There is an ongoing debate in the Skoug family about ribs.
Evan Skoug, the baby of the family and the youngest of three children by 10 years, has, by far, the least experience in the kitchen. Yet, he insists that he cooks up the best ribs.
“Even better than my Mom (Connie) and Dad (John),” Skoug said with a laugh. “I cook some mean ribs.”
Skoug would say the same about his hamburgers and steaks.
He also thinks that, with a 29 on the ACT and a 3.9 grade point average, he has the best ACT score and grades in the family.
“In our family, we’re competitive about everything,” Skoug said. “Board games get tense. We play a lot of cards. My brother (Eric) and sister (Jennica) are really smart and I’ve been trying to beat their ACT scores. And my dad’s score, too. When we go fishing, it’s always a competition of who catches the most fish. We try to see who can cook the best ribs.
“We’re always trying to out-do each other.”
Skoug’s competitive fire doesn’t get extinguished when he leaves home. He’s the same way on the baseball field.
The 17-year-old junior catcher for Libertyville is a unique talent with skills beyond his years. He’s also a relentless perfectionist, sometimes to his own detriment. Skoug says that he used to become “a hothead on the field when things didn’t go my way” because he got too competitive.
But Skoug has worked tirelessly on his attitude over the last two years, to the point where it now matches up with his stellar skills.
The payoffs have been significant.
Skoug was made a team captain this season, the only underclassman to serve in that capacity in the 11 years that Jim Schurr has been head coach at Libertyville. And already Skoug is entertaining multiple major Division I scholarship offers from colleges such as Vanderbilt, Air Force and Santa Clara.
No wonder Schurr calls Skoug the best baseball player he has coached. Ever.
Clearly, with his .500-plus batting average as a left-handed hitter and a much talked-about gun for an arm that strikes fear in potential base stealers, Skoug is exceptional. And he has played a major role in Libertyville’s strong 11-3-1 start.
“Evan is a very special talent, the best catcher I’ve ever seen at the high school level and the best player I’ve coached,” Schurr said. “It’s the way he’s wired, and he’s so highly skilled. He can block the ball really well and he’s got such a great arm, and he can hit, too. He’s a gamer and he always has been.”
Skoug has been on the varsity since his freshman year. But Schurr was introduced to Skoug’s huge upside long before that.
One year at Libertyville’s summer camp for kids, Skoug, a sixth grader, made an unforgettable impression at the plate. A shot off his bat screamed straight up the middle and nearly broke the hand of Schurr’s teenage son A.J., a star infielder and quarterback for the Wildcats at the time.
“I had A.J. pitching in a scrimmage for the kids and Evan just crushed a ball right back at A.J. and it hit A.J.’s hand really, really hard,” Schurr said. “You saw the velocity and the ball explode off the bat and you just knew that Evan was a different kid.”
Growing up, Skoug always looked a little different from the other kids, always taller, more muscular and more filled out.
“I was pretty developed at an early age,” Skoug said.
But unlike many early bloomers who top out and get caught from behind by the other kids, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Skoug has been able to stay ahead of the curve.
“It’s all about work ethic,” said Skoug, who worked out nearly every day over the winter off-season with either weights or special instructors. “I pride myself in working harder than everyone else. I think my dad has always tried to keep me on track, he’s always told me how important it is to work hard. And having an older brother who is 10 years older than me, I had to work pretty hard to try to keep up with him.”
Nothing, though, has tested Skoug and his determination like the failures inherent to baseball. He’s had to work harder than he ever has at anything in his life to get his mind right with those.
“I remember when I was younger and I was playing travel ball and when I was a freshman, and sometimes even last year, I tried to be too perfect. I put too much pressure on myself,” Skoug said. “I hadn’t matured yet, and I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that the very best players in the game still go 3-for-10 at the plate.
“I had to learn to deal with failure in baseball. And I wasn’t very good at that. When things didn’t go my way, I’d throw a helmet or I’d get frustrated with myself and I’d have bad body language.”
Skoug had coaches talking to him about changing his ways. Ditto for his parents. Finally, the message sank in.
“One day an older teammate actually said something to me,” Skoug said. “He said that I had to grow up and think about the team. He said that people were going to start writing me off if I didn’t start controlling my emotions and change the way I handled things.”
And just like that, Skoug flipped the switch. He said he simply decided that he could no longer afford to “look foolish, or like a child.”
Over the last year, Skoug says he is more calm and relaxed when he plays baseball, and that he enjoys the game more. It’s been in the days since his “light bulb moment” that Skoug has gained the most attention from college coaches.
TCU, Indiana, West Virginia, Texas Tech, North Carolina, Arizona State and Illinois are also showing strong interest.
“I played in a couple of travel tournaments in Florida over the fall and I had no idea what I was getting into,” Skoug said. “A couple of college coaches saw me play and then some more and it’s been really hectic (with recruiting) since then.”
The pressure doesn’t get to Skoug, though. Not anymore.
“I’m in a better place now,” Skoug said. “I’m a completely different player. I’m more mature. I’m trying to win, because I still want to win at everything I do. But I don’t pressure myself so much. I don’t try to be so perfect. I’m not so stat-driven. I just try to help the team, play my heart out and enjoy it.
“I’ve been getting a lot of compliments about how I’ve changed that.”
Now, if everyone could just compliment his ribs the most, Skoug will be all set.
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