How this catcher from Mississippi found his comfort zone at BYU

BYU catcher Collin Reuter does an interview at Larry H. Miller Field in Provo on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.
BYU catcher Collin Reuter does an interview at Larry H. Miller Field in Provo on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

When catcher Collin Reuter arrived at BYU in the fall of 2021 to begin his college baseball career with the Cougars, he thought he had made a big mistake — at least until the 2022 season started.

A big dose of culture shock smacked the native of Olive Branch, Mississippi, square in the face, like a foul tip off his catcher’s glove and into his throwing hand. Reuter, who is not a member of the faith that supports BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, felt like he didn’t fit in.

“My freshman year, when I came in here, I didn’t know if I made the right choice at first,” said Reuter (pronounced: ROO-ter). “I was struggling to make friends and find a group to hang out with. I was stuck in my dorm, by myself, and didn’t know what to do. There was definitely some culture shock.”

Reuter, who would go on to have a sensational freshman season in 2022, said it took him about “seven months to really figure it out” and settle in to a place that’s not much like the small town outside Memphis, Tennessee, where he grew up.

“Now, I am good to go. I am totally used to it and enjoy it,” he said last Wednesday before the Cougars started a three-game series with No. 25 Oklahoma. “I am comfortable with it.”

After a pair of elbow surgeries on his right arm caused him to sit out nearly 18 months and miss the entire 2023 season, Reuter has returned to the Cougars’ starting lineup with a vengeance. Although the Cougars are a disappointing 15-21 overall and 6-15 in their first season in the Big 12 (tied for last place with fellow newcomer Houston), Reuter is putting together a solid season.

The redshirt sophomore leads the Cougars with a .325 batting average, while committing just three errors in 29 games behind the plate. The only other Cougar hitting above .300 is Easton Jones, an American Fork product who carries a .321 average and leads BYU in hits (44), home runs (11) and slugging percentage (.620).

“Thank goodness he’s back,” said BYU coach Trent Pratt. “He has come up big for us a lot this year.”

Reuter and the Cougars will play host to Utah (26-12) at Miller Park in Provo in the 380th meeting between the instate rivals on Tuesday night at 6 p.m.

BYU is looking for a season sweep, having downed Utah 7-3 on April 9 in Salt Lake City. Utah is having a fantastic final season in the Pac-12 with an 11-7 record (tied for second place with Oregon).

The three-homer game

Reuter, 21, especially came up big in BYU’s 7-5 win at Texas on April 6, a win that clinched a 2-1 series win, BYU’s first Big 12 road series win. He belted three home runs in that game. Last year, Luke Anderson hit three home runs in a game against USF; In 2017, Keaton Kringlen hit three against Saint Mary’s, and in 2016, Kyle Dean hit three against Kansas.

But Reuter’s big day was probably the most impressive, Pratt said, given the quality of competition.

“That was probably the biggest stage we have seen one happen here,” Pratt said. “It was in a game where we needed a series win, on the road, against a really good team, and he kinda singlehandedly, offensively, carried us through that game.”

Reuter said his phone “went crazy” when he checked it after the game, with plenty of text messages from family and friends back home in Mississippi. It was his first three-homer game since he had three as a 14-year-old in a Perfect Game event.

It was especially gratifying because his grandfather, Richard Novarese, and his aunt, Debbie Chapman, were in attendance in Austin.

“Every time my papa (grandfather) is at a game, I hit a home run,” Reuter said. “So we need to get him to Provo.”

So far, his surgically repaired elbow has held in there remarkably well. He had “a little flare up” of inflammation in mid-March that caused him to take a few games off, but after a steroid shot he’s been “good to go.”

From Mississippi to the mountains

So how did a non-Latter-day Saint from the Tennessee-Mississippi border get to BYU? It’s a question Reuter fields almost every day.

Reuter said he has known Trent Pratt’s brother, Russ Pratt, since he was 7 years old because Russ Pratt — also a Tooele High product — has been his high school and competitive ball coach for almost as long as he can remember.

“Russ sent me on a visit out here to a camp when I was 13 or 14, and when I came out here, I was like, ‘This place is pretty cool,’” Reuter said. “Then I got the offer (from then-head coach Mike Littlewood) and I committed.”

The son of Brian and Stacy Reuter also had offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arizona and Arizona State, but the trust he had in the Pratt family carried the day, he said.

“I knew a little bit about (BYU’s unique culture), but I steadily grew and learned more, just through Trent’s brother telling me about it and things like that,” he said. “Then Trent would call me and tell me a couple things to be prepared for, and stuff like that. It was hard at first, but now I’m really feeling good about it.”

Trent Pratt, a 10-year BYU assistant who took over for Littlewood midway through the 2022 season, said the key was getting Reuter to Provo for the first time.

“Once he came here, he loved it. We got him here to a camp and he fell in love with it,” Trent Pratt said. “He was a big, physical kid and he could really catch. That was a big thing, when we saw him catch. He’s got great hands and is a big target. He has a presence when he plays, and he is really steady.

“You never see him get too up or too down,” Pratt continued. “And as a catcher, that’s a good quality to have. Pitchers like throwing to him and he is a calming presence back there for us.”

Reuter hit six home runs and nine doubles in his freshman season, appearing in 46 games. He made just one error behind the plate.

That fall, however, he felt some soreness in his right elbow, and was in surgery a few days later.

What’s next for the Mississippi man?

Because he’s 21, Reuter is eligible to be selected in the 2024 Major League Baseball draft July 14-16 in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s drafted, he will have a decision to make, since he has two years of eligibility remaining at BYU.

“You can’t really think about that type of stuff during the season,” he said. “You just have to play your game and see what happens. I haven’t really talked to anybody about that because I don’t want to put that in my brain. I just need to keep playing for my team.”

Since only 10 of the 13 teams in the Big 12 make the conference tournament, BYU must go on a lengthy winning streak with series against Oklahoma State, Cincinnati and Kansas State remaining. Reuter said the Cougars have been “right there” in a lot of games, but the Big 12 is “ultra-competitive” and even small mistakes are magnified and lead to close losses.

Pratt said the catcher from Mississippi has a chance to play for a long time, “especially as the arm keeps healing and keeps getting better, with his arm strength.

“He is a physical kid that can really catch. Those things are hard to find. That’s a hard position to find at the college or pro level — people that can really catch and throw it back,” Pratt said. “With his size and power, man, I hope someone gives him a chance to play.”

The BYU Cougars, wearing blue, celebrate at the dugout
The BYU Cougars celebrate at the dugout after catcher Collin Reuter (18) hit a two-run home run against the Utes at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 15, 2022. BYU won 10-3. BYU won 10-3. | Mengshin Lin, Deseret News