Chad Hutchinson’s choice is not easy: The 18-year-old high school graduate can accept an athletic scholarship to play football and baseball at Stanford, or he can sign with the Atlanta Braves for a reported million-dollar-plus bonus.
Most have advised the former Torrey Pines High student-athlete to take the money and run. But the decision may not be so easy for Hutchinson.
He is a rare two-sport standout who has been told by dozens of recruiters and scouts that if he does not play quarterback in the NFL, he will probably pitch in the major leagues. He is also a straight-A student whose college entrance exam score ranked among the top 10% in the country.
Hutchinson’s success has given him options, perhaps one too many.
“If I hadn’t done as well in school, or if I had only played one sport, things would have been so much easier,” Hutchinson, jokingly, said earlier this month. “People have been asking what I’m going to do all year, and frankly I still don’t know. There are a lot of things to consider.”
If he signs with the Braves, he will have to give up his dream of becoming a star football player and forfeit a scholarship to a top university. If he chooses Stanford--and that seems to be his choice--he turns his back on immediate financial security for him and his family.
It’s a weighty decision for someone who recently attended his senior prom.
“What should have been the happiest year in his life was anything but that,” said Ed Burke, longtime football coach at Torrey Pines. “He should have been able to reap the rewards for all of his hard work, but instead he had to deal with a tremendous amount of pressure. There was someone watching his every move.”
Already an established baseball player, Hutchinson came into his own on the football field last fall. A two-year starter at outside linebacker, he was moved to quarterback his senior season. It’s a perfect fit for his mobile 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame. He responded by completing 50% of his passes for 1,441 yards and eight touchdowns, impressive numbers considering his team’s run-oriented winged-T offense.
Recruiters were impressed by his size and strength--he can throw the ball 70 yards. Although many of the top programs came calling, most backed away when Hutchinson said he wanted to play football and baseball in college.
That did not concern Tyrone Willingham, who replaced Bill Walsh last December as Stanford’s football coach. Willingham played football and baseball at Michigan State in the mid-1970s and says Hutchinson can excel in both sports on the college level.
Well aware that Hutchinson would probably be selected high in the baseball draft, Stanford coaches were confident they were not wasting a scholarship.
“The baseball scouts had been all over Chad for two years, so we certainly got a late start with him,” said Stanford’s offensive coordinator, Dana Bible. “But he had shown so much interest in us that it was a fairly easy process. He certainly met us halfway, which we felt reduced the risk.”
Hutchinson signed a letter of intent to attend Stanford in February, and that apparently hurt his stock in the draft. A projected top-10 pick, he was the 26th selection in the first round.
Baseball America tabbed him one of the top high school prospects after he finished the season with a record of 11-0, a 1.20 earned-run average and 116 strikeouts. His fastball was clocked at 96 m.p.h.
Games he pitched were attended by at least a dozen scouts, some of whom questioned his ability after he walked off the mound in the first inning of a tournament game in April.
“I couldn’t believe people were making such a big deal about that,” Hutchinson said. “I had just pitched the previous game, and my arm was tired and I didn’t want to risk an injury. It had nothing to do with ability. But I guess all is fair when you’re under the microscope.”
Hutchinson’s parents are separated and he has rarely spoken to or seen his father, Lloyd, in the last two years. He has turned to a family friend, Gary Marshall, for guidance. Marshall coordinated all meetings with baseball scouts and has been handling negotiations with the Braves.
Marshall said many teams gave up on Hutchinson when he established his terms, one of which was a signing bonus of $1.5 million, one of the highest figures ever asked by a draftee.
“A Stanford education has been proven to be worth millions of dollars long after graduation, so I think Chad settled on a figure that was high enough to make him give up on that,” said Marshall, who played football at Army in the 1960s. “Chad also said that he did not want to negotiate. He set his figure before the draft, and it has not changed at all.”
John Schuerholz, general manager of the Braves, said he is not certain Hutchinson made all of his intentions known before the draft, and that he has not been able to talk to his top pick because Hutchinson is surrounded by so many protective adults.
“I keep hearing what a great guy Chad is and how mature and responsible he is,” Schuerholz said. “I don’t know this firsthand because I’ve never spoken to him. Certainly he is a guy we feel can make a big contribution to this organization and that is why we drafted him. We think he’s turning his back on a pretty attractive package.”
Schuerholz said that selecting Hutchinson was not considered a big gamble because of the team’s tradition of signing its top picks, adding that the Braves are prepared to make Hutchinson their highest-paid draft choice in history.
“This is more than just about money,” he said. “Given our reputation for developing young pitchers, I think we’re offering Chad the most generous package we’ve ever offered anyone.”
Atlanta’s highest-paid draftee to date is outfielder Mike Kelly of Los Alamitos, who signed for $625,000 in 1991. Hutchinson’s asking price apparently is far more than the Braves are prepared to offer.
Hutchinson, who lives with his mother, Martha, and three sisters and a brother in a single-family house near Del Mar, is already in Palo Alto, having begun football practice last Tuesday.
Martha, who works part-time while caring for the family, has encouraged college. Her estranged husband played in the minor leagues for four years, and she knows baseball is not always a glamorous life.
“Money does not make you a whole person, so it has not been hard to say no to the Braves,” Martha said. “Chad is a very gifted person, and a good education will allow him to develop more than just athletic skills. It will allow him to be more well-rounded. I think the money will always be there for him if that’s what he wants.”
Hutchinson is still not certain what he wants, but he said he will be happy with whatever works out.
“I’ve researched my options very well,” he said. “I put myself in a situation so that whatever I decide, I won’t be disappointed either way.”