sports fans, the holidays are always celebrated amidst the numerous
college football bowl games. While it can be argued that there are
too many games, and in essence, teams that qualify, the sheer number
of contests extends this sports holiday more than a week into the New
though baseball isn't as easy to come by during the winter months,
aside from two back-to-back Perfect Game showcases filled with
impressive ballplayers, there are also several players on the
gridiron that once had legitimate professional baseball aspirations.
most notable of which this season is Florida quarterback Jeff
athleticism sets him apart from even his peers in the high-flying
Southeastern Conference, a conference that has claimed each of the
last six National Championships, including two by the Florida Gators.
While the Gators can't claim this year's championship, they ride
into the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 against Louisville ranked as the No. 4
team in the nation according to the Associated Press.
win could push the Gators to a No. 2 finish nationally depending on
how the other bowl games shake out, which could allow Driskel to
attain national fame much like his predecessor under center at
Florida, Tim Tebow.
Driskel wasn't available for comment due to his preparation for the
Sugar Bowl, his high school and travel ball coach, Jered Goodwin, was
quick to offer praise for his former player during this past
weekend's National Underclass Showcase – Main Event in Fort Myers,
still really really close to him,” Goodwin said reflecting on his
relationship with Driskel. “I'm actually going to see him (play)
in New Orleans. He's an awesome kid. Still is. Very humble kid.
Athletically he could have done whatever he wanted. If he wanted to
be a professional baseball player he would have been a professional
has been able to win over several prominent national two-sport stars
in recent years, most notably of which are former quarterbacks Zach
Lee, Archie Bradley and Bubba Starling. All three are among the top
prospects in the game, and were all first round picks that received
multi-million dollar signing bonuses from the Dodgers, Diamondbacks
and Royals respectively.
skills as a quarterback caused him to be ranked as the No. 1
quarterback prospect in the nation after his senior season at Oviedo
Hagarty High School, and after committing to play for the Gators he
recognized his opportunity and decided to leave his high school a semester early
to learn Florida's offensive playbook.
came to me one day before his senior year and said, “Coach, I
really think I need to go to school early – but I don't want to let
you down,”” Goodwin said of Driskel's decision. “When he came
in he was worried about it. I told him that I would be a fan of his
whether he was playing baseball or football. When you're a
quarterback, that's the supermodel position. And when you're that
good, what else are you going to do?
a new fad, at Florida especially,” Goodwin continued, speaking to
the increasing number of football players that leave high school
early. “They probably have six or seven freshman per year that do
it on the football side of it. He's young. He didn't turn 18 until
after finals of his freshman semester. He's just 19 years old, and
he'll be done with his junior year by summer. He'll be a 20-year old
senior. It's pretty incredible with the workload between weights and
class and football and study hall or whatever.”
testament of his maturity, the 6-foot-4, 237-pound athlete was thrown
into the fire, playing in five games as a true freshman. Not only
did he have a crash-course learning the offense, but he also
had to deal with incredibly high expectations following a long line
of impressive Florida quarterbacks, including Heisman Trophy winners
Danny Wuerffel and Tebow.
background story provides plenty of intrigue. The son of a Naval
officer, Driskel was born in Jacksonville but moved to Japan at age
7. In 2003 his family moved back to Florida when his father retired
from the Navy, making Oviedo their home.
the fourth year of the school's varsity football program, Driskel was
named the team's starting quarterback as a freshman and threw for
4,844 yards leading his team to its first winning record. During his senior
year, as the team's offense morphed from a pro-style attack to a
spread formation, he threw for 1,819 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran
for another 1,333 yards and 20 touchdowns.
season, his first full year as the Gators signal caller, Driskel has
completed over 64-percent of his passes, and is also his team's
second leading rusher. He has led his team to an 11-1 record and
their No. 4 ranking. Some of his biggest wins came over big SEC
opponents including the LSU Tigers and the Johnny Heisman-led Texas
A&M Aggies, as well as another against Florida's hated in-state
rivals, Florida State.
his team's only loss of the year against Georgia, Driskel threw two
of the three interceptions he has on the year.
