “That will get you that early jump on all these other kids when you go into college.
“If you eat well and lift, you’ll put on the muscle,” he added. “Even after one fall I was up to 240, 245-ish. And I was already up to 92 (miles per hour).”
TITLE RUN WAS INSPIRING
Bruss didn’t see a lot of action on the mound as a freshman when Augustana won the NCAA Division II national championship in the spring of 2018. But the title run inspired him to improve.
“I kind of realized what this team had going and what I could do for myself, so I lifted a lot,” he said. “I think that’s where my biggest jump in velocity came from — getting stronger and learning to help my joints and muscles move in order to direct the strength.”
Bruss, who turned 21 on May 18, recently completed his junior year at Augustana. He has adopted his role as a relief pitcher and now weighs 265 pounds. His fastball has been clocked at 96, and he’s considered a pro prospect.
Bruss said being home-schooled might have hurt his recruitment, with so few coaches offering him much in the way of scholarship money. It also likely drew him to a smaller school in terms of enrollment, as Augustana has about 1,800 undergraduates on campus.
“I think I was more comfortable staying with a smaller school,” he said. “Now that I’ve been there for three years, I think in hindsight I might enjoy a school maybe closer to 8,000 (students).”
Bruss doesn’t remember what percentage of a scholarship he received his first year, but he has gotten a scholarship jump in percentage each year.
“It wasn't like I had a full ride anywhere,” he said. “But you had to have that mindset of just work hard and do the right thing, and good coaches take notice of that.”
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THE RECRUITING TRAIL
July 15 — Recruiting at Junior Colleges: What challenges do JuCo coaches face in the recruiting process? Why do athletes choose the JuCo route? What role do academic advisors play?
July 16 — Coaches perspective: Coaches at different levels talk about their recruiting philosophies and practices.
July 17 — Recruited and Waiting: We talk to athletes who have made college commitments but have yet to arrive on campus. How are they handling this period of waiting and wondering might happen to their first semester of college?
July 18 — Technology and Social Media: How has social media changed recruiting for coaches and athletes?
July 19 — A Different Animal: Junior Hockey. Men’s hockey is unique to this process in that there is a middle ground between high school and college that most players must pass through.
July 20 — Recruiting Targets: Current high school athletes tell us what their recruiting experiences have been like so far, and how they plan to handle the rest of the process.
July 21 — Borderline Decisions: How does an athlete decide between playing for a Division I school or a Division II or Division III school? Or going to junior college?
July 22 — Two-Sport College Athletes: What is the recruiting process like for athletes who want to play more than one sport in college?
July 23 — Evolution of Recruiting: We talk to athletes from five decades to find out what their recruiting experience was like and how it has changed over the years.