Whether he's crouched behind the plate or streaking through a secondary on a post pattern, Steve Friedrich of Troy High School has a knack for catching a ball.
Friedrich helped Troy win the Freeway League baseball championship this past spring by moving from the outfield to catcher and batting .353 with 26 hits. Friedrich, a natural outfielder with speed, had caught only three junior varsity games as a sophomore but earned all-league honors as a catcher.
Last fall, Friedrich caught 36 passes for 633 yards and six touchdowns to lead Troy to a Division VI playoff berth. He already has 18 receptions for 218 yards and four touchdowns in three games this season. Tonight, Troy faces Valencia at Placentia's Bradford Stadium.
"I've seen him play twice and it's pretty obvious the guy has very good hand-eye coordination," Valencia Coach Mike Marrujo said. "He does things on a football field that you can't teach. I saw him catch a (long pass) against El Dorado two weeks ago and I was very impressed."
Said Troy Coach John Turek: "He seems to catch anything. He never seems to worry about getting hit, and when the ball is up for grabs, he seems to win the majority of the battles with defensive backs."
Friedrich had never played organized football before high school. He was a third-string tailback and started at free safety on the Troy freshman team, then was promoted to the varsity as a sophomore.
After a year of watching from the sideline, Friedrich established himself as one of the county's top receivers in 1989, teaming with quarterback Greg Windle to lead Troy to a second-place finish in the Freeway League.
"I ran mostly post patterns last year, but this year Greg and I haven't really used any set patterns," Friedrich said. "Our passing game is a lot more complicated than last year."
Friedrich had the best game of his career last week in a 26-16 victory over Brea-Olinda. He caught nine passes for 93 yards, including touchdowns receptions of 25 and 12 yards.
Despite his success on the football field, Friedrich's future appears to be in baseball. He attended the Stanford baseball camp last summer and is anticipating a big senior season.
"My size (5 feet 10, 170 pounds) has a lot to do with my future," Friedrich said. "My future is probably in baseball. I've been playing baseball since my dad taught me how to play catch when I was 2 years old."
Friedrich played in the Yorba Linda Little League and was a starting left fielder for Troy's junior varsity team as a freshman. He had played shortstop and in the outfield when Troy Coach Dane Illertsen asked him about catching before last season.
"Everyone said it looked weird seeing someone with speed catching," Friedrich said. "But I really enjoyed catching. I liked the challenge of holding baserunners and I liked being in control of the pitchers and setting the infield."
Friedrich, who is projected as a collegiate outfielder, continued to polish his catching skills at the Stanford camp with 110 players from throughout the nation.
"I learned a lot about hitting at the camp," Friedrich said. "I corrected a flaw in my swing, and I'll start working in the cages the day after football ends."
For now, Friedrich will continue to torment secondaries as Troy hopes to end the eight-year reign of La Habra and Sunny Hills as champion of the Freeway League. Troy was ranked among the county's top teams in most preseason polls, but the Warriors fell from the top 10 after their loss to Rancho Alamitos.
"I'm glad we're not rated," Friedrich said. "Last year we stayed away from publicity and had a good season. We had a good spring and everyone was excited going into this season. But for some reason, we weren't mentally ready for Rancho.
"The loss was probably good for us. It made us realize we can lose any time we're not ready to play. All along, our goal has been to win the league title."
Turek, who has led Troy to six consecutive playoff berths, expects Friedrich to play a key role in the team's drive for a league title.
"I anticipate Steve breaking the school records for receiving if he stays healthy," Turek said. "He's getting more double coverage than we've seen in awhile, but he's still averaging six catches and has scored in every game."