Multiple threats. Double options.
This football season in the South Puget Sound League South Division is full of run-pass quarterbacks who might be even better at another sport – baseball.
And Puyallup High’s Brendan Illies, Emerald Ridge’s Kort Skoda, Rogers’ Stefan Van Horn and Curtis’ Scott Wismer have broken the quarterback-baseball player mold.
In the past, those types of two-sport standouts were often heavy-legged, big-armed pass-throwers who used their big bodies to crush baseballs out of ballparks, or strike out hitters with flaming fastballs.
Not this quartet. They are fast, agile … and frustrating to face on both a baseball diamond and a football field. They are also on the short list of best football and baseball players in their league.
BRENDAN ILLIES (PUYALLUP)
With the way Illies has led the Vikings from under center, it is tough to remember that this is only his first year at Puyallup High – and his first season playing high school football.
Illies, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore, has thrown for 2,294 yards and 24 touchdowns but has also flashed his mobility with 312 yards rushing – 176 of those yards in one game.
“If I have the opportunity to run, I am going to take it,” Illies said. “I am not just going to sit in the pocket and be a pocket passer. I am going to use my legs and make plays on the run.”
It isn’t what you would expect from someone who does almost no running in arguably his best sport – baseball.
Illies is widely considered one of the top prospects as both a pitcher and catcher in his class, even though neither position requires players to be the fast on their feet.
“My athleticism can kind of get lost sometimes as a catcher because you have one responsibility, and that is to protect home plate,” Illies said. “But I still think catchers have to be athletic. You have to be able to move around side to side and jump out of your stance to gun a runner down at any time.”
Since his junior high did not have a baseball team, Illies was able to play for Puyallup as a freshman last spring. He was inserted into the cleanup spot from the start and batted .402. He also made 11 appearances on the mound and posted a 2.13 earned-run average.
He said he is still trying to decide whether he will try to pursue a college career in baseball or football.
KORT SKODA (EMERALD RIDGE)
Emerald Ridge’s offensive game plan has been fairly simple – unleash Skoda.
Jaguars coach Troy Halfaday has used Skoda at quarterback and running back this season. The 5-11, 210-pounder has passed for more than 900 yards and added almost 700 yards rushing.
Skoda is also one of the school’s top pitchers, so his natural position on the football field is quarterback. But he quickly learned that whizzing a fastball past home plate isn’t the same as hitting a tight window 25 yards down the field with a football.
“He had to re-teach himself how to throw as a quarterback, and that’s hard to get away from, that technique when you are used to throwing a 92 mile per hour fastball,” Halfaday said. “He has threaded the needle on some throws lately. It’s been fun to watch him progress.”
The difference is in the legs. While Skoda has caught defenses off-guard plenty of times with his ability to scramble out of the pocket, his legs are his main source of power when throwing on the mound. Throwing a baseball is about using your legs for extra power off the mound; football uses more power from the arm.
“It is extremely different throwing from the mound compared to being in the pocket,” Skoda said. “Your mindset is the same. On the mound I have control of the game and it’s the same for a quarterback. But throwing-wise, it’s a lot different.”
But in both the pocket and the mound, Skoda has proven to be a very effective weapon.
STEFAN VAN HORN (ROGERS)
Van Horn has given an oral commitment to play baseball at Washington State University next year, but that hasn’t stopped the Rams from getting every bit out of his athleticism they can on the football field.
Van Horn (6-1, 185) has played almost every position on offense except offensive line, and has been productive at each. He splits time at quarterback with junior Grayson Madland, but he still has close to 500 yards passing. He has also tacked on about 250 yards rushing and another 250 yards as a receiver.
“We have another quarterback we like to use, but we can’t just have Stefan stay on the sidelines,” Rogers football coach Gene Bowen said. “He makes plays no matter where we put him.”
It doesn’t stop on the football field, either. Van Horn also plays multiple guard positions in basketball and is a pitcher, catcher and first baseman for on the baseball team.
“There have been quite a few pitchers to come through here I would have loved to have on my football team,” Bowen said. “It isn’t unusual anymore to see your best athlete be your pitcher.”
SCOTT WISMER (CURTIS)
Wismer isn’t like the rest of his quarterback peers in the SPSL because he doesn’t double as a pitcher. He splits time at first base and in the outfield for the Vikings in baseball.
But that’s OK. He wasn’t even a quarterback until this season.
The 6-2, 170-pound junior was an honorable mention SPSL tight end last season but made the switch to quarterback in the offseason. He said his baseball background made quarterbacking more simple.
“A lot of baseball comes down to timing and repetition,” Wismer said. “That is definitely true with football. It made the transition to quarterback a lot easier having played baseball so long.”
Wismer batted .327 with a .413 on-base percentage last season for the Vikings. And he has been a force for the football team, helping Curtis to a 7-1 record this season. The Vikings face Federal Way tonight trying to secure the SPSL South title.
Having Wismer under center after he excelled as a tight end last year has given Curtis a dual-threat player to go with the rest of the schools in the SPSL, who seem to have quarterbacks who can run and throw.
“I knew what my team’s capabilities were coming into the season, so I knew I didn’t have to light the world on fire with my play,” Wismer said. “We had a lot of talent coming back, so I just needed to be a guy who could facilitate the offense and get the ball to the guys who make plays.”
He said he hasn’t decided whether to pursue football or baseball after college, but said he would do both if he could.
That’s an option this SPSL quarterbacking quartet appears to have in common.