POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River prides itself at helping young people follow their dreams. Most student athletes also arrive in beautiful Poplarville with aspirations of moving on to the four-year level. The same can be said for many of the school's young assistant coaches. Once such assistant, Coach Anthony Izzio, recently accepted a position as an assistant coach with Tulane's baseball program, the Green Wave announced Tuesday.
Izzio is the second PRCC assistant from Coach Michael Avalon's staff to move on to a four-year school after Drew LaBounty was previously named an assistant at Arkansas State.
"One of my ultimate goals as head coach is to help our players and also our assistant coaches get to the 'next level.' Over the past three years, it has been very rewarding to see our players and now our assistants get those opportunities," Avalon said. "Pearl River baseball will definitely miss Anthony Izzio, but personally I will also miss him as a close friend."
As Avalon's first hire when he joined The River prior to the 2017 season, Izzio impacted the Wildcats in a number of ways as both recruiting coordinator and pitching coach. PRCC's 2018 and '19 signing classes were ranked 11th and 8th nationally — across all divisions — and tops in the MACJC, according to Perfect Game. On the mound in 2019, PRCC's staff boasted a 3.82 ERA, held opponents to a .231 batting average and struck out 431 batters in 55 games.
"I'm very appreciative of the job Anthony did for us over the past three years," Avalon said. "With his help, we were able to put Pearl River back on the national stage and make our first World Series appearance since 2002."
Izzio will have a new role at Tulane, coaching first base in addition to working with outfielders and hitters.
"This is an exciting time for my family and myself. Like most kids who come here, it has been a dream of mine to get to the Division I level," Izzio said. "I can't thank this administration and Coach Avalon enough for all the support we have had at Pearl River. It has been an unbelievable experience and a stepping stone. We work to prepare them for the next level and I think, personally, Coach Avalon has done the exact same thing for me and I can't thank him enough for it. I'll take the lessons I learned from him with me for the rest of my career.
"I'm super excited to go to a prestigious school like Tulane and having the opportunity to coach there and hopefully make a difference on the staff."
Izzio is a Vancleave native who pitched at South Alabama before getting his collegiate coaching start at East Mississippi. After three years at The River, Izzio's headed back to the four-year ranks.
"I'm very fortunate to work with Coach (Travis) Jewett. It will be an unbelievable experience for me to be able to work under him and with Coach (Daniel) Latham and Coach (Jay) Uhlman," Izzio said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity Tulane has presented."
Asked about helping coach PRCC to the 2018 MACJC Championship and 2019 Region XXIII Title, Izzio said he'll most remember the people at Pearl River.
"The tradition, the people and most importantly the relationships," he said. "I think that's something I'll always take with me throughout my coaching career. Talking to the players and coaches, those are some moments I'll never forget."
Although they'll be in different dugouts in 2020, Avalon knows he'll still see plenty of Izzio and LaBounty on the recruiting trail.
"We look forward to our relationship continuing with Coach LaBounty and Coach Izzio as they will undoubtedly return to recruit our players at their schools," Avalon said. "With them coaching at D-I schools, they know the type of complete students athletes they'll get from Pearl River.
"Those kinds of connections are invaluable."
Not only is the MACJC an invaluable training ground for student athletes, but LaBounty and Izzio's career trajectories only reinforce the notion that the league is all around one of the best in the country.
"As you look across our league, this is just another reason why Mississippi JUCO baseball is so strong," Avalon said. "Our assistant coaches are getting these opportunities at the highest level because of the quality of baseball, student athletes and coaching we have in our league."
Although Avalon saw his two assistants hired away by four-year schools this offseason, he promised the program will continue to climb at The River.
"Coach Izzio and Coach LaBounty helped me build on the tradition that was already established at The River and take this program back to the national stage," Avalon said. "Although they're at the next level now, we will hire assistants who will help us continue our progression as we work toward earning a national championship."