as good as Driskel is at football, he could have been a star playing
the game of baseball. A legitimate five-tool talent, he proved that
baseball was still a part of his future plans when he attended the
2010 National Showcase at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay
went to the Perfect Game National and literally hadn't swung a bat
except for one time since before spring football started,” Goodwin
recalled. “So that's like five weeks. He took one BP before the
National and he ended up hitting a couple of home runs in the home
run derby, ran a 6.5 (60-yard dash) and threw 94-95 from the
outfield. It's just incredible the type of athleticism (he has). He
had a long ways to go, as he needed a lot of at-bats before he
reached his potential.
knew he wasn't playing baseball his senior year, but continued to
play for me that summer. He just wanted to have fun.”
knows baseball talent when he sees it. Not only does he coach for
Oviedo Hagerty, but he is also one of the Head Coaches for the prominent FTB
(Florida Travel Ball) organization. When comparing Driskel to some
of the other talented players that he has coached with FTB, including
PG All-Americans and 2012 first-round picks Albert Almora, David Dahl
and Jesse Winker, Goodwin was quick to point out the one thing that
sets them apart.
he's more talented than all of them,” Goodwin said. “There's no
one that I've ever had that is more athletic. You get a guy like
Winker and (Dan) Vogelbach who are two of the most accomplished and
professional ready hitters that I've ever had at that point. For
guys like Almora and Dahl the game just comes so easy for them.
wasn't as far along in his progress as those other guys, but
athletically he's off the charts.”
Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel doesn't play baseball
anymore, he certainly hasn't left it behind.
actually came back for senior night, and he did the whole ceremony
with us,” Goodwin said, speaking to Driskel's character. “That
was special to me because that was the first time I had been in a
place long enough to see kids from freshmen to seniors. We only had
five kids in that (senior) class, but four of them (went on to) play college
summer he came to one of our travel ball tournaments. He came out
and asked if he could take BP and jumped right in the cage and had
fun being around with the guys. Some of our guys were a little in
awe of him knowing who he was and the opportunity that he had this
year. To come out on a weekend off to hang out with your travel ball
team is pretty neat especially with everything he had going on last
summer with him trying to win the starting quarterback job. He's
just a good kid that remembers his roots.”
of what happens in the Sugar Bowl, it appears Driskel is poised
for greatness. Heading into the 2013 season, the Florida Gators will once again be led by a
quarterback with legitimate Heisman aspirations and will be
considered one of the preseason favorites to claim the National
Championship. Despite those lofty expectations, it does cause you to
pause and wonder “what if?"
my opinion he turned down (a lot of money), especially talking to
people afterwards,” Goodwin said of Driskel's decision to choose
football over baseball. “Just because I coached him in baseball I
want to say (his decision) was closer than it probably was.
earned everything he has accomplished and I'm really proud of him.”
The NFL's insistence on cutting down on head injuries and concussions is indicative of the violent nature all football players subject themselves to. Baseball also has an advantage when it comes to guaranteed contracts, and because of that the sport has done a good job luring more two-sport athletes to put football, and not baseball, behind them.
Lee, Bradley and
Starling as mentioned above chose professional baseball careers despite having attractive commitments to play quarterback for perennial college football powerhouses LSU, Oklahoma and Nebraska respectively.
The Cubs were
able to persuade Notre Dame receiving star Jeff Samardzija to focus on baseball full-time,
while the Yankees did the same with Michigan quarterback Drew Henson before he returned to
has had its share of victories as well, claiming Jake Locker, the No.
8 overall pick of the Tennessee Titans in the 2011 draft, and 2009
Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart, Adrian Peterson's backup for the
Minnesota Vikings. Wide receivers Eric Decker (Broncos) and Riley
Cooper (Eagles) also chose football despite having considerable
baseball promise as speedy, hard-hitting outfielders.
Broncos great John Elway hit .318 in 42 games for the Yankees New
York-Penn League affiliate in 1982. Jay Schroeder hit .213 during
four seasons in the lower levels of the Toronto Blue Jays system
after they took him third overall in the 1979 MLB Draft.
are also extremely rare cases of two-sport athletes actually playing
both sports at the highest level. Bo Jackson is the most notable of
such players, who was named an All-Star in both football and baseball
before a hip injury ended his NFL career and dramatically shortened
his MLB one. Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan are two others, although
both eventually focused on one sport (Sanders football, Jordan baseball) recognizing how difficult it was
to play both.
are several other notable college football players, most of whom will be playing in various bowl games over the next few days, that also had considerable pro potential as baseball players:
teammate Raphael Andrades was drafted this past June by the
Royals after running a 6.68 60 at the Sunshine East Showcase the
weekend before the draft. Andrades is expected to receive more playing
time in future years.
