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July 15, 2011TUSCALOOSA | Taylor Dugas wants to make it clear -- he is returning to the University of Alabama. After weeks of negotiation and speculation on whether he would sign with the Chicago Cubs, the center fielder from Louisiana looked at the offer on the table and stepped away, informing the Cubs earlier this week that he would return to Alabama for his senior season.
"It all comes down to money. It has to be worth you going," Dugas said of the proposition of turning pro. "I just figured the money wouldn't be anywhere near where I wanted.
"I was open to going back to school from the start if things didn't work out. We just went in and said, 'Hey, let's bring in a little closure.'"
With nearly a month remaining in the signing period for players with college eligibility, Dugas said negotiations were too far apart to consider continuing. Playing Texas Collegiate League baseball at home in Louisiana over the summer, he decided to make the next month more carefree, informing Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry of his decision to stay in school.
Dugas got off the phone with Hendry and immediately called Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard Wednesday to let him know he was coming back for one more year. On the other end of the line, Gaspard let out a sigh of relief.
"When I received the phone call, I was holding my breath and keeping my fingers crossed," Gaspard said. "After the decision was made that he was 100 percent coming back, I was on the phone with all of our coaching staff to let them know immediately. ... All of us couldn't be any more excited."
In preparing for the 2012 campaign, Dugas provides a cornerstone for the Alabama coaching staff to build off of. Returning a two-time All-American with a career batting average above .350 isn't a bad place to start for a team that finished one game shy of the SEC West title.
"He's probably been our biggest recruit all summer. You're talking about a guy who's a catalyst for our ball club and a leader for our team," Gaspard said. "What he brings to our program, just the substance with leadership and experience, he's the guy that's going to be the face of our program.
"Every coach in the league asks when I'm out recruiting if Dugas is signing. Everyone kind of identifies our team with him."
Dugas said he's excited to return to Tuscaloosa. He said he was always intent on coming back to finish his degree and roll the dice on another year at The Joe. The UA offense, which struggled for the better part of last season, looks to be bolstered by another year's experience among the starters and the addition of a few key signees. With Dugas leading off, there's nowhere to go but up.
"I've got some pretty good opportunities ahead to break some records which would be pretty neat," Dugas said. "I really feel like we're going to swing the bat a whole lot better than we did last season. ... I feel like it's going to be a much improved offense.
"If some people step up, I feel like we have a good shot at competing for a national championship in Omaha."
Reach Alex Scarborough at email@example.com or 205-722-0193.