AUBURN, Ala. -- Ryan Tella didn't expect to play baseball for Auburn this season. Why would he? His path to his highest goals seemed clear.
Tella, from Fremont, Calif., transferred to Auburn in the fall of 2011 after a year at Ohlone Community College.He was an immediate sensation as the Tigers' centerfielder, leading the team with a .360 batting average. Eligible for the draft because of his age, he was chosen in the 11th round by the San Francisco Giants.
For the second time, Tella decided to wait. He'd been drafted in the 34th round out of junior college. Another year at Auburn, he thought, would propel him into the top 10 rounds, maybe the top five.
Instead, Tella experienced a season he never expected, one unlike any he'd experienced in the past. He struggled at the plate from the outset and hit .259. He struck out 47 times, highest on the team. And instead of climbing higher in the 2013 draft, he wasn't drafted at all.
At the end of the season, head coach John Pawlowski was fired and replaced by Sunny Golloway, who moved east from Oklahoma. In 15 seasons with at Oklahoma and Oral Roberts, he took his teams to 14 regionals, four super regionals and a College World Series. Tella could have signed a free agent deal, but he decided to return for his senior year.
With the season rushing closer, he says he's happy with his decision and ready to get started on a season of redemption for himself and his team.
"Yeah, I was disappointed," Tella said. "I was looking forward to it. But I have an opportunity to come back and try to make the best of it and go again. I just accepted it. I'm able to finish my degree, come back with the guys I played with since my sophomore year. I'm excited."
Tella says he never felt comfortable last season, was never able to to build any momentum. After a summer spent at home in California, he expects no such problems this season.
"I am just going to try to do what I did my sophomore year," Tella said. "I had a lot of time this summer to figure things out, learn things, get my mind off baseball and try to reinvent myself into the player I know I was and people know I was my sophomore year."
Tella wasn't alone in his disappointment. Because players can be drafted after their junior seasons, seniors are relatively rare in college baseball. But Golloway's first Auburn team has 11 of them.
"I wouldn't know what other team has that," Tella said. "We have known each other for so long. We know what makes us good and what pushes us."
Tella is solidly entrenched as the starting centefielder, and Golloway is convinced he's going to be a success.
"He's going to have a huge year," Golloway said. "He's a great player."
Golloway, hitting coach Greg Norton and pitching coach Scott Foxhall, retained from the previous staff, have injected energy, enthusiasm and optimism into a program that has been to just to regionals in the past 10 seasons. Golloway says publicly and to his players than getting to Omaha and the College World Series is the goal for Auburn baseball.
Tella and his teammates welcome the challenge.
"He's seen it all," Tella said. "With this group of guys and where he's been, it's going to help us. This senior group, it's going to mean more to us because it's our last year. Even the younger guys know we have the talent right now to make it special."