Despite pressure to specialize in one sport, some multitalented athletes still want to suit up for two in college
AFTER AVERAGING 16.5 points and 10.6 rebounds as a freshman in the 2004--05 basketball season, Jeannette (Pa.) High's Terrelle Pryor was projected as the nation's top sophomore small forward by scout.com and heard AAU coaches telling him he had NBA potential.
Though he was also expected to be the Jayhawks' starting quarterback the following fall, Pryor decided to transfer to hoops powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in southwest Virginia. "I had my bags packed," he says. But Jeannette's football coaches believed Pryor had just as much potential on the field and wanted to make sure he didn't give up football too soon. "We went to his house and talked to him on his porch," says coach Ray Reitz. "All we wanted him to do was give football a chance."
Pryor stayed at Jeannette, and 2 1/2 years later he is the nation's No. 1 overall football recruit and No. 3 small forward, according to rivals.com. At 6'6" and 225 pounds, he can run the 40 in 4.35 seconds and launch a football more than 60 yards flat-footed. For the 5--0 Jayhawks he has thrown for 638 yards and six touchdowns and run for 434 yards and eight scores. In basketball last season he averaged 21.2 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Pryor says football and basketball coaches at his top six schools—Florida, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia—have all promised him the chance to play both sports. "I'm making sure I go to a good football program first," he says. "At whatever school I choose, I'll jump in for basketball."
Under NCAA rules, schools can offer such two-sport athletes a scholarship in one sport and a walk-on spot in the second. It's rare, but possible, for college athletes to excel in two sports, and some coaches even prefer it. "Kids are fresher when they play more than one sport because they're coached by different people," says Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, whose former forward Matt Trannon also played wide receiver for the Spartans from 2003 to '06.
Pryor and Jonathan Baldwin of Aliquippa (Pa.) High are friends and athletic rivals who played against each other in last year's football and basketball Class AA playoffs, but Baldwin has already abandoned the notion of playing both sports in college. Until last spring Baldwin, a 6'6", 215-pound forward who had averaged 21.3 points, was set on pursuing basketball, but then he realized his skill set gives him a better chance in the NFL as a wide receiver than in the NBA. "In basketball a lot of players are 6'6"," says Baldwin, "but in football you won't find many 6'6" players running a 4.31." Still Baldwin, who is considering six schools, says he may run track in college, primarily to stay in shape for football.
Here are three other seniors who aspire to play two college sports:
Xavier Avery, 5'11", 185, Cedar Grove (Ellenwood, Ga.)
A running back and an outfielder, he has 300 yards and three TDs. He batted .667 with five HRs in only 45 at bats last spring—because he also ran track (sixth at the state meet in the 100 meters).