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Nebraska coaches finally saw Jaxon Jelkin throw in person. It’s no coincidence that he became a future Husker shortly thereafter.
The Bellevue West pitcher had been on NU’s radar for a while, so much so that the staff last fall encouraged him to develop for a year in junior college while they stayed in touch. But the evaluations had been limited to virtual means or through word of mouth — NCAA-mandated recruiting shutdowns during the pandemic prevented anything more.
But those restrictions lifted this month and Nebraska coach Will Bolt watched Jelkin in action last week. Pitching coach Jeff Christy did the same this week. And just like that, the recent high school graduate had a walk-on opportunity to join his favorite childhood program.
“They seemed to like what they saw,” Jelkin told The World-Herald. “They put an offer on the table, and I took it.”
Jelkin becomes the 16th member of Nebraska’s 2021 class and ninth in-state pledge. He joins in-state arms in right-handers Drew Christo of Elkhorn, CJ Hood of Norris and Corbin Hawkins of Millard West and lefty Jax Brockett of Elkhorn South.
“I know a lot of the kids that are going to play there and I know they’re the top players in the state,” Jelkin said. “I’m really excited to get after it with them.”
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The former Thunderbird had signed with South Mountain Community College last November and was set to potentially follow the path of current NU ace lefty Cade Povich, who also graduated from Bellevue West and spent a year at the Phoenix school before joining the Huskers in the summer of 2019.
But, in an unexpected twist, Jelkin will end up at Nebraska right away.
A dominant spring season helped change his immediate future. The righty struck out 74 batters in 48 innings with a 1.01 earned-run average and 1.08 WHIP as opponents hit .157 against him. The first-team All-Nebraska selection tossed a no-hitter during the Metro Conference tournament as Bellevue West reached the Class A state semifinals.
Physically, the 6-foot-5 Jelkin added 30 pounds after his junior year to jump to 175.
Jelkin said his velocity has spiked, too — his fastball sits in the low 90s — and his breaking stuff has added lots of life. He throws a change-up, slider and curveball, all of which have confounded prep hitters in recent months and gave him a “top-dog advantage.” MLB scouts and college coaches began reaching out to Jelkin, who had only visited perhaps a dozen juco programs in the past year. Perfect Game ranks him the No. 6 right-hander in the state in his class.
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Jelkin credits his father, Bill, as instrumental in his development and laughs that the 50-year-old elder Jelkin still throws seven innings a week playing “old-man baseball.”
The Povich family has also been key, Jelkin said. Tim Povich is Bellevue West’s pitching coach, while Cade has encouraged him throughout the process.
“Cade is just telling me how I gotta keep going out, keep dominating and I would get my opportunity eventually,” Jelkin said. “The opportunity eventually came.”
Jelkin said he could eventually start or come out of the bullpen for the Huskers.
Nebraska added impact players late in the 2020 cycle, as well, including prep hitter Max Anderson and transfers Cam Wynne and Chance Hroch.