Cary-Grove's Priester took a risk, but it paid off in the end
Cary-Grove baseball star Quinn Priester risked millions of dollars to play high school football.
The cherished memories he takes with him as a result of that decision are priceless.
Named the 2019 Daily Herald Male Athlete of the Year in the Fox Valley, Priester was Cary-Grove's triple-option quarterback in 2016 and 2017, but he moved to split end and defensive back last summer.
Also last summer, Priester's stock in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft rose sharply after he showed scouts he was past a brief bout with tendinitis and again pitching at an elite level.
National experts began projecting Priester as a potential first-round pick. All picks in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft have slotted values. For example, the last pick in the first round gets $2.25 million.
Had Priester suffered a major injury on the gridiron, he likely would have slid out of the first round, perhaps beyond. The financial risk was real.
In an interview last Tuesday, a day after 6-foot-3, 202-pound right-hander was drafted No. 18 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in a slot valued at $3.4 million, Priester admitted he considered not playing football. "I'd say 90 percent of the people I talked to told me not to play," he said. "People told me it made no sense."
Even aunts and uncles expressed concern to Quinn's mom and dad, Chris and Andy.
"Everybody was just worried about him getting hurt," Chris said. "They asked why we were letting him do it."
There was a backup plan. Priester had been committed to Texas Christian baseball since his sophomore year. The family was told by TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle that if Quinn did get hurt playing football, TCU would still honor its baseball scholarship offer.
"We were 100 percent supportive of him playing football," Andy said, "but what the TCU coaches said was very, very reassuring because that assured his future regardless of the injury risk."
Quinn explained his desire to play football this way: "I love the sport. I decided I was gonna live it up. If things happen and I get hurt, so be it. I'm going to know that I got hurt doing something that I love. I'll get healthy and still be good."
Did MLB scouts appreciate that he played football?
"They all loved it," he said. "They all want athletic guys. I'm telling you, I think the only people who want kids to specialize are people who directly benefit from it, meaning the travel ball coaches who will get more money from the parents. The only time I heard 'You should specialize,' was from guys who would benefit from it personally. They're not thinking about the kids' best interest, just their own."
Thus, Priester played football. He was a force at split end for team that went 14-0 and won the Class 6A state championship. He led the team with 671 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches. The All-Area pick capped his football career with a leaping 4-yard touchdown catch in a 35-13 title-game victory.
Priester quickly switched to baseball mode. He trained on winter weekends with White Sox director of conditioning Allen Thomas. Meanwhile, the family took home meetings with representatives from 28 MLB teams from December through mid-February.
The fireballer with the sharp curveball pitched in front of 20-30 MLB scouts each time he took the mound this spring. Clocked as high as 97 mph, Priester won two playoff games to cap an 8-2 season. He posted a 1.16 ERA and struck out 91 in 60⅓ innings.
One of his favorite senior-year memories is the happy bus ride home from Champaign. He was on the offensive bus and said "it was just live."
Priester played DJ in the back, his Bluetooth speaker pumping out Cary-Grove's familiar postgame playlist. Surrounded by buddies Zach Perrone, Addison West, Ben McDonald and Danny Daigle, he danced and sang all the way back to Cary, a moment etched in his memory forever.
"I loved every single second of the football season," Priester said. "There really wasn't much not to love. I'm really glad I made that decision."