When Billy Ferriter was just a boy, he was known for the same things he's becoming known for now.
"He's always been the way he is," said Ferriter's one-time Nashua High School South baseball coach Bill Neverrett. "He was always a really good athlete. But he really kept to himself. He was good in school and very respectful. But he was a quiet leader."
Not much changed after Ferriter left high school to attend the University of Connecticut, playing for the Huskies. But what he lacked in communication, he more than made up for on the field. It is, surely, what has led to him being a second-year captain (the senior was again named captain for 2013). Still, he is making strides in that area.
"I'm learning to be a more vocal leader. I've always tried to lead by example, but being vocal is important. It's tough, because I've always been a quiet guy," Ferriter said.
Coach Neverrett fondly remembers having both Billy and his brother, Chris, as their physical education teacher, and knowing Billy since he was a seventh grader, he witnessed firsthand exactly what made him special.
"I always thought he was a Division 1 player. We did it differently with him, he didn't do a lot of the showcases that kids do today. He's always had good speed and an above average arm in the outfield," Neverrett said.
As a student, Coach Neverrett said Ferriter also excelled. He consistently made the honor roll at Nashua, and earned the Male Scholar Athlete Award as a senior. The three-sport athlete lettered in football and basketball. As a freshman, he helped the baseball team go all the way to a New Hampshire State Championship.
Football has loomed large in Ferriter's life. He admits he thought that was where his future might lead, as far as professional aspirations went.
"I wanted to go to college to play football. I actually walked on freshman year, but got hurt. And I went back to baseball."
The injury was to his neck and doctors recommended he discontinue playing football.
Ferriter stood at a crossroads. There was baseball. And he was a gifted athlete. He moved forward and was welcomed, to his relief.
"Coach [Jim] Penders took me back, which was awesome," Ferriter said.
He has been a powerful Huskies force.
He redshirted in 2009 (and again this year as a 5th year senior), then in 2010, he stole 33 bases in 39 tries. He'd finish the season hitting .363 with 81 hits, 57 runs scored, and 30 runs batted in. He also played in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, hitting .373 and worked 21 walks, capping it off with the league MVP award. He also stole seventeen bases, and, if you're noticing a pattern, you're right. His speed is widely considered his strongest asset.
"There'd be times in centerfield, where a ball would be hit and we'd think 'oh crap', but then there's Billy. He'd just run any ball down," Neverett said.
Ferriter knows that's where much of his value lies, and he's aware that it's something that's always given him an edge.
"Playing high school football, speed was a big part of that. I'm not a big power guy, so I use it to help me in the outfield and when I get on base."
To come from football and become a full-on baseball player was a learning experience in energy. Finding the way to channel his aggressive energy properly into baseball was a change from football.
"A lot is the same. But there's differences. Football is about getting all jacked up. With baseball, you have to calm yourself down more."
Neverrett, however, never had a doubt what Ferriter was destined for.
"I used to have arguments with his football coach. I'd tell him he's going to be a baseball player. He was built for it."
Neverrett let him pitch as well, but said Ferriter, "Didn't really like it. I don't think it was right for his temperament."
In 2011, Ferriter experienced some growing pains. He spent the early months slumping, hitting well below average, and scuffling his way through. He was benched. But he understood. He learned that his focus needed an adjustment.
"I think I stopped focusing on the numbers so much. I was taken out, but then I got my chance again. I did everything I could to help my team win. My first couple years, it was all about the draft. But now it's all about winning."
He played in 63 games, getting 56 hits and knocking in 24 runs. From there it was on to a kind of baseball rite of passage: the so-you-think-you're-tough? competitive sacred ground of the Cape Cod Baseball League. There he did more of the same. His fire kept burning. He batted .272 for the Falmouth Commodores, and got a good lesson in what the highly-respected wood-bat league is all about.
"Every night, five to six days a week, you're facing top college hitters. It opens your eyes a lot."
He returned to the CCBL for a second time, after a stellar 2012 season as the Huskies captain. Hitting .319 through 56 games, with 76 base hits, 43 runs scored, and 24 stolen bases, on his way to being selected as a NEIBA All-Star.
Action is speaking loud and clear. Scouts are seeing exactly what Neverrett saw that made him know for sure, that kid is a baseball player.
"He was very coachable. But he was so instinctual. He was just always a good athlete."
As the 2013 season gets closer, Ferriter hasn't lost one bit of his steely focus. Draft-day is out of his control, giving every game his best effort is all that matters. When asked what he's learned the most in his years at UConn, he said this:
"Play every play. Because you don't know what's going to happen."
His quiet nature speaks nothing to the intensity and passion Neverrett recalls.
"He's always had that strong fire burning in him."
You can follow Billy on Twitter @BillyFerriter