Owen Breithaupt doesn’t normally wake up before 7 a.m. on a school day. So he was robbed of about 40 minutes of sleep earlier this week when his phone alerted him of a group text from Brendan Illies.
“And it says, ‘Hey, if you have purple jerseys, get those to (Puyallup baseball coach Marc) Wiese’s office,’ ” Breithaupt said. “A lot of people are like, ‘Thanks, Coach Illies.’ ”
No, he’s not a coach, but Illies might as well be one. The senior catcher has played in every game for Puyallup since his freshman year and this season he’s earned the privilege of calling pitches.
Wiese — entering his 20th season at the Vikings helm — said he’s never allowed one of his players to call the majority of the pitches on the field like his University of North Carolina committed senior will.
“It’s like having another coach on the field,” Wiese said. “It’s a tough thing for me to give up because if we are going to make the wrong call, I want to be the guy who calls it. But for his growth, I think it’s really important.
“We’ve had some really, really good catchers throughout the years, but obviously Brendan stands out. He’s the best guy we’ve had behind the plate, no question.”
Illies was billed as the state’s next great talent the day he entered Puyallup High’s halls. He hit .402 with 33 hits, 26 RBIs and 14 doubles as a freshman. Perfect Games, an amateur baseball couting service, projected him as one of the top-10 MLB prospects in his 2015 class heading into his sophomore year.
But Illies didn’t quite match the soaring hype that followed his freshman season. He hit .333 with 25 RBIs — good, but not up to his own expectations.
“Being in the spotlight for four years, it really doesn’t matter to me,” Illies said. “I’m not trying to outshine anybody. I’m just the guy who is going to work hard in the background. I’m a catcher for a reason.”
“He came in as a ninth grader and kind of a man-child — the guy,” Wiese said. “Then he went through some hardships and a little adversity. He probably didn’t play as well as he would have liked to.”
Then his junior year.
After a slow start, Illies said he just needed to get out of his head. He batted .398 with 33 hits and 26 RBIs, helped Puyallup finish 28-0, earn a national ranking and win its first state title.
Illies gave up football in the fall — after throwing for 5,960 passing yards and 71 touchdowns in two seasons — to focus on preparing for his final baseball season at Puyallup. He said he worked on his speed, lowering his 60-time, and that coaches and scouts he consulted wanted him to be more consistent at the plate and behind it.
“I really took a testament to that and said, ‘This is what I want to work on. I want to be good every single time,’ ” Illies said. “It may not be perfect, but I want to be good.”
Illies said he wants to study biomedical engineering at UNC. But he’s also ranked the 213th prospect by minorleagueball.com — a blog run by the respected John Sickels — which would put him in the seventh round of the MLB draft.
Whether he goes to college or the big leagues will likely be determined by where he’s drafted — not that he’s looking that far ahead.
“Not playing football was tough, but I just didn’t have it anymore,” Illies said. “I felt like with baseball, I knew that’s where I was going to end up. I felt like I could do things that could prepare me better for both college and the draft going into it.
“Whatever happens, happens. But I felt like I needed to get better in a lot of areas. I’m going to leave it all up to fate, I’m not going to try and control anything. I’m just going to go out and play baseball. … MLB, Carolina; I’m sure I’ll end up in the right place.”
Besides he has all those expectations to deal with, again.
Puyallup lost many key contributors from last season — including The News Tribune’s All-Area player of the year Quinn Rawson, Luke Heimlich (who graduated early and is now at Oregon State), Levi Jordan, Darian Clemens, Tyler McDowell and Adam Stump.
“Everybody wants us to lose,” Breithaupt said. “They don’t like us because we are too good and they think Brendan has such a big head because he does everything so well. … He does everything so well because he loves this and he works on it.
“If you are on another team looking at him, he comes off as ‘I’m Brendan Illies.’ But me, personally — being good friends — he’s just a great guy. He’s great in the classroom, he wants to help everybody baseball-wise, education-wise, everything.”
And help Puyallup get back to the state championship.
“I really saw a big difference in him last year, but just the way he has prepared himself this year; he comes out to practice and games and brings it every day,” Wiese said.
“Brendan is the true leader of this team.”
Even while his teammates are still sleeping.