By James Kay
Just weeks into his sophomore year at Riverside-Brookfield High School, Owen Murphy has verbally committed to play baseball at the University of Notre Dame when he graduates in 2022.
After months of heavy recruitment from elite programs around the country, Murphy landed with the Fighting Irish as a two-way player on a partial scholarship.
"One of the biggest things for me was that I wanted to play for an ACC school and be able to continue to pitch and play on the left side of the infield," said Murphy. "Notre Dame checked off both of those boxes."
As a freshman at RBHS, Murphy slashed his way to a .401 batting average, .569 slugging percentage, while mashing three home runs. He also dominated on the bump in the 29 innings he pitched.
Murphy recorded a 1.69 ERA, struck out 43 batters, and only gave up seven earned runs. Right now, he is touching 88 mph on the radar gun and hopes to be up in the lower-90s by the spring.
However, it wasn't his elite-level performances at Riverside-Brookfield that caught the eyes of college scouts. Murphy plays for one of the most prestigious travel baseball programs in the Midwest (Rake City), and he got to travel with the age group above him last summer.
Even though Murphy wasn't one of biggest players, his Rake City coach, Jared Koutnik, recognized Murphy's mature skills on the field, and felt he was ready to play with the older group.
"Right now, he is as gifted as any high school junior, and honestly could play up with the 18 [year-old group,]" said Koutnik. "I mean, he's still a kid. He's growing but the talent is all there. I've only had one kid commit at his age, and that player is now playing in the Astros farm system. [Murphy] is a special kid."
Koutnik is a well-known face in the college baseball world. When his team rolls into town, college coaches go up to him and pick his brain about the young players on his roster. They ask for him to circle the names of the top players on the team's roster so they can get a closer look at who they should keep an eye on. Last summer, Murphy's name was circled.
Rake City traveled throughout the south this past August, and they landed in the PBR Future Games in Georgia. It wasn't until Murphy strolled to the batter's box when the magnitude of the situation hit him.
"When I got up to home plate, I look in front of me and there were like 150 coaches," said Murphy.
"I was nervous, but I took my warmups and told myself that it was just time to play. I knew I was only going to get two innings of work in the tournament and that this was going to be my shot. I'm glad with how it turned out."
According to Koutnik, Murphy overcame one shaky inning of pitching during his time at the showcase to dazzle multiple college scouts. Clemson, Xavier, TCU and Louisville were among the teams interested in the 15 year old's services. However, Notre Dame was the program that he felt an immediate connection to.
"When Notre Dame started looking at me for the futures games and I talked [Notre Dame coaches] Link Jarrett, Rich Wallace and Scott Wingo, I was just blown away," said Murphy. "They are all great baseball minds, and I love talking baseball with them."
Before they signed on to be coaches at Notre Dame, Wingo and Wallace coached at Jacksonville University in 2018. Murphy had a chance to meet them two summers ago when Rake City was traveling to the Wilson Premiere tournament in Florida. They talked with Murphy, and they quickly formed a bond.
Fast-forward to months after the PBR tournament, Koutnik had been in touch with the coaches at Notre Dame. They offered Murphy the scholarship his family was looking for, the opportunity to be a two-way player (something other schools hadn't offered him at the time) and the chance to stay close to home.
"It was a win for the family since Notre Dame is close to [Brookfield] and Owen gets the chance to play for an ACC team," said Koutnik. "It worked out well for everybody."
Despite making a life-altering decision this early in high school, Murphy isn't worried that he didn't wait longer to commit to a school.
"Honestly, I viewed it as a great opportunity," said Murphy. "My coaches encouraged me to commit also since they pointed out that this is not only a great playing opportunity but the education is way up there. It's also hard being a northern boy going to play down south. I didn't think I was going to commit this early but this is a dream come true and I can't wait to compete for [Notre Dame]."