When John Michael Gant takes the pitching mound now, it feels the same as when he was at Wiregrass Ranch High.
There's more pressure now that the 6-foot-4, 195-pounder is pitching for the Brooklyn Cyclones, a New York Mets Class-A affiliate. But being a professional baseball player hasn't taken away his enjoyment for the game.
"This does not feel like a job at all," Gant said. "It's still as much fun as when I started playing when I was 5."
The 2011 graduate admits it's been a pretty exciting transition into the workforce since the Mets picked him in the 21st round of the 2011 draft.
"This is probably the best job I could ever think of," Gant said. "It's always been a dream to get to play professional baseball. First job and I'll take it."
Gant compiled an 18-5 record with 13 complete games, a 1.92 ERA and 225 strikeouts at Wiregrass.
He is still the seventh-year program's all-time leader in wins and strikeouts and was the squad's ace his final two years despite moving to the mound late in his development.
Gant was primarily an infielder as a freshman and sophomore, but former Bulls coach Jeff Swymer saw him as a frontline starter when he took over in the 2010 season.
"My first meeting with the players, I saw a 6-foot-3, 160-pound kid walk in with the body you think of as being a pitcher," Swymer said. "Just tall and all arms. I talked with him and he said he was a shortstop, and I said, 'You're a pitcher now, too.' "
Swymer added that Gant has the mental makeup to be a strong pitcher at any level.
"He has that really laid-back demeanor," Swymer said. "Sometimes it drove me kind of crazy because you might think he didn't care, but he just doesn't let anything rattle him. You see that in very few guys who are not scared of the moment."
Gant said he has kept that same mentality while working his way through the minor leagues, but has had to change the way he attacks hitters with his fastball, curveball and changeup.
"I used to get up there and just try to sling it as hard as I could," Gant said. "I'm developing more into a pitcher from a thrower. They've been working with me on establishing the fastball command and not just throwing it as hard as possible.
"The hitters now hit the ball a lot more often than in high school. They see 90 miles per hour every day, so when they see it they can hit it. That's why location is so important."
In his first three starts with the Cyclones, Gant went 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA, 25 strikeouts and four walks.
He is thankful for the opportunity to play professional baseball, but even more appreciative of his former coach for helping him find his home on the mound.
"Not only did he turn me into a pitcher, but he helped set up all those workouts before the draft and talked to scouts every day helping me out," Gant said. "Words cannot describe how much that man has helped me."
Tribune correspondent Kyle LoJacono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_LoJacono.