Commentary

Recruiters, coaches often conflicted about multisport athletes

Originally Published: July 30, 2008
By Brendan Murphy | ESPN.com

While Clemson's Kyle Parker was powering his way to ACC baseball freshman of the year honors -- during what would have been the final semester of his senior year of high school, had he not graduated early -- he also was falling behind. He wasn't in the film room. He wasn't studying his playbook.

[+] EnlargeKyle Parker
Clemson UniversityKyle Parker enrolled in classes at Clemson early and took home the ACC rookie of the year award.

Parker is a rare specimen in college athletics. During the spring he's a utility man, beating the opposition with power and precision. During the fall, he's a dual-threat QB -- one of the top-ranked signal-callers in the recruiting class of 2008 -- with the potential to lead the Tigers to that elusive ACC football title.

So, after hitting .303, bashing 14 homers and knocking in 50 runs, Parker won't spend his summer dazzling on the diamond in the Cape Cod League. Instead, the two-sport talent will add wisdom (by watching film) and bulk (by benching barbells).

"I got behind on a lot of things [during baseball season]," Parker said. "I am making them up this summer and trying to get back and make up the ground that I lost whenever I was with baseball."

Although athletes who play two sports are fairly uncommon in the collegiate ranks, Parker isn't alone. In fact, four players on Clemson's 2007 football team played two sports: Safety Spencer Adams, wideout Jacoby Ford and running back C.J. Spiller run track, and kicker Mark Buchholz played soccer.

Parker's talent is such that the reigning freshman All-American likely would have been drafted to play baseball out of high school. It's his love of both sports that led him to Clemson.

"That was probably the biggest reason I came [to Clemson]," said Parker, who likely will redshirt the 2008 football season. "I felt that the coaches from football and baseball had a good understanding that I wanted to play both sports."

Clemson football recruiting coordinator Billy Napier says the Tigers don't shy away from going after two-sport athletes. But he considers all of Clemson's two-sport athletes football players first.

"I think that's something you ask yourself during the recruiting process," he said. "You make sure you ask those questions to the kid and the family to make sure their priorities are with football. And that's where their heart and their passion is."

For coaches in sports that have smaller scholarship limitations, adding a two-sport talent can be a great benefit.

We have a great relationship with other coaching staffs here and they, a lot of times, will get involved with the recruiting. In particular, when those men are talented enough to help them be successful, they know as staffs that it's not going to cost them a scholarship. & So baseball is getting a great baseball player, a freshman all-American, and track and field is getting guys that are finishing top-three in their event and scoring points for them without having to give up a scholarship.

-- Clemson football recruiting director Billy Napier

"We have a great relationship with other coaching staffs here and they, a lot of times, will get involved with the recruiting," Napier said. "In particular, when those men are talented enough to help them be successful, they know as staffs that it's not going to cost them a scholarship. … So baseball is getting a great baseball player, a freshman all-American, and track and field is getting guys that are finishing top-three in their event and scoring points for them without having to give up a scholarship."

Sometimes, scheduling conflicts and other extenuating circumstances force a talented high school athlete to choose one sport.

Kristi Kingma -- a two-time winner of the Seattle Times female athlete of the year award -- played soccer, track and basketball at Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Wash. During the first two years of her high school career, she was heavily recruited by several Pac-10 schools to play soccer. But a summer growth spurt gave her a new perspective.

"When I got to be a sophomore, I was like 5-9 or 5-10 and I started to be able to do things on the basketball court that a lot of kids couldn't do," Kingma said. "I decided that basketball would be a better fit for me because I continued to get better at basketball."

Next year, Kingma, the No. 45 player in the nation according to ESPN HoopGurlz, will be a freshman basketball player at the University of Washington. She says the decision to play one sport at the collegiate level was not easy.

"It was probably the hardest decision, besides choosing a college, I've ever made in my life," she said. "I grew up playing soccer, and my dream was to play on the U.S. Olympic soccer team."

Washington women's basketball coach Tia Jackson is elated that Kingma elected to be a Huskie. She says that Kingma's game has been improving steadily this summer, her first when she's concentrated solely on hoops.

"She was a player that never rested," Jackson said. "She has blossomed [as a basketball player] in one season, and I mean season, as in the spring. She's getting better. She's getting stronger. She's just a lot more focused."

Kristi Kingma
HoopGurlzKristi Kingma committed to Washington as a sophomore.

Jackson wouldn't be opposed to an athlete's playing two sports. Her concern, and one that seems pertinent to any coach who's working with a two-sport athlete, is the lack of specialization.

"Not to say it's not possible, but when you've got someone that is training year-round for a sport, as opposed to focusing on more than that, [two-sport athletes] tend to have some slippage," Jackson said.

"Some get away with it, and Kristi might have been one of those."

Certainly, there are benefits of playing two sports. Kingma says that playing soccer helped her footwork in basketball. And the most obvious advantage is aerobic.

"There was never a time when I wasn't the person who was in the best shape out of every one I played," Kingma said.

Napier says that offseason participation in track and field generally pays off come fall.

"If you look at the track and field calendar in particular, I think that is the one I would be the biggest fan of. … Those guys end up missing the first two weeks of summer," he said. "To be honest with you, a lot of that time that they miss is during spring break, it's during discretionary time after spring break, and they really show up in great shape."

At Clemson, the two-sport athlete is a bit of a tradition. Napier says that is part of his sales pitch to recruits.

"Since we've been doing it for some time, we can say we know how to train [two-sport athletes] and provide you with the best academic support," he said.

"We've heard all different kinds of opinions from other schools on these kids during recruiting. Some people don't think it's a bonus. Some do."

Parker knows a day likely will come when he'll have to choose between baseball and football. That seems to be the case for any athlete not named Bo. But, as a two-sport standout, there's no time to look ahead.

"As of right now, I am just enjoying it day by day," Parker said. "I know there's gonna come a point where I have to choose one or the other. But I don't think it's going to be too soon, and I am not really too worried about it. "

Brendan Murphy is an associate editor at ESPN.com. He can be reached at Brendan.R.Murphy@espn3.com.