Long, the son of NFL Hall of Fame member Howie, and brother of
current St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris, is an offensive lineman
for the Oregon Ducks. Long started his college career at Florida
State where he surprised people by pursuing a baseball career and not
one on the gridiron. Powerfully built at 6-foot-7, 280-pounds coming
out of high school (now 6-7/311), Long had impressive power potential
as a left-handed hitting first baseman, and an equally powerful arm
on the mound as a left-handed pitcher. He peaked at 96 mph at the
2007 National Showcase and was selected to participate in the
PG/Aflac All-American Classic that summer. Long left Florida State
during his freshman year for personal reasons, and later attended
Saddleback College to resume his collegiate career, this time as a
football player. He started there as a defensive lineman, like both
his father and brother, before making the switch to the other side of
the ball in 2011. He has since transferred to Oregon, opening the
year as the team's backup left tackle. The Ducks play Kansas State
on Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl.
State defensive back and primary punt returner Jordan
Poyer led the team with seven interceptions for the
defensive-minded Beavers. Poyer had one punt return for 20 yards in Oregon State's 31-27 loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. The Marlins made him their pick in the 42nd round as an outfielder out of high school.
Golson was considered one of the top overall athletes eligible
for the 2011 draft, and was ranked by Perfect Game as the 33rd best prospect in his high school class nationally. Most felt the
Boston Red Sox would be able to sign him when they selected him in
the eighth round of the 2011 draft, even if it meant they also
allowed him to pursue a collegiate football career. That wasn't the
case. His game is personified by his game-changing speed, but he
also handles the bat well despite his need for refinement, which is
expected to come with more experience. As a cornerback for Ole
Miss, Golson had one interception in 12 games as a freshman, and has
two this season with one more game to play, the BBVA Compass Bowl, where Golson and the Rebels will face Pittsburgh on Jan. 5. He also played 22 games for the
baseball team last spring, hitting .204 in 54 at-bats.
Tech cornerback and return specialist Jamal Golden was ranked
the 168th prospect in the high school class of 2011, and
attended the 2010 National Showcase where he ran a 6.91 60-yard dash and threw
91 mph from the outfield. He serves as the Yellow Jackets primary
kick and punt returner, averaging 29 yards per kick return with two touchdowns and a long of 100 yards this past season. Golden also
finished second on the team with two interceptions. Jamal's uncle is
former PG/Aflac All-American Reggie Golden, now a member of the
Chicago Cubs organization. Golden and his Georgia Tech teammates
take on USC in the Sun Bowl today (Dec. 31).
• Facing Golden and the Yellow Jackets will be Southern
Cal's T.J. McDonald, son of former all-pro safety Tim
McDonald. T.J. may not play baseball anymore, but his athleticism prompted
the Blue Jays to take him in the 30th round of the 2009
draft. The hard hitting safety could be drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL
Draft after leading the Trojans in tackles with 99.
Commings is a three-year starter for the Georgia Bulldogs at
cornerback. His three interceptions are tied for the team lead, and
he also has 43 tackles as he prepares to take on Nebraska in the
Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. Commings played in two WWBA tournaments
with the Homeplate Yankees, and was taken by the Diamondbacks as an
outfielder in the 37th round of the 2008 draft.
