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Paul Witt ponders future after abrupt end to senior season at VCU

The 2020 college baseball season was supposed to be Paul Witt’s time to continue building his legacy at Virginia Commonwealth University, while increasing his odds of being selected in the Major League Baseball draft.

Instead, Witt, a senior and the 2016 state player of the year at Jefferson High School, is left to ponder what could have been in addition to his future after the Atlantic 10 Conference announced the cancelaton of spring sports due to COVID-19.

“Senior year, you don’t get it back,” Witt said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. At first it was kind of devastating, but with the new rule about getting another year of eligibility, it eases things a little bit.”

In the near future, Witt will decide whether he’ll return to the Rams for a final season, pursue a professional baseball career or simply get on with his life after graduating in May.

Paul Witt

“It’s tough, because there’s a lot of factors that roll into it,” Witt said. “I’m not opposed to coming back for another year, but I want to continue my career to be a professional baseball player. If I get the opportunity, I absolutely want to do that. 

“(After getting a degree) I kind of want to move on, but if it entails me playing more baseball to come back for my fifth year, I can definitely make due with that and have the best time of my life as well. I have to wait still and see how everything plays out.”

Though Witt’s 2020 season lasted only 17 games, he continued to do what he’s done since arriving at VCU — hit at a high level.

An all-Atlantic 10 Conference first team selection as a junior, Witt was batting .333 with 21 hits, including nine doubles, in 17 contests this season. He was on pace to produce similar numbers to a memorable 2019 campaign in which Witt finished with a .336 average, 50 RBIs, four home runs and 16 doubles in 58 games.

“I always had confidence in my bat,” Witt said. “High school is so much different than college, so you can’t really go off hitting, but I set the record for hits and batting average in high school, so it’s not something where I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t think I’ll be able to hit.’”

Former Jefferson star Paul Witt was named state player of the year in 2016.

For a player who started at least 55 games in each of his first three years at VCU, consistency has been key to Witt’s success.

“He’s played every day since his freshman year and I don’t ever remember him being hurt,” Rams’ head coach Shawn Stiffler said. “He’s always showed up the next day ready to play. He loves to play and he’s the first guy in the clubhouse every day. He’s always been there and that’s what’s led to his career being as consistent as it has been.”

A shortstop at Jefferson, Witt played second base, third base and shortstop for the Rams. The last two seasons, he had settled in at second base. After being charged with 15 errors as a freshman, Witt had a total of 15 the last two seasons and only two in 17 games this year.

“We thought he’d be a defensive-first shortstop,” Stiffler said. “We thought the bat and strength would slowly come around. But in just as good of a way, his career kind of went the other way. From the moment he got on campus, he swung the bat really well. He settled in at second base and it seemed to be more natural for him and somewhere he was comfortable.”

In the BaseballAmerica A-10 preview this season, Witt was listed No. 9 among the conference’s top 2020 draft prospects, while the Rams were projected to win the league after claiming the regular season championship a year ago.

Now, a player who helped the Cougars win consecutive Class AAA state championships in 2015 and 2016 ponders his future and wonders if he’s played his last game at VCU.

“I’m still working out and lifting, we just have to wait. It all stems from the NCAA and the rules they’re making and then the pro scouts work off of that,” Witt said. “Just trying to get in better shape, get stronger and waiting it out to see how everything plays out.”

Stiffler understands there are many logistics to sort out regarding seniors’ eligibility, but wants to help the eight on VCU’s roster this season any way he can.

“For the seniors, any way I can help them get in front of the right people, I want to help,” Stiffler said. “Many are ready to move on and some may want to play pro ball, but the NCAA hasn’t come out with the official plan yet. What will it look like financially and athletically? None of us know right now.”