Then on July 24, 2013, the inevitability of Etheridge continuing his athletic career became an uncertainty when he was arrested while present at a house where drugs were found.
However, Etheridge was cleared of all charges in the case on March 19, and on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of his arrest, Etheridge announced he would indeed be continuing his playing career as a member of the Georgia Perimeter College baseball team.
“I always knew there was going to be something I could do. I knew I was going to [play college sports]. It was just a matter of time before that stuff was behind me. I went through some stuff and now I’m moving on and doing my thing,” Etheridge said. “[Georgia Perimeter] just seemed like a great place. They have a good program. They won their conference last year. Plus, my best friend goes there [former Cass pitcher Dylan Williams].”
“Brandon has started in center field every year he’s been at Cass High School and has been a big part of this program,” Cass head baseball coach Adam Williams said. “He’s done a lot for us and he’s earned this right to go and play college baseball.”
Because of the charges against him, Etheridge was suspended for his 2013 senior football season and missed the first 15 games of the 2014 baseball season. His return to the Colonels’ lineup immediately bolstered the baseball team as Cass went 3-10 before Etheridge returned and finished the regular season with a 6-6 record and a state playoff berth. Etheridge play a critical role in reversing the team’s fortunes, particularly on the mound where he pitched 29 2/3 innings and held a 2.12 ERA while striking out 36 batters.
He also pitched a complete game with 12 strikeouts for the win in the first-game of a three-game series against Heritage—Catoosa. Cass would eventually win the series in three games to advance to the state playoffs.
“This year, when [Etheridge] got back, he was the threat that everybody was worried about in our lineup,” Williams said. “In our region and in our schedule, Brandon has a very good reputation of being a good player. Even in his short time back, he was all-region because he came back and pitched and did very well.”
Etheridge said he learned not to take the game for granted during his time away from the game.
“It was exhilarating when I came back,” he said. “Every play, I wanted to make it 100 percent. I was going full speed at everything. I just wanted to do it because you never know when it’s going to get taken away.”
Etheridge was an all-county outfielder as a sophomore and junior. He was an all-region second-team selection his freshman season and a first-team selection his last three years. In 2013, he hit .376 while scoring 33 runs. He drove in 17 RBIs, walked 14 times and turned in a .516 slugging percentage to go along with a .473 on-base percentage. He also contributed on the mound, pitching 52 1/3 innings with a 3.05 ERA and 83 strikeouts.
“Brandon, here, has done it all,” Williams said. “He’s hit very well for us. He’s hit for power. He hit a grand slam that put us up in Game 3 against Pickens [in the 2013 state playoffs].”
Etheridge enjoyed individual success his junior season in helping the Colonels reach the second round of the state playoffs in 2013. However, due to the circumstances, his fondest memory of his high school career was helping his team reach the state playoffs in 2014. Cass went on to give the eventual state champion, Carrollton, its biggest test of the postseason.
“Probably coming back and making state with my buddies,” Etheridge said of his favorite moment of his high school career. “It wasn’t looking hot for me at the beginning because we got off to a rough start and I came back and it kind of made it exciting. Nobody thought we were going to [qualify for the state playoffs]. It kind of made it great. That was pretty cool.”
Etheridge made the all-county baseball team in 2013 and was an all-region selection in 2013 and 2014. However, he also excelled on the gridiron where he started his sophomore and junior seasons at quarterback.
He was an all-county selection in 2012 when he threw for a school-record 2,418 yards to go along with 14 touchdowns and a 61 percent completion percentage. He also set school records that year in completions, pass attempts and total offense.
“It wasn’t a tough decision,” Etheridge said of choosing baseball over football in college. “Since I didn’t get to play [in 2013], I didn’t have much going. I still might pursue [football] after two years at a JUCO. I might try to walk-on, try to play ball.”
Etheridge is now focused on helping Georgia Perimeter, a junior college program which went 44-14 in 2014 and won the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association. Etheridge will join former Cass teammate Dylan Williams, who was a conference starter for Georgia Perimeter as a freshman, pitching 51 1/3 innings with a 2.28 ERA and 65 strikeouts.
Etheridge said he will likely play both pitcher and outfielder for the Jaguars. Etheridge is the proverbial “five-tool player,” who can hit for average, hit for power, has speed, a strong throwing arm and a good glove.
“I think Brandon has a chance to be an all-american outfielder,” Williams said. “When you get to the next level, it’s all about who puts the time in and who works, and he’s definitely got the tools to go in and compete and win a starting job.”
Williams believes Etheridge’s time away from the game will ultimately benefit him.
“Adversity in baseball is part of the game. It’s a game of failure. Even good hitters are on base 30 percent of the time,” Williams said. “I think Brandon’s situation is going to teach him how to handle adversity as his life progresses. If he can take the lessons learned and apply them to what goes on in college, he can be very successful.”