midseason suspension last year, injuries and a loaded depth chart
full of promising running backs at LSU has made regular carries more
difficult for Spencer Ware to come by this season. He has 383
yards after rushing for 707 yards in 2011, and is considered a
promising NFL prospect at the position. He played the outfield for
the Midland Braves and Cincinnati Playground All-Stars at a handful
of WWBA tournament events in high school. LSU plays Clemson today (Dec. 31) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Rockies have shown a preference for college quarterbacks for quite
some time, leading them to draft all-time great Todd Helton and one
of their top prospects, Kyle Parker. They also took Central Michigan's
signal caller, Ryan Radcliff, in the 34th round of
the 2008 draft. Radcliff has thrown for 3,158 yards and 23
touchdowns this year. Three of those throwing scores came in a 24-21 victory over Western Kentucky in the Little
Casesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26, including the go-ahead strike late in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
quarterback from the Midwest, Northwestern's Trevor Siemian,
also has enjoyed success throwing the football. He has split time at
the position, throwing for 1,192 yards and six touchdowns. Siemian
played with the Orlando Scorpions in three WWBA tournaments as an
infielder/outfielder. Northwestern will play Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl Jan. 1.
teammates Travis Feeney and Evan Hudson played in
the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl on December 22, losing to Boise State, 28-26. Feeney,
a converted safety, had two interceptions this year and his 67
tackles were good for third best for the Huskies. Feeney played the
outfield in high school, and was selected by the A's in the 48th round of the 2011 draft.
hulking 6-foot-5, 262-pound Hudson arrived on campus as a promising
right-handed pitcher, and has since developed into a capable backup
Jameis Winston and Anthony Alford participated in the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., where their
two-sport abilities were well known. They both exhibited high level
baseball skills as well.
Winston participated in the 2011 Perfect
Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings, and is the only
All-American to have a steal of home. Now a member of the Seminoles,
Winston slipped to the 15th round (Rangers) because of his
two-sport endeavors, and red-shirted this past year. The Seminoles
play Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.
selecting and signing Alford in the third round of the 2012 draft,
the Blue Jays allowed him to pursue a collegiate football career in
addition to pro baseball. Alford played in nine games for Southern
Miss this season, starting five of them, but was suspended from
the team due to an off-field incident and has since left school.
FSU teammate Tyler Hunter participated at the 2010 National
Showcase, where he ran a 6.76 60 and threw 90 mph from the outfield.
That led to him being taken in the 48th round of the 2011
draft by the Orioles. Now a defensive back for the Seminoles,
Hunter's three interceptions are tied for the team lead.
Quarterback Terrance Owens hasn't played baseball since the
ninth grade, but that didn't stop the San Diego Padres from selecting
Owens in the 40th round of the 2012 draft. Owens is a
tremendous athlete at 6-foot-4, 195-pounds, and the Padres obviously
felt that those measurables would fit well on the mound. Toledo lost
to Utah State on Dec. 15 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl where he
completed 6 of his 17 passes for 30 yards.
the years to come keep an eye on Missouri quarterback Corbin
Berkstresser and South Carolina running back Shon Carson.
Berkstresser is built big and strong at 6-foot-3, 230-pounds,
and he showed very good power potential and arm strength from the hot
corner at the 2009 Junior National Showcase. He made 10 appearances
for the Tigers this season, starting four games throwing for 1,059
yards and five touchdowns.
missed the past two seasons for the Gamecocks with knee (2011) and
wrist (2012) injuries, but has electric speed as evidenced by the 6.35
60-yard dash he ran at the 2010 National Showcase. He was ranked
54th in the 2011 high school class.
Porter should receive more regular playing time for UCLA as a
hard-hitting linebacker in the years to come, and could also have an impact on the Bruins baseball team this coming spring after
hitting .494 as a high school senior.
not in the bowl picture, Tyler Shreve is a talented and
accomplished two-sport athlete who started his career at Utah. He
has since transferred to Riverside CC (Calif.) to play both sports,
where he completed over 67-percent of his passes and threw five
touchdowns. Coming out of high school in 2010 he was ranked by
Perfect Game as the 69th best high school prospect. After
being clocked as high as 93 mph at the 2009 National Showcase he was
selected to participate in the PG/Aflac All-American Classic that summer.
Miami Hurricanes have fallen far from the national dominance they
enjoyed not too long ago. Two-sport star David Thompson, a
quarterback, hopes to be a big part of more successful teams moving
forward. Thompson took a red-shirt this year as a freshman, but is
expected to pull double duty starting next year while also serving as
a power hitting outfielder for the Hurricanes baseball team. He
broke Prince Fielder's all-time Florida high school home run record
with 44 and was drafted by the Yankees in the 38th round