Junior pitcher Jon Duplantier never considered himself a baseball player until midway through high school. Now, just five years later, he is one of the best college baseball players in the country and is projected to be a top-100 pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft.

So far this season, the Owls star has a 3.33 earned run average and is averaging a whopping 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. In a recent game against the University of Central Florida, Duplantier struck out 14 batters and gave up just one earned run on his way to his first win of the year. He was later named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Week for his performance.

The road to reach this point, however, has not been easy. Duplantier achieved instant success at Rice during his freshman year and was named to the Freshman All-Conference team. After a successful summer season, he said he entered his sophomore year with more confidence than ever.

“I came back [from summer break] and my chest was puffing out,” Duplantier said. “Everyone still saw me through my successes from the summer.”

Unfortunately, Duplantier’s good fortune would not continue. After taking a break from throwing for the entire fall semester, he sustained an arm injury. According to Duplantier, the injury was a result of his own routine.

“It was really just a mismanagement of my arm,” Duplantier said. “I progressed too quickly in the winter leading up to the spring and caused some inflammation in my arm. I just couldn’t get rid of it; I kept trying to throw on it but some muscles had shut down.”

The injury caused Duplantier to miss his entire sophomore season. Although it was frustrating, he said the lost season gave him valuable perspective.

“I got hurt, and the team had to just move on,” Duplantier said. “They couldn’t look at me and say, ‘He’s still the man, he’s going to be really good,’ because I couldn’t help anybody. It knocked me down a little. It definitely humbled me.”

Now that he has returned from the injury, Duplantier has reassumed his role as a leader of the pitching staff. He has held batters to just a .183 batting average this year, barely missing a beat following the lost season. Despite his success, Duplantier said he still has areas in which he can improve.

“My ultimate success will come when I can understand what kind of pitcher I am and what kind of pitcher I’m going to be,” Duplantier said. “I need to stay within those parameters.”

For the moment, though, he said he is making sure to enjoy the chance to pitch this season.

“I’m trying to go deep into games, save the bullpen, and keep the team in the running to win games,” Duplantier said. “I’m just having fun right now.”

If Duplantier continues to do his job well, the Owls may have a chance to yet again compete in the NCAA tournament. Rice currently holds a record of 8-7 on the season after winning two out of three games this weekend against nationally ranked East Carolina University. While the Owls’ record is not as good as they hoped it would be, Duplantier said nobody on the team is panicking.

“We’ve started off slow, but I don’t think anybody in our organization is worried about it,” Duplantier said. “We’re growing; everybody is still learning.”

When asked about his hopes for the season, Duplantier said he is focused on the team’s goals, not his own.

“My No. 1 goal this spring is to go win a national championship with the Rice Owls,” Duplantier said. “I’m just going out there every week trying to do my part.”

The Owls will be in action on Friday when they open conference play against the University of Texas, San Antonio in San Antonio at 6 p.m. That game will be the first of a three-game weekend series for the Owls as they begin their quest for a 21st straight conference title.