The South Elgin coaching staff realized before the 2013 season they had something special in pitcher Ryan Nutof.
The rest of the baseball world found out soon thereafter.
Storm head coach Jim Kating and pitching coach Ben Erickson sat down with Nutof -- who has been named honorary captain of the 2014 Daily Herald All-Area team in the Fox Valley -- before his junior campaign began.
They told the 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander they thought he had the talent to develop into a special player beyond the high school level. His coaches envisioned Nutof as a college player at minimum, possibly a professional prospect.
Their opinions are informed: Kating was drafted by the Cubs in 1984 and played minor-league baseball for the L.A. Dodgers and Oakland; Erickson has worked as an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers.
Nutof missed the first three weeks of his junior season due to a muscle pull in his back, but when he returned to full health in mid-April he dazzled the opposition with improved control of a sharp, breaking curveball, which complemented a fastball then clocked between 89 and 91 mph and a developing changeup.
The opposition batted .194 against him as he amassed 57 strikeouts, walked 12 and allowed only 4 earned runs in 37 innings to finish with an area-best 0.76 earned-run average.
Though the son of Jim Nutof and Michelle Bernau and stepfather Jeff Bernau was 4-1 in 5 starts through the end of the regular season, he was still flying under the radar when the IHSA tournament began on May 24, 2013. On that stage Nutof first made a name for himself by tossing a 5-hitter with 10 strikeouts in No. 11 South Elgin's 2-0 upset of No. 5 Glenbard North.
It was a performance that opened doors, specifically doors to elite showcase baseball. Erickson made a call to Hampshire coach John Sarna, a longtime member of the Chicago Scouts Association and director of the Silver & Black Series, which the CSA website calls "the premier baseball event in the Midwest" for "student athletes who have exhibited superior skill on the baseball diamond and exceptional character off the diamond."
Held at Triton College on June 9 of last year, the Silver & Black Series allowed Nutof to be seen competing against the top prospects from Illinois and neighboring states in game situations by college and professional scouts.
The South Elgin ace said he was nervous and "played a little scared," but his ability was obvious to several scouts who had never seen or heard of him. They suddenly knew the name Ryan Nutof. And they quickly learned his digits.
"After that my phone blew up," he said. "I got calls from tons of Division-I schools and pro teams. Ever since then I've kind of been on the map."
The Silver & Black Series also serves as a tryout for the Area Code Games in Long Beach, California. Selected by the Chicago White Sox scouting department, Nutof competed in the event with approximately 200 of the top prospects in his age group. In one instance he pitched head-to-head against California phenom Brady Aiken, who last week was selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Astros in Major League Baseball's first-year player draft. Fifteen others participants were selected in the first round.
"I think that's when his confidence took off," Sarna said. "He showed he belonged out in Long Beach where every kid is throwing 90-91 and has command of three pitches. I think Ryan saw what he needed to do to get better. He worked hard and he progressed from summer to fall to this spring. He put himself in a good spot."
Nutof received an invitation to compete with the CSA team at the Perfect Game USA showcase last October in Jupiter, Florida, where he was seen by even more scouts.
He also played last fall for the Cincinnati Reds developmental team, and in October he took part in weekly scrimmages the CSA hosted for top prospects at Homewood-Floosmoor High School. One of the many college scouts who regularly attended those scrimmages was Michigan pitching coach Sean Kenny. Like many other college coaches, he was interested.
Things came together quickly from there. Nutof visited the Ann Arbor campus in early November, toured the program's new facilities and met head coach Erik Bakich, who took over the Michigan baseball program in 2012. Nutof gave his verbal commitment days later, eschewing offers from 22 other high Division-I programs, including every school in the Big 10.
"I'm excited," Nutof said last week of playing for the Wolverines. "I like what Bakich is doing with the program. He's getting the best players there. I truly believe that. I think good things are going to come."
With his college commitment sewn up, the longtime South Elgin resident was able to pitch worry free this spring. The result has been one of the most remarkable seasons turned in by any pitcher in Fox Valley area history.
Nutof enters Friday's Class 4A state semifinal against St. Rita 8-0 with a 0.39 earned run average. He has struck out 102, walked 25 and allowed just 4 earned runs in 71 innings. He had given up only 2 earned runs until Monday's supersectional, when Evanston scored 2 earned runs against him while pitching for the first time this season on three days rest.
Nutof threw a 5-inning 1-hitter against Wheaton North in a regional semifinal and held St. Charles North to 3 hits in a 9-3 sectional semifinal victory. Such performances seem like the expectation at this point.
What wasn't expected was the emergence of Ryan Nutof the slugger. He was hitting .217 on May 3 but has since raised his average to .320 (32-for-100). He has 5 doubles, a triple and 4 home runs. His 4 homers, all hit since May 15, tie him with Cary-Grove catcher Wyatt Mascarella for the Fox Valley area lead.
"I started waiting back a little bit," Nutof said of his improved hitting approach. "I was really anxious and I didn't really have a plan going up to the plate. But now I go up there thinking about going the other way, and now that I've used both sides of the field more it's really helped out my average. I can sit back and wait fastballs and I have a couple of home runs because of that."
"Our group has really been concentrating on hitting and Ryan has finally gotten back to the swing he had coming up as a sophomore and the display he put on in the summer before his junior year," South Elgin coach Jim Kating said. "He's gaining confidence. So far in the playoffs he has set the tone for us both offensively and pitching."
Whether Nutof pitches in Friday's semifinal on three days rest for the second straight start is the dilemma facing Kating and staff. One thing they don't doubt is Nutof's desire to take the ball. He wants it, of course.
"I'll get ready for my next outing and I'm ready for anything that comes next," he said after Monday's supersectional victory over Evanston.
Regardless of how the weekend in Joliet or the next three years in Ann Arbor turn out, Nutof intends to remain focused on his long-term goal of someday pitching for a Major League Baseball club like his role models Matt Harvey and Tim Lincecum.
"I want to take it all the way, I really do.," he said. "I think I have the potential to if I just work at. You've got to put your life into it, really. I think if I do that, I'll be pretty good."