A rare breed on college campuses — the multisport athlete

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These days, athletes are stronger, smarter and more skilled than ever before. The dream for many young kids playing youth sports across the country is to become a Division I athlete, which takes years of dedication, practice and sacrifice. But it also takes a certain degree of natural talent to reach that level of success.

Within the elite ranks exists an even more elite rank of freak athletic specimen who can seemingly do it all. In the Division I sphere, the select few who fall into that category often are seen playing and excelling at more than one sport.

While more common in the early days of college athletics, the multisport athlete has been considered an endangered species, so to speak, on college campuses. Given the already slim chances to earn an athletic scholarship today, how could it be that someone is good enough for two entirely different sports?

Think about it — growing up, there was always that one kid in all the sports you played who was consistently the best. The genetic gift of pure athleticism allows them to shine in almost every sport they try. But for someone to carry that level of commitment all the way through to the college ranks is a special feat.

With the emergence of Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, the profile of the multisport athlete has been put back under the national spotlight. A first-round draft pick by the Oakland A’s in the 2018 MLB draft, Murray returned to the University of Oklahoma to play football for one more season — one in which he became a superstar. Despite valiant efforts by Oakland’s front office to keep him in the organization, Murray has turned his focus solely to football and will be entering April’s NFL draft.

Ultimately, Murray had to make the choice of one sport over the other — a choice that, for many high-profile athletes, is made during high school or even earlier. Going into the professional ranks becomes your full-time job, so it’s hard for it to be any other way. Certainly, he’s a rare case where pure talent is matched by his skill in both baseball and football.

On the other hand, Cal’s Brandon McIlwain is a prime example of a situation where his athletic ability, more so than any sort of superior technique, carried him to success on the football field. Primarily a running quarterback, his ability to scramble allowed him to make explosive plays.

Famously, many football stars have also been seen to have success on the baseball field, such as the great Bo Jackson, who is arguably the best-known athlete to have professional success in more than one sport. There are many cases, however, of athletes competing in combinations of sports that are a little more obscure.

Last June, Stanford athlete Jenna Gray was the runner-up in the javelin throw at the NCAA track and field championships, and this past fall, she was a first-team All-American and starting setter for the women’s volleyball team that won a national championship.

Truly, the most impressive part of it all is the ability of these young people to dedicate their college lives to athletics while also having to maintain their responsibilities as students. Just as college athletes are more talented and skilled than ever, classes and schoolwork at many of the top Division I schools have seen increased competition, as well.

It is not a lifestyle for the faint of heart. While many people doubt the ability of young college students to sustain being multisport athletes in these modern times, it’s clear that if you want to make it happen, you can. It takes a level of passion, determination and, of course, natural athletic ability to fit the bill, though.

Charlie Griffen writes the Tuesday sports column about the evolution and current trends of college athletics. Contact him at [email protected].