The way those around him see it, Monte Harrison can’t lose.
In one corner, there’s college life in Lincoln, a chance to be a star in both football and baseball for the Huskers. In another, there are the Milwaukee Brewers, who Thursday picked the outfielder from Lee’s Summit (Mo.) West High School in the second round, the No. 50 pick overall of the Major League Baseball Draft.
Harrison, sporting a stylish suit while attending the draft in Secaucus, N.J., had to wait longer than some expected to hear his name, with most mock drafts projecting him as a first-round pick.
Did Thursday's events improve odds of Husker fans seeing him make a leaping touchdown grab at Memorial Stadium or pull into second base with a stand-up double at Haymarket Park? That'll be wondered aloud often around here until the July 18 deadline for prospects to sign.
He'll still no doubt receive an attractive signing bonus offer — the No. 50 pick is projected to receive approximately $1.1 million. And the Brewers do have a $7.6 million signing bonus pool, ninth-most in the majors. But Milwaukee scouting director Bruce Seid conceded to the team's beat writers that Harrison could be tough to sign.
As Harrison’s mentor Danan Hughes will tell you, the multi-sport star is only staring at good options.
“No matter what, it’s going to be a life-changing opportunity that not a lot of kids experience, whether it’s being a Cornhusker and playing football or baseball, or being a major-league draft pick and opting to go that way,” Hughes said. “Throughout this whole ride, I can say that the pride I’ve felt in him has been enormous.”
Hughes has known Harrison for almost 10 years. They met when Hughes was coaching his son in youth baseball. Even then, Harrison was a step ahead of the crowd, playing for a team with boys two years older. It was clear he was special.
Soon Harrison was playing for Hughes. “We kind of clicked from there.”
Now Hughes considers Harrison like another son, providing good counsel, understanding well what it’s like to be a multi-sport star.
Having starred in both baseball and football at Iowa, Hughes was drafted in the third round of the MLB Draft after his junior year of college. He played two summers in the Brewers' organization, then pursued life in the NFL after being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs. A six-year professional football career followed.
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So he can relate to what Harrison is going through right now, though in Harrison’s case, he has to make a decision coming out of high school.
“I’ve been amazed at how mature he’s handled everything and how grounded he’s been,” Hughes said. “I just compare him to me, and I always tell him I don’t know if I could handle things like he’s done at 17 and 18 years old.”
Then again, Harrison has also had the spotlight basically shining on him since he was in junior high.
He’s grown used to it, learning how to deal with all the interviews, the attention, the pressure.
“People recognized that he was something special in every sport he played early on,” Hughes said. “So people are always amazed at how he’s handled himself these last six to eight months. But, really, it’s more about how he’s handled it for probably the last five or six years.”
But that spotlight will be shining brighter than ever over the next month. Harrison's skill set on the football field makes him arguably the biggest recruit in Nebraska 2014 class.
And while some Nebraska fans, having seen the likes of Carl Crawford and Bubba Starling choose pro baseball over the Huskers, may still be skeptical Harrison will go NU's way, those around the standout athlete aren’t short-changing the opportunity he could get by coming to Lincoln.
Hughes works with the Big Ten Network and has been around Husker coaches Bo Pelini and Darin Erstad.
“The exact words I’ve told Monte is, you will not regret being a part of Big Red, and being in Big Red country,” Hughes said. “The idea of playing football in front of 90,000-plus people, of playing baseball in front of 5,000-plus people, will be an experience that you couldn’t even imagine. But …”
Yes, there’s always a “but” with these types of decisions.
“But if you have a dream of playing professional baseball and that seems like that’s the better option at the time, then, obviously, that’s your dream and you can follow your dream. So I don’t think there’s a bad situation out there.
“Obviously, coming from Iowa, I know what it is to be the only team in town. And Nebraska loves their football just like Iowa loves their football. And to have a two-sport star like him, I know first-hand how it would be to be a part of that. He knows that. … He knows what it’s like to be that kind of celebrity to some extent. I think he would relish any opportunity.”