Few college athletes receive the opportunity to start for four years. University of Tampa softball’s Jessica Tejas has earned that honor. Tejas, born in Oklahoma City and was a self-described “Air Force kid.” Tejas lived in Texas and Virginia before settling in Land O’ Lakes, Fla.
Tejas did not play competitive sports until the age of 10 when she signed up for little league softball. She soon took up volleyball, basketball, track and golf, in addition to softball.
“You rarely ever caught me inside playing with dolls or even video games,” Tejas said.
Tejas attended Land O’ Lakes High School and was the captain of the softball team for two seasons. She still has fond memories of the team’s coach for her last two seasons, Jamie Martin.
“She made softball a way of life,” Tejas said. “It was our drug and we were all addicted.”
Tejas finished her high school career with a .468 batting average, three home runs (two in one game during her senior season), 23 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
After high school Tejas faced the tough decision of which college to attend. She was initially set on attending UT’s Sunshine State Conference rival Rollins College. That changed, however, when UT head coach Leslie Kanter saw Tejas at a tournament in Clearwater. Kanter says she noticed her batting power and strong throwing arm.
After meeting Kanter and visiting the campus, Tejas reconsidered and chose to call UT home.
“I told Rollins, ‘sorry, I’ll see (you) on the field,’” Tejas said.
Tejas impressed Kanter enough to earn a starting role as a freshman, playing wherever she was needed, and always remaining in the lineup. It was an honor she never took for granted.
“I always felt starting was a privilege and it was something I never took lightly,” Tejas said.
Tejas’s versatility led her to create the team’s motto during her freshman year, “UT, Utility”. The phrase was a reference to each player’s willingness to take on any role in order to contribute to the team’s success.
Although she produced consistent play in her first three seasons, Tejas is hitting a career-best .286 this season and is tied for the team lead in home runs with two. She has gone deep a total of 11 times in her college career.
While Tejas says being coachable is her best asset, Kanter says her strong arm is just as important.
“She has the strongest arm on the team,” Kanter said.
According to Tejas, this season has been successful enough on its own, but after factoring in her demanding academic commitments, her numbers look even stronger. This season she can only practice with the team on Fridays due to her schedule as an international business and finance major.
“Being an IBS and finance major is almost like having two majors,” Tejas said. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
Coach Kanter agrees that Tejas has a lot on her plate.
“It’s been tough for her to be the leader she wants to be this year because of her major,” Kanter said.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Tejas is also proud of another off-the-field accomplishment, her charity work. As a junior, she received the UT Unsung Hero Award for her efforts.
“I definitely didn’t think I had done enough to earn a nomination,” Tejas said. “I almost cried… I was incredibly honored and grateful.”
Through bad times and good, Tejas has learned from her college experience. She says she is proud of her accomplishments at UT and that while she looks forward to life as a professional, she still can’t believe it’s time to move on.
“Nothing post-graduation will top this,” Tejas said.