HAMILTON — The COVID-19 pandemic has hit athletes -- and athletic departments -- hard everywhere in 2020.
Hamilton native Hunter Omlid experienced just that over the summer at Boise State. Omlid was a pitcher for the Boise State baseball team when in early July the program was shut down as a cost-saving measure due to the pandemic. Baseball was cut along with the swimming and diving teams at the university.
That left athletes like Omlid and his teammates in limbo as they searched for new places to land.
Omlid recently found just that. After committing to Central Arizona College, a junior college, late in the summer, Omlid recently signed a letter of intent with Grand Canyon University to get back to the NCAA Division I level next fall. Omlid will be on scholarship at GCU when he arrives.
"There was a whole process of talking to several schools, and just trying to figure out the best opportunity for me was a really tough part of the situation," Omlid told MTN Sports. "Even talking to the coaches at Boise who were trying to help us get recruited to somewhere else was a serious process and it took a lot of time to make a decision."
Omlid's pitching coach at Boise State suggested he take as much time as he needed to find the right spot, especially with scholarships limited at the Division I level at the end of the summer. So Omlid felt like the junior college route was the best option for him, especially in a state like Arizona that pumps out baseball talent.
Omlid, a former all-state pitcher for the Bitterroot Red Sox and all-state basketball player at Hamilton High School, committed to Central at the beginning of August after playing in a summer baseball league in North Dakota. Omlid then played fall baseball with other junior college players in a makeshift league in Arizona because they could not be affiliated with their schools. So those who run a collegiate summer league in Arizona put together a similar league in the fall where junior college players could be placed on teams and compete in Scottsdale to get reps while the league ran through September and October. Their coaches couldn't coach in-game but could evaluate and teach via Zoom and phone calls after games.
"We were still actively looking for a pitcher to come in and make a big impact," Central Arizona College baseball coach Anthony Gilich told MTN Sports. "We did quite a bit of research on him from his time in Montana to Boise State to his summer ball programs and a lot of the boxes were checked as far as being a great kid and a good pitcher."
Gilich praised Omlid's velocity and command, saying his slider is "wipe-out" and a "swing-and-miss" pitch. He said Omlid's fastball sits around the 90 mph range with it peaking around 92 or 93.
"He's a great kid and takes coaching really well," Gilich added. "After games we would Zoom our team and we would call and talk to our guys, and the things we tried to implement with him he put into action his next outing. Very coachable and we couldn't be more happy. If the season were to start today, he'd be one of our starting pitchers."
Grand Canyon University, among other schools, reached out to Omlid and his teammates during that time, and Omlid said GCU, which is located in Phoenix, felt like home to him the most. Omlid said GCU had contacted him while in high school too, but at that time he had his heart set on Boise State. After coming back to Hamilton after the fall league, Omlid planned to take more time to think, but GCU, which competes in the Western Athletic Conference, ultimately upped his scholarship offer, and he felt like it was the perfect time to commit. He signed his letter of intent on Nov. 17.
— GCU Baseball (@GCU_Baseball) November 18, 2020
Playing baseball in the summer league in North Dakota was big for Omlid throughout the process. It allowed him to get his mind off of things like Boise State's shutdown and his recruitment. While there, he navigated those challenges with his friends.
"My three probably closest friends were there in that summer league with me so we were constantly calling each other and checking up on each other and making sure that everything was good," Omlid said. "Just being able to have them there and support and even the coaches at Boise helping us out was really helpful and it made it a lot easier for sure.
"I really believe that taking your time to think every option out and through is the key to making the best decision and a decision that you want."
Omlid will play spring baseball for CAC in 2021 before joining up with GCU in the fall. The Vaqueros won the 2019 D1 Junior College World Series and are ranked No. 10 in the Division I NJCAA preseason polls by the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association.
After this season at Central Arizona College, Omlid will get an opportunity to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts in the summer. The CCBL is arguably the top summer collegiate baseball league in the United States. There, Omlid's exposure in the sport will grow even more.
Omlid will also have all of his eligibility remaining at GCU. While Omlid did play as a freshman in 2020, each freshman was treated as a redshirt when the program was cut at Boise State. Eligibility is suspended at the junior college level due to COVID-19 as well, so when Omlid suits up at GCU in 2021, he will be an academic junior but an athletic freshman.
While at Boise State, Omlid, who stands at 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, appeared in four games as a right-handed pitcher for the Broncos. He went 2-1 in 13 innings pitched, allowing 14 hits and four earned runs for an ERA of 2.77 while getting 15 strikeouts and two walks. Omlid's opponent batting average was .275 and he added a save to his tally as well.
At the end of the day, 2020 was a whirlwind for Omlid with one obstacle after another. But he's thankful for where things are at and for getting the opportunity to continue his dream.
"It's really great, I'm excited for it. Division I has been my goal since I was a kid and going to Boise was awesome, and it being suspended is tough but I know everybody has gone through tough things this year," Omlid said. "It's hard to be sad for yourself because it's been a tough year for everybody. Honestly, in the situation that I'm in, it's ended up in the best way it could've so I'm pretty grateful for that."