As Stallings concludes the final regular season series of his career at Boshamer Stadium this weekend, he does so having caught every game but one for the Tar Heels this season. Stallings is batting .289, has four home runs, leads the team with 20 doubles and has only committed three errors at the catcher position.
“He’s as physically tough a kid as I’ve coached here and he does not look it, but he is,” head coach Mike Fox said. “You have to be to catch 50 games and then hit in the four-hole all year long. He gets beat to death back there, so he just keeps plugging.”
If Fox does not think Stallings looks tough now, he likely was not impressed when Stallings showed up in Chapel Hill four years ago. The Brentwood, Tenn. native arrived on campus weighing 176 pounds. He now checks in at around 222 pounds.
“Just gaining all that weight and the strength that comes along with it obviously helps you do so many things on the baseball field and just be more consistent and be able to play a whole season,” Stallings told reporters following Carolina’s 2-1 victory over Virginia Tech Friday evening. “That is probably one of the two things I attribute my success, particularly the last two or three years, to.”
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, Stallings brings much more to the team than advice on how to put on weight. The weekend starting rotation for North Carolina includes two sophomores and a freshman. While immensely talented, it is important for the young rotation to have a calming influence behind the plate.
“You need a good catcher when you have a good pitching staff,” Fox mentioned. “They make all the difference. Jacob’s contribution to our team in how he handles our pitchers is probably the one thing people wouldn’t really notice. They notice how he can throw and how he can block, but our pitchers will all tell you they love throwing to him.”
On the field, Stallings is steady as they come. In addition to just three errors, opponents have attempted fewer steals against North Carolina than against any other team in the country. That is a tribute to the respect and fear opponents have for the abilities of Stallings.
“He’s an unsung hero. He’s a champ back there,” freshman pitcher Benton Moss said. “He connects with every single one of our pitchers on a level where it’s hard to understand when you’re just a spectator… You just have all the confidence you can throw the ball wherever you want to. He’s going to block it. He’s going to frame it. He’s going to do everything that needs to be done back there top notch.”
Despite his on-field prowess, ask any player or coach for the Tar Heels about Stallings and the first thing they mention is leadership; they say he has always done things the right way and is the epitome of a student-athlete.
“[Stallings] is a great student, a great kid and I think that served him well when he was trying to become a good player, because he didn’t do things off the field to distract from that,” Fox said. “Some guys will take two steps forward and one step back either with their conduct or their nutrition or various other things. He didn’t let anything stand in the way.”
As one of two seniors on the Diamond Heels roster, Stallings takes Bryson Field for the last time in the regular season on Saturday as North Carolina goes for the sweep of Virginia Tech. He will be accompanied by his parents Lisa and Kevin, who is the head basketball coach at Vanderbilt.
“It’ll be weird,” Stallings said. “It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s almost over. I feel like I should be coming back next fall for another round of fall practice… The four years here have been absolutely incredible. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”