Kentucky Wildcats first baseman T.J. Collett has been named the winner of the 2021 Senior CLASS Award for baseball, it was announced Friday. The award honors the senior who most excelled as a student-athlete both on and off the field of play.
Collett, from Terre Haute (IN), has exemplified Kentucky baseball’s core values of being a student, person and player through his talent on the field and commitment to the betterment of others off it. He recently earned his master’s degree in communication after completing his undergraduate degree in communication in May 2020.
“T.J. Collett has been extremely dedicated in all aspects of being a student-athlete while in Lexington,” said Erik Miner, Executive Director of the Senior CLASS Award, in a press release. “His commitment in the classroom, in the community, and on the diamond make him a truly deserving recipient of this award. We are proud to offer our congratulations to T.J. Collett and the University of Kentucky for this incredible achievement.”
To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.
An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School®, the Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.
Collett credited his time at Kentucky for helping him delve deeper into his desire to helping others.
“My experience at the University of Kentucky has prepared me for whatever life throws at me,” Collett said. “First, the standard set in our program by the coaches on the field has taught me what it means to give all that I have for my teammates. Second, the academic support given to me throughout my undergraduate degree and master program allowed me to realize my full potential outside of sports. My education was a constant reminder that being a baseball player was just a small part of who I am as a person.
“Lastly, the athletics department and coaching staff welcomed my dream and vision of helping children with cancer in partnership with The Jessie Rees Foundation. It shows what our program stands for and believes in. Ultimately, I learned that confidence in yourself comes from within and who you surround yourself with. The University of Kentucky has provided me the confidence to be great in all aspects of life.”
Collett proved to be one of the nation’s premier power hitters during his career and he passed 2014 Golden Spikes Award winner and fellow Terre Haute native AJ Reed for second on UK’s career home run list with 42. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is a three-time National and Southeastern Conference Player of the Week who has hit .280 with 71 extra-base hits, 145 RBI and a .549 slugging percentage in 170 career games. He also ranks in UK’s top 10 for career RBI.
Collett also has starred off the field while at UK, being named the athletic department’s Mr. Wildcat and being inducted into the prestigious Frank G. Ham Society of Character for his work in the community. He is a 2020 SEC Brad Davis Community Service Award recipient and a two-time member of the SEC Community Service Team who has been instrumental in UK baseball’s community outreach and service initiatives. He is heavily involved with the NEGU/Jessie Rees Foundation, whose mission is connecting with families of young cancer patients, bringing awareness to their stories, offering them a network of helpful resources and sending the entire family encouragement throughout their journey.
NEGU, which stands for Never Ever Give Up, has worked with Collett on bringing children and their families to UK home baseball games to experience pregame activities on the field and in the dugout, as well as be announced during the game. As part of his work with NEGU, Collett has spearheaded an effort where members of the UK baseball team delivery Joy Jars to young cancer patients. The jars are stuffed with toys, games, and other things to brighten patients’ days while fighting the disease.
“T.J. has been an indispensable member of our program from the moment he stepped foot on campus, as much because of who he is off the field as his talent on it,” UK coach Nick Mingione said. “He has been a tremendous teammate, an exceptional student and displayed a relentless servant’s heart in his work in the community. He is all that’s right with college athletics.
“You knew there was something different (with T.J.). He wasn’t going to just stand and watch. That’s where his heart is. He wants to make an impact on others’ lives.”