LINCOLN — Lance Harvell is the new guy. And he knows it’s obvious.
While Nebraska head baseball coach Will Bolt and pitching coach Jeff Christy are former Husker players, Harvell is still learning how to find every high school in Lincoln. The hitting coach and recruiting coordinator got a tour of NU facilities the same day his family’s house in Texas went on the market last week. His mother-in-law lives in Seward, but most relatives and contacts are still down south.
“This is about as far out of my comfort zone as I’ve ever been,” Harvell said. “It’s part of it. You’ve got to be adaptable to your surroundings and just kind of roll with the punches a little bit.”
But while Bolt and Christy fit into relatively new roles, Harvell (pronounced Har-VELL) has more of a track record at his. In five years as an assistant at Sam Houston State (2015-19), his offenses have been around the top 100 in the country. His recruiting classes — though generally unheralded in national rankings — blossomed through development and led to a slew of 30- and 40-win seasons.
Finding hitting talent and bringing it along are part of the same process, Harvell said. The first step is identifying players with some combination of strength and speed. If they become Huskers, the next aim is to discover their specific skill set — baserunning, bunting, power hitting, etc. — and work to be great at that.
Once those abilities get plugged into a team context, Harvell has seen special things happen. Sam Houston State went to an NCAA regional in 2016, when D1Baseball.com named him the top recruiting coordinator in the Southland Conference. The Bearkats advanced to a super regional a year later.
SHS head coach Matt Deggs called Harvell his “right-hand man” ever since the pair arrived in Texas from Louisiana-Lafayette, where Deggs was hitting coach and Harvell was the volunteer assistant in 2013 and 2014. They crafted a pair of top-10 national scoring offenses, with both ranked second in the country in slugging percentage.
“He’s a foot soldier and grinds it out every day from the recruiting trail to making sure we’re organized in every way,” Deggs told the Huntsville Item in 2017. “The kids love him, and obviously I love him. The job he has done on the recruiting trail speaks for itself. He is directly behind the success we’ve had.”
The allure of joining Nebraska and Bolt had to be strong for Harvell, a Texas A&M grad, to consider leaving Deggs and uprooting his wife and two young children. But he didn’t hesitate when Bolt asked if he was in earlier this month.
Harvell won a pair of Division III junior-college national titles as a catcher at Richland in Dallas in the early 2000s. He met his current boss at A&M in 2006, when Bolt was a volunteer assistant and Harvell played his final year as a walk-on. Bolt later hired him to be his assistant at Texarkana College, where they were together in 2010 and 2011.
Back then, their backyards ran into each other, as the families became close. Bolt mentally filed away Harvell as someone he wanted to work with at a bigger job someday. Harvell saw the traits of a winner, even recalling how Bolt beat him routinely in golf and 499 times out of 500 in racquetball.
“But that one time I got him, it was a walkout,” Harvell said. “I’m like, ‘I’m done. I’m not playing for a while.’ I had to relish that one.”
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Harvell will coach third base and work with outfielders. He calls himself a “mover and a shaker” — he doesn’t wait around for orders — and was out recruiting when “the ink wasn’t even dry” on his paperwork last week. He visited Haymarket Park in 2006 as a player and in 2008 as a grad assistant with the Aggies and experienced a venue that was both intimidating and inspiring.
Cold weather won’t be an excuse for an offensive style that would work anywhere in the country, Harvell said. Specific roles for players mean more depth and an ability to “lengthen and shorten” the field. On a day with the wind blowing in, for example, speed and bunting might be more the priority.
One of Harvell’s regular mantras to outfielders is to “go make sick plays,” recalled former Husker Rich Sanguinetti, who played under the assistant at Texarkana. Being fast and loose was always the goal.
And it will be again next spring, Harvell said. There is already talent on the roster. Now he’s ready to find and develop more while navigating his own learning curve in a new place.
“It’s not a rebuilding type of job at all,” Harvell said. “They’ve had success, and now we’ve just got to start going to work to build on that.”