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June 6, 2012- - Sam Gillikin entered the MLB Draft with a number in mind. Gillikin and his family wanted to be drafted by a certain point, or he would honor his signing with Auburn.
He was almost taken No. 21 overall to the Atlanta Braves. It almost happened again with the Arizona Diamondbacks at No. 26 overall. Both instances Gillikin was told it was he or another prospect, both instances the other prospect was drafted.
On Tuesday morning, Gillikin, from Hoover H.S. (Ala.), had his mind made up. The first round and the first round supplemental had passed and he had decided he would attend Auburn.
But that's when a phone call came that almost changed everything.
The Chicago Cubs called Gillikin, they told him they wanted to select him with the No. 67 overall pick, an early second round selection. The slotted money for that selection was nearly $800,000. Gillikin was told he had 10 minutes to make a decision or the Cubs would move on.
Gillikin was about to make an incredibly tough call, with no time to spare.
"We all gathered around the table and everything got real emotional. It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life," Gillikin said.
After a short deliberation, Gillikin had reached a verdict. He would turn down a deal from one of the most historic franchises in professional sports and play college baseball at Auburn.
"I decided to turn it down, I stood strong with my commitment, I believe in what the coaches are doing down there and I want to be an Auburn Tiger and felt like that was the best decision," Gillikin said. "It kept going back to can you put a price on the college baseball experience? What would my life be like at the pro level or college level, and I kept leaning back to college. I felt like I love Auburn, I wanted to be an Auburn Tiger."
There's tremendous risk in Gillikin's decision. Certainly there's no guarantee Gillikin will be drafted anywhere near early second round after his career at Auburn. But it was Gillikin and his family's confidence in himself that allowed him to make the life-changing decision.
"We believe in me and what kind of person I am and what kind of work ethic I have," said Gillikin. "You hear about guys with high potential and they go to college and don't work out. But going in, knowing what kind of person I am and what type work ethic I have, knowing what I can do, we believe that things can get better and we feel like I could come out of Auburn as a better overall player."
Quickly, Gillikin thought about whether or not he would regret his decision.
"It's human nature to ask the what-ifs," Gillikin said. "The best thing I can do is move on, you can only control the future. I'm going to close the book on all this and move forward."
Gillikin flew under the radar nationally most of the spring. The standout outfielder did earn Under Armour All-American honors, but was overshadowed even in the Birmingham-area by fellow signee and No. 10 overall pick David Dahl.
Gillikin hit .453 as a senior with 15 doubles, six homeruns, 36 RBI's and 25 stolen bases. He's clocked a 6.6 60-yard dash, better than the desired SEC average of 6.7-6.8.
As scouts came to watch Dahl at Oak Mountain H.S., an area foe of Hoover, they took notice of Gillikin.
But Gillikin's love for Auburn may have been a deciding factor in turning down a lucrative contract from the pros. Gillikin's grandparents, parents, and brother all attended Auburn. His father, Chad, walked on the football team after playing three sports in high school.
Now there's a relief. Gillikin moves on to the next chapter of his life after a pressure filled six months. All he can do is control the future, a future he believes is extremely bright, despite the Tigers likely losing their top two signees. Gillikin sees plenty of talent arriving on the Plains and is setting the bar extremely high for the Auburn baseball program.
"Our class, and the class that came in before us, I expect us to win. I expect us to easily make the SEC Tournament, and host a regional and go beyond," Gillikin said. "You hear this talk about people wanting Auburn to at least be in the postseason next year. If we're going to aim for something, why not go for it all? Don't talk short, why talk about a regional? Let's win the whole thing. Who says we're not capable?
"That's our expectations, this class has talked about winning a College World Series. That's what we are believing. I believe this class is pretty special and we can do special things."
In addition to baseball, Gillikin was the starting quarterback for Hoover, an Alabama high school football powerhouse. Unfortunately, Gillikin suffered a broken collarbone that cut his senior season short. Gillikin will arrive on campus June 21 and start classes June 25.