Amy Farnum, NCAA.com

You can hear it in Taylor Wrenn’s voice – the pure anticipation for a new season and a fresh start. And if anyone deserves to be excited about the start of the 2011 baseball season, it is definitely Wrenn.

Just more than a year ago, Wrenn was enjoying his winter break in his hometown of Lakeland, Fla., a few weeks before he would make his Division I debut as the starting shortstop for the University of Southern California. Wrenn felt he had a good fall practice, despite battles with mononucleosis and bronchitis, and was ready to make an impact for the Trojans.

But during the break Wrenn fell ill again with flu-like symptoms and, like many people, was prescribed the antibiotic azithromycin, also known as a Zithromax Z-Pak. On Jan. 8, Wrenn suffered a rare allergic reaction to the drug, causing him to black out while driving and crash into a neighbor’s tree at 35 miles per hour. Wrenn was in critical condition, and was in a coma for four days after the accident.

Miraculously, Wrenn not only survived the accident, but returned to USC on Jan. 17, and was back on the field practicing with the Trojans just days after waking up from the coma. He started at shortstop in the Trojans’ first game against Cal Poly on Feb. 19. But despite Wrenn’s amazing comeback, something was just not right. He had lost about 35 pounds in the hospital and his body and mind were having trouble recovering from the trauma.

“I was starting every game, but I just couldn’t get it together mentally,” Wrenn said.

Wrenn’s expectations for himself as a Division I student-athlete were high, and the pressure of trying to recover from the accident, play baseball and do well academically was too much. After playing 18 games, Wrenn had a conversation with then-head coach Chad Kreuter about being overwhelmed.

“He said, ‘I don’t care about Taylor Wrenn, the baseball player – I care about Taylor Wrenn, the person,’ ” Wrenn said. “That was big for me because I realized I didn’t have to put so much pressure on myself. I just told them I couldn’t play because I wasn’t mentally there.

“I went back to USC too quickly after the accident. I thought I could play, but I probably should have stepped back and realized the magnitude of the situation and rest and regain my body.”

Wrenn left the baseball team, and finished the spring semester at USC. He quit baseball all together for two-and-a-half months. Finally, his parents talked Wrenn into giving baseball another chance.

Wrenn’s summer journey began in the Cape Cod League as a temporary player, but then an opportunity for a full-time position opened in the Northwood League in Minnesota, so he headed to the Upper Midwest.

“I had lost so many at-bats and so much playing time the previous season so I felt it was better for my career to move up there,” Wrenn said. “I was having a really good summer and all of sudden my arm started to feel funny.”

After seeing a doctor and undergoing a MRI, Wrenn was diagnosed with a torn labrum – the cartilage in the shoulder joint – which would greatly affect his ability to throw the ball. Wrenn underwent surgery to repair the tear on July 31.

“I was disappointed, but I had been through so much over the last year that I was like, ‘Bring it on, what else do you have for me?’ ” Wrenn said.

Meanwhile, Wrenn was in the midst of figuring out whether he would continue at USC or transfer. His father Luke, a baseball scout in Florida for the past 25 years, recommended that he look at the University of Tampa.

Tampa head coach Joe Urso remembered Wrenn from high school, and always thought he would be a great fit for the Spartan program.

“When I heard he had the injury and was looking to transfer, it was definitely worth the chance for us to bring him into the program,” Urso said. “I felt like even if the arm does not come back and is ready to go this year that he brings so much to the table offensively.”

Wrenn, a left-handed hitter with speed, is slated to be the Spartans’ leadoff hitter on opening day. He underwent rehab for his shoulder during the fall, and is on a strict throwing program that should have him back at shortstop by mid-March. In the meantime, he will serve as a designated hitter, and play first base about once a week.

The Spartans, who lost 10 players to professional baseball, three to graduation and its best pitcher to injury this season, will be a team of new faces. During the fall Urso was looking for leadership, and with Wrenn, the coach didn’t need to look far.

“One of his greatest attributes is his knowledge of the game of baseball,” Urso said. “This kid is a natural born leader on the field. Even though he is new to our program, he’s already taken over one of the captain roles. He does a great job and knows the game as well as player I’ve been around.”

The transition has worked out great for Wrenn, too.

“I’ve loved every moment since I’ve been here,” Wrenn said. “I really enjoy my teammates here. We all really get along and do lots of stuff together. I felt like that was missing last year with the team I was on.”

Fifth-ranked Tampa opens the season Feb. 4 with a three-game series against No. 4 Georgia College.