Future Cougar: Cole Turney

Houston Cougars signee Cole Turney bats for the SanJac Gators
Cole Turney bats for the SanJac Gators
(Photo by Brenda McMillan Photography)

For outfielder Cole Turney, the 2020 baseball season was supposed to be an attempt at a full year of baseball as a healthy player. Instead, the Houston Cougars signee saw a promising season, and a healthy one to that point, end prematurely as a worldwide pandemic put everything on hold for everyone.

Cole Turney was in his second season as a SanJac Gator, he spent his freshman year at the University of Arkansas. Cole had one season end because of a left shoulder injury. He had another season end with a right shoulder injury. Turney decided to return to SanJac for one more season where he would most certainly get some playing time, something much needed for a ballplayer coming back from injury.

His SanJac Gators were rolling this season. Until the second week of March. They were on their way to Galveston for their next, and possibly final game of the season. “We were all thinking, there’s a good chance this is our last game,” because during the hour long ride to Galveston social media was going crazy with one cancellation after another. Reflecting on it now, Turney says, “It was tough for our season to end because we were so good. We were really good and we all knew it.” Then he admits, when the news came that they were all expecting, “that was a depressing call.”

Asked if he was happy with where his game was before the season ended, Turney does not mince words, “absolutely.”

Despite playing well, and staying healthy, Turney, like all other college and high school baseball players, suddenly had to go to a backup plan. With the usual tough stay-in-place orders everywhere else, the backup plan started at home. “I have a gym in my garage at my house,” said Cole. He was working out at home for the first several weeks until recently when things began to re-open. “I go workout up in North Houston at a facility where I can hit and workout,” says Turney.

Turney is chomping at the bit to get back to real action, that includes playing summer ball, as soon as summer ball starts playing again. Turney says, “I’m just kind of waiting on that call, waiting on things to unfold.” That call cannot come soon enough for him.

When the time is right, Cole is ready and anxious to get on campus “as soon as I can.” One thing he immediately wants to happen, is “hopefully we’ll be able to lift with a strength coach.”

When Cole was nine years of age, his little league had a select team for nine year olds. “We were nine years old but we were so elite, we took it so seriously early on, we were the number one team in the nation as nine year olds,” says Turney. That year during their tournament, rain forced the shutdown of all of the rest of the tournament games except for the game his team was playing in. As the only action in the complex, “everyone gravitated to our field” says Turney, recounting the story. At least a thousand people watched the nine year olds play.

Houston Cougars signee Cole Turney connects for the SanJac Gators
Cole Turney Connects
(Photo by Brenda McMillan Photography)

Turney is a baseball guy from beginning to end. He laid out the positives of playing at a school like SanJac and he describes the value of the instruction and the competition to the development of young players. It is the kind of thing that a great baseball mind thinks and speaks.

SanJac assistant coach Kory Koehler offered his thoughts on Turney, “When I think about a player and what I hope to get out of him, it’s a player who is like a sponge. A player who is willing to listen to instruction and implement what he can envision being beneficial without second guessing the instructor. A player whose willingness to put in the work far exceeds expectations and a player who’s respect for the game is on a whole other level. When I think of a player to offer an opportunity to and what characteristics that player must have both on and off the field, I envision the next Cole Turney. He is 100% a coach’s dream.” Coach Koehler, a University of Houston alum himself, concluded “I’ve had two wonderful years with Cole and I can’t wait to see him continue his playing career at my alma mater.”

As for his upcoming journey to the campus at the University of Houston, as with everyone waiting for the call to confirm the times and dates that things get going again, Turney is ready, “I want to do some big things in Houston.” –

Photos in this post were provided by Brenda Millan Photography.

Future Cougar: Leyton Pinckney

Houston Cougars signee Leyton Pinckney bats for Northwest Florida State.
Leyton Pinckney bats for Northwest Florida State

In a way, Leyton Pinckney has already lived the dream of every kid who has ever played Little League baseball.

“We made it to the Southeast Regional Championship, so I got to play two games on ESPN as a 12-year-old kid,” says Pinckney, a Houston Cougars signee headed to Houston this fall. “We were one game short of going to the Little League World Series, we lost 1-0 in the championship game, so I missed out on the World Series. But that summer was one of the greatest baseball summers of my life because I was just hanging out with all those guys for the entire summer, getting to miss school for a couple weeks, just getting to get to play baseball as a 12-year-old kid just loving the game and nothing else mattered except just enjoying playing baseball.”

Leyton grew up in Kathleen, Georgia, and started playing baseball when he was six years old. He attended Veterans High School in Kathleen and under head baseball coach David Coffey, Pinckney lettered in baseball for four years. In his senior year, he earned 5A All-State First Team honors for his play with the Warhawks. Almost as an afterthought, Pinckney was a three-year letter winner, at quarterback.

After high school, Leyton chose to stay in his home state and attend Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, a highly respected Division I baseball program. Pinckney played in 37 games during his freshman season, serving as the team’s backup catcher while compiling a .979 fielding percentage.

But Leyton knew he wanted to play at a bigger program, so he transferred to Northwest Florida State in Niceville, Florida with the hopes of being seen and recruited by a bigger program. The Raiders of Northwest Florida State entered the 2020 season ranked eighth nationally among junior college teams. In 14 games at backstop, Pinckney amassed a 1.000 fielding percentage and also batted .310 along the way, including three multi-hit games in his final six games of the season. The Raiders did a lot of winning and were ranked as high as number two and three in the final season rankings when the dust settled on the abbreviated 2020 season.

But Pinckney’s decision to transfer from Mercer in anticipation of going to a bigger program paid off. Leyton was talking with many Power 5 Conference schools and the University of Houston was always in the mix because of the recruiting channel with the Cougars coaching staff and the culture they have created at UH.

Pinckney sees great things happening at Houston and wanted to be a part of it. He sees potential and opportunity, but he brings a winning, competitive attitude to the table as well. He says Houston told him, “the opportunity to play is there.” Leyton says, “but that’s up to me, how I play, how I can perform. I just want to go in there and compete and try to win a job.”

Houston Cougars signee Leyton Pinckney at catcher for Northwest Florida State.
Cartcher Leyton Pinckney

Leyton started catching at 14, but it was not until a full-time position for him until he was about 15 in the 9th grade. He still remembers the first time his coach asked, “who wants to catch?” Pinckney replied, “I’ll try it.” And life has not been the same since. “I’m involved in every single pitch,” he says. “As a catcher, you’re involved in every single pitch and every single play and it really makes the game a lot more fun and interesting.”

Back home in Georgia, Leyton just finished his spring semester via online classes and completed his Associate of Arts degree at the same time. His baseball routine is pretty steady right now, there is a local baseball facility where he’s able to meet up almost every morning with a coach and former Florida State baseball player who throws to him and runs him through some catching drills. Pinckney admits it is nowhere near as good as live-action, but it is good for right now.

Pinckney is planning to play in the Florida Gulf Coast League this summer, which should start around June 15. The Florida League is made up exclusively of college players. Leyton hopes to get in a month of action before heading to Houston for the fall. He is not alone in wanting to arrive on campus in the fall without having played any real baseball for several months. That is the plan for now, but as we all know, things can change and nothing is written in stone. “Houston is getting a team leader,” says Northwest Florida State head coach Doug Martin. “The pitching staff at Houston will really enjoy throwing to Leyton.”

Leyton is looking forward to getting to Houston while keeping an attentive eye on his daily work and preparation, and hopefully the Florida Gulf Coast League in June and July, “I can’t wait to get in there and get to work. I’m excited to go in there and compete and try to make the team better.” –