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Nebraska Baseball Player Leighton Banjoff Running During Columbia Game
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

‘Movable Parts’ Part of the Plan for the Huskers This Season

February 01, 2021

Leighton Banjoff will be playing first base for the Nebraska baseball team this spring.

Or in the outfield.

Or third base.

Or wherever he’s needed.

“He was a high school shortstop (who) came here thinking he was going to play mainly the outfield,” said Husker Coach Will Bolt, who has revised the plan for Banjoff.

“In the infield, you want to have as many guys that can play shortstop as possible because those guys typically can go pick up another position . . . Banjoff being one of those.”

At 6-foot-1, Banjoff “may not be the tallest guy” as first basemen go, Bolt said. “But he’s going to make up for it in some other ways, so we have some moving pieces.”

That’s what Bolt wants in the infield, “movable pieces.”

And Nebraska’s 2021 roster provides that.

Banjoff earned Freshman All-America recognition from Collegiate Baseball for his play in the brief 2020 season. He led the Huskers with a .341 batting average, hit three home runs and drove in 13. He started 13 of the 15 games, including eight as the designated hitter.

The other starts were at third base and left field.

He was a moving piece in the making.

“As of right now, I’ll be playing first base,” Banjoff said during a Zoom news conference before Nebraska’s first practice on Friday.

As Bolt said, he’s “a little smaller guy there than guys in the past,” said Banjoff. But he’s “been working hard. It’s been a challenge a little bit, learning the new position . . . Coach Bolt told me we have a very versatile team, so maybe he wants to get another guy in at first base (sometimes) and I go to the outfield or play third, or whatever is called upon me, I’m ready for it.”

Having “movable parts” such as Banjoff allows Bolt to adjust the batting order according to the opposing pitcher. Banjoff could move to the outfield to allow another right-handed hitting first baseman in the lineup. Gunner Hellstrom, for example, could play first base.

Hellstrom, a senior, is primarily a catcher, a right-handed hitter, a movable piece.

Luke Roskam, also a senior who opted to return, is another catcher who could play first base. He’s a left-handed batter. “In a year like this where you never know what might happen with COVID protocols and that kind of thing, versatility is a big deal,” said Bolt.

Banjoff can speak with unpleasant first-hand knowledge of COVID-19. A positive test on New Year’s forced him to quarantine. He just rejoined his teammates last week.

“It was kind of a little weird,” he said. “I really didn’t have any other symptoms besides a runny nose, and yeah, I tested positive. The following days I lost my taste and smell. But besides that, nothing . . . all my doctor’s appointments and everything checked out.”

Being out for a couple of weeks “kinda sucked, being away from the team, sitting in a dark room, alone, by yourself, (to) find things to do,” Banjoff said. But “I prepared well this offseason, got after it back home in Ohio, and I don’t really think it was that much of a setback.”

Banjoff is from Sheffield Village, Ohio. During his career at Elyria Catholic High School, he batted .483 with 10 home runs, 90 runs-batted-in and 84 stolen bases.

Though his freshman season at Nebraska was cut short, Banjoff has already taken a leadership role, according to Bolt. “He’s just one of those guys that all his teammates look to because he’s going to be one of the harder workers on the team,” said Bolt. “And he’s going to put everything he’s got into everything he does. Whether that’s defense, whether it’s base running, asking him to lay down a bunt.

“He’s just the ultimate team player, so by virtue of having those attributes, guys are going to look to him. A lot of people talk about leading by example. Very few actually do it.”

In addition to leading by example, Banjoff is “not afraid to speak up,” Bolt said. “He gives us a good presence in the infield at first base because he does a lot of those things.”

At first base, or in the outfield, or wherever, a movable piece, who helps move those around him.

“He’s going to kind of command focus from his teammates,” said Bolt.

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