Youngbeck's tenacity, determination made him a success

Senior catcher overcame football injury to have banner season

Aug. 9, 2011

Brown Deer - It's never been about the easy way out for Brown Deer All-Suburban catcher Brett Youngbeck.

Just ask his coach Mike Donahue how the four-year letter-winner, who spent the first two years of his career with the Falcons as an infielder, got his current job which involves being run into by determined base runners, diving into the dust to stop errant breaking balls and ducking the occasional swinging bat.

"He came up and asked me if he could go back to catching," said Donahue. "And he was serious about it.

"It always seems that's where I've been put," Youngbeck said, who grew up in Brown Deer starting in the fourth grade. "I always thought I was a good catcher. I love being in control of the game.

"…It was funny, when they put me at second base (for the state qualifying squad of that season). All I could think about was not messing up."

And so, with his comfort level very high, he continued catching this year despite damaging his MCL in his right knee late in the Falcons' Woodland Conference championship football season last fall.

His position at the time? The far more glamorous calling of quarterback.

Youngbeck worked hard to rehabilitate the injury with Brown Deer trainer Carla Larson and would have been ready to come back for a second-round state playoff game had the Falcons not been upset in the first round.

"Faced with such a difficult situation and the frustration of not being able to play Brett didn't complain or ask 'why me,'" said Larson. "He didn't show any type of pity or anger. Disappointment, yes, but also determination to be ready to get back to playing.

"Brett's perseverance in his rehab during football and during the off-season allowed him to be able to be the catcher for baseball. With knee injuries, the catcher's position isn't always the best position, but Brett's hard work paid off."

In a spectacular way, as Youngbeck worked with a talented, but young pitching staff, he led the Falcons to a 19-12 final mark. He will carry his determination onto Wisconsin Lutheran College this fall, where he will try to play both football and baseball and will also try to follow in Larson's footsteps and train to become a physical therapist.

"She's such a great role model," said Youngbeck. "The fact that she got me all the way back (while still in the football season) was nothing short of miraculous."

Well, maybe miraculous isn't quite the right word here. Maybe determined would be.

"She had me work the muscles around the ligaments and that helped a lot," said Youngbeck. "You can do that with MCLs. With the ACL (the more commonly known knee injury), you have to go in and surgically repair it."

Grateful not to have surgery, Youngbeck did have at it in the training room, as Larson put him through a series of calf raises, squats, leg lifts and other difficult, repetitive exercises all designed to get him back on the field.

"I also swam in the pool and did other things," he said. "I worked my tail off."

Larson noticed.

"Brett showed maturity and followed the exercises and focused on his rehab," she said. "He was in the training room every day sometimes twice a day doing what he had to do to get back."

Yes, he was, and it paid off, as Youngbeck said he was back doing some catching workouts by January-February and was ready to go for the baseball season by the time summer rolled around. That's when he joined other former football players like Chris Smith and Brian Michalica.

Smith, a two-time All-Suburban football choice at running back, also lost out on a good chunk of his grid season because of injury.

"Chris and I talk about that," said Youngbeck. "We think about how far we could have gone had both of us been healthy."

In lieu of that, Youngbeck worked hard on keeping the morale of the pitching staff, which was mainly underclassmen, in one piece this summer.

"I don't think we had a pitcher older than a junior," he said, "but I loved that staff. It was an interesting group, and I tried very hard to keep their morale up through tough times. It was really up and down sometimes.

"When they were hitting their spots it was great, but when the wheels fell off, I had to step in, in a hurry."

Defensively, he was actually disappointed that more people didn't try to run on him.

"No one really tried to steal," he said. "I can remember only throwing out a handful of guys. Blocking pitches was another thing. It took awhile for me to get going (on that) until I finally told myself just get down in the dirt and get it. The pads are there for a reason."

And all that wear and tear did nothing to hurt Youngbeck's offense this year.

"I had a bit of a down year last year that way," he said. "This year I was determined to come in and tear the cover off the ball. I really went after the school (career) RBI mark. I'm not sure if I got it or not."

Donahue said Youngbeck's improvement was impressive.

"He just got better and better every year (offensively)," said Donahue. "He was by far and away our most consistent player."

The large senior group on the team (seven all told) would have liked to have gone further in the WIAA playoffs, but lost in the regional when they ran into a hot pitcher in Whitefish Bay's Jack Fagan, who led the Blue Dukes all the way to the WIAA state semifinals.

"That was really too bad," said Youngbeck, "because we had been really hitting the ball the last couple of weeks leading into that game."

Youngbeck is now ready to turn his abundant energy to college. The major will be sports and exercise science before he embarks on the training program for physical therapy.

He'll miss all his friends in what had become a very close senior class.

"We really were," he said. "We all knew each other so well and that's what helped us win games in the long run."

Often doing it the hard way.

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