KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alerick Soularie started playing baseball when he was three years old. He and his two older brothers would play in the backyard of their family's home in Houston.
Now, he's tearing up SEC pitching in his first year in the conference. Soularie, a sophomore, leads the Vols and ranks third in the SEC with a .369 batting average. The junior college transfer is one of the reasons why Tennessee has a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.
"I knew I was pretty good, I knew I could hit but having a season like this I couldn't expect it to be honest. Going from JuCo to SEC, you don't know what you're going to get so I didn't expect this at all," Soularie told WBIR Sports Anchor Patrick Murray while playing catch at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Watch the full interview in the video below.
After playing basketball and football in addition to being named All-State all four years in baseball at Houston's Atascocita High School, Soularie was set to continue his baseball career at Arkansas. Current Vols head coach Tony Vitello was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Razorbacks at the time.
"When he took this coaching job, I told him, 'hey I want to make the move' and he told me, go to junior college, once you're there I'll pick you up the first week. So my first week there, he came and watched me play and sure enough, he offered me on the spot, so I committed," Soularie said.
Soularie was named a third team All-American after hitting .402 in 59 games at San Jacinto Community College, helping his team finish third at the JUCO World Series. Following Vitello to Tennessee paid off.
"I love everything about it to be honest. I love the environment we're in just because I know how people feel about their football here. I'm a big football fan," Soularie said.
Tennessee loves him too. Soularie has drilled 11 homers and helped create the Vols new home run celebration - placing Mardi Gras beads on the home run hitter. It started on a road trip in Pensacola for the Diamond Invitational during Mardi Gras weekend.
"We were just sitting in Whataburger and I randomly asked somebody for some beads and I ended up getting like three and then (Vols catcher) Nico (Mascia) ended up getting a lot more of them and we just turned them into the home run beads."
Tennessee hopes to pull out the beads a lot this weekend at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Vols host Ole Miss for the final three games of the regular season starting Thursday at 7 p.m.