Austin Overn, who played four sports last season at Santa Ana Foothill High, walked on to the USC football team and excels in baseball for the Trojans, setting a Pac-12 record for triples and helping them to their best season since 2015. (Katie Chin/USC Athletics)
Dear At-Batty: My kid is baseball player, but he also wants to play basketball. Actually, he wants to run track and play football too! How can I explain to a 10-year-old that if he’s serious about getting a baseball scholarship and someday playing in the big leagues, he has to pick a sport and specialize, perfect his skills and not mess around with other sports in the offseason? Because what if he gets hurt away from the ball field? What if coaches at the next level don’t think he’s taking baseball seriously? – VARIETY IS THE SCOURGE OF LIFE
Dear Variety: If your kid wants to play, let him! And don’t get ahead of yourself. You’ve probably read before that fewer than 2% of athletes receive full or partial scholarships and fewer than 2% of college athletes go pro – though you also might be among the 55% of parents who think those stark figures don’t apply to your kid.
So maybe you’re not moved by experts who warn against specialization even in high school, citing burnout and injuries from overuse and repetition. Because as far as you’re concerned, they’re talking to the unfortunate 98% who won’t get scholarships or, beyond that, hear their names called in a pro draft.
And maybe you’re right about your kid. In which case, you should consider Austin Overn, last year’s Orange County Register Athlete of the Year. He’s a speedy, multi-sport-playing freshman sensation who, this spring, is leading off the USC baseball team’s rousing resurgence.
Overn is one of only three guys who played all 57 games for a Trojans team (33-22-1) that had its best record since 2015 and will face No. 3 Washington in pool play on Thursday at the Pac-12 Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. The fourth-seeded Trojans opened play Tuesday by defeating UCLA, 6-4, with Overn driving in five runs.
The dude’s having a really good time out there, flying around Dedeaux Field. Just turned 20 on May 10, and still hasn’t gotten over the notion that sports are supposed to be fun.
Because he was having such fun, he played four sports – baseball, football, basketball plus track and field – at Foothill High School in Santa Ana.
Because he enjoys it, he’s even split time between football and baseball at USC. He practiced with the football team but didn’t play in any games last year, though he could compete at wide receiver next season. Baseball is his priority, because his professional prospects are brightest on the diamond.
“In high school, there were people telling me, ‘Don’t do both, it’s a waste of your time,’” said Overn, who as a senior at Foothill finished with the most receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and yards per reception in Orange County.
“But I knew if I was able to walk on (to the football team at USC), I was doing both. No one was going to be able to persuade me out of it. The culture and atmosphere, Lincoln Riley, a Heisman quarterback?! Like, oh my gosh, it was crazy. And I was right in the middle of it!”
And, somehow, despite having the temerity to dabble in dual disciplines, Overn has managed to make a pretty profound impact.
The center fielder was just named an All-Pac-12 selection and to the conference’s All-Defensive team before coming up clutch Tuesday, when he hit a game-tying three-run homer and then had a go-ahead two-run triple – his conference-record-extending and NCAA-leading 14th three-bagger this season.
Mr. Triple @AustinOvern did it again! And to Beat the Bruins this time…
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) May 24, 2023
That Overn is excelling isn’t in spite of his broad athletic pursuits, but because of them.
That shutter-speed-quick first step on the base paths? He said that didn’t come from track – even though, at Foothill, he ran the 100-meter dash in 10.45 seconds and took third at the CIF-SS Division 1 meet – but from basketball.
How about the recovery strategies he’s shared with his baseball teammates? Hacks he got from his football brethren.
And what about the dunk contest-quality between-the-legs windmill jam he can do? Overn can’t explain that. (“The first time I did that dunk was the first time I dunked with two hands, and it kind of blows my mind to think I can do it, because I’ve never seen anyone else do it in person,” said Overn, who is all of “5-foot-11, 6-foot, something like that.”)
— Austin Overn (@AustinOvern) March 11, 2021
“There’s no question,” USC’s first-year coach Andy Stankiewicz said: Overn’s diverse diet of sports has benefited him as a ballplayer.
Stankiewicz played baseball, football and basketball at St. Paul High School in Santa Fe Springs, back when “there was no specializing; we all played everything, whatever was in season.”
He went on to play seven years in the big leagues, and remembers that before that, football toughened him up: “Hell week, it’s hot, you’re grinding in pads, getting up in the morning, hitting people and them hitting you.”
And that basketball helped his conditioning: “You’re going up and down the court, your heart is about to jump out of your chest.”
And maybe most important, he hadn’t tired of baseball when he stepped on campus at Pepperdine.
“That’s when I fell in love with the one sport,” he said. “I wanted to eat, drink and sleep baseball because I wasn’t burned out on it. Now, I can’t tell you how many times I get an athlete who’s burned out by his junior year. Because it’s just been too much baseball.
“Baseball is not so much the physical grind, it’s not all those times up and down the court, it’s that you fail seven out of 10 times, eight out of 10 times. It’s the mental grind.”
Overn isn’t the only Trojans ballplayer who was a multi-sport athlete in high school. Fisher Johnson played football and basketball at Aptos High, and Nate Clow and Josh Blum both played football at their respective schools in Washington and Texas.
So it’s likely that, like Overn, they arrived at USC missing one thing that many single-sport athletes are more apt to have in their bags.
“You’re going to look back at it and think to yourself, ‘Damn, I should’ve done it,’” Overn said. “One hundred percent, if you can, just do it all.”