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February 25, 2014

Two-sport athletes find balance beyond football

There's more to Florida State than just football for many Seminole athletes these days.

For Jameis Winston, there's baseball. For Marquez White, there's basketball. For Jalen Ramsey and John Franklin, there's track and field. When one season ends, another begins.

"If you're talented in both sports, why not help out the school at both?" Franklin said.

Competing in two sports was a significant factor for all four of those athletes as they made their college decisions. Each chose Florida State in part for the opportunity to pursue opportunities outside of football. Now the entire athletic department is reaping the rewards.

It's a process that begins early in the recruiting process, when prospects first broach the subject of playing more than one sport with head coach Jimbo Fisher. Florida State built a reputation for supporting athletes participating in multiple sports dating back to stars like Deion Sanders and Charlie Ward while Bobby Bowden coached the Seminoles from 1976-2009, and Fisher continued that tradition.

"I just want a young man to have the opportunity to do what he wants to do," FSU baseball coach Mike Martin said. "That's why it's so encouraging to have somebody like Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Bowden doing what they've done with football and baseball ... It's neat that Jimbo played baseball and football and if a guy wants to pursue it, he never gets in the way."

Football First

The process for playing more than one sport begins early in the recruiting cycle. If a football prospect wants to participate in more than one sport, it's discussed with Fisher long before the player ever reaches campus.

If playing two sports is a priority, the athlete makes that clear. For players who are serious about playing two sports, schools that will allow them to do that can often move ahead in the recruiting process.

"I won't say it was a deal-breaker, but being able to continue my track career was important to me," said Ramsey, a defensive back who also competes in the long jump. "I did look at schools that were allowing me to do that a little more closely."

The football coaches can then use coaches from elsewhere in the athletic department to help during their recruitment. Track and field coach Bob Braman will talk with recruits as they visit campus about participating in both sports, and two-sport athletes often host recruits who want to do the same thing on visits. It's an extra voice in the recruiting process for Florida State, which can give the Seminoles an advantage with some high school players.

In a few other cases, athletes may be recruited by another sport at FSU before the football program takes an interest. White, a backup point guard and cornerback, first began hearing from FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton during his sophomore year of high school in Alabama. Braman has pointed out exceptional track and field athletes in rare circumstances who were also highly-rated football prospects.

But in most cases, the process begins with football. That's in line with how the athletes are treated when they arrive on campus. They're at Florida State on a football scholarship, and football remains the priority.

"They're football-first athletes and we understand that," Braman said. "But they're track guys and that's a big part of their decision. They're like 'I've always done track, I want to keep doing track."

Winston didn't join the baseball team full-time until a week after the national championship game, long after his teammates had begun practicing. White spent summer with the football team and arrived at basketball practice after ACC play had already begun. Braman said freshman Levonte Whitfield hasn't joined the track team yet this spring because of some bumps and bruises sustained during football season, and they won't press him to begin practicing until he feels he's ready.

Athletes also maintain the conditioning they need for football season. Franklin has gained 12 pounds since arriving on campus to help prepare his body for football season.

"When football is healthy, the whole athletic department is healthy," Braman said. "We all get a bounce from the highest-profile sport being national champions. There's no question we all get a bounce from that. Florida State becomes a really cool place to be."

Benefiting Both Sports

Even when football takes priority, other sports receive a dramatic boost from athletes playing both sports.

Winston raises the profile of the nationally-ranked baseball team. White becomes an important part of the basketball program behind the scenes. Ramsey recorded a long jump of 24 feet 11 inches in his first collegiate meet, the eighth-best mark in the nation this year at the time. Franklin ran the 60-meter dash in 6.82 seconds at an indoor meet in January and should be competitive at the conference level.

"It's a symbiotic thing," Braman said.

That's especially true for sports like track and field, where resources are limited. Braman has 12.6 scholarships to distribute among his male track and field athletes, which lists 44 athletes on the roster for this year. Ramsey is on a full football scholarship and doesn't count against that limit, but can still help the track and field program compete for a national championship.

The same is true for baseball, which is allocated 11.7 scholarships for the team. Winston is a preseason third-team All-American serving as the Seminoles' full-time closer, and he can also play the outfield and DH. He started 32 games an offensive player in 2012 and pitched 27 innings in 17 relief appearances - often while splitting time with spring football practice.

White has only played in one game for the basketball team this year as he tries to pick up the nuances of FSU's system, but he's invaluable as a practice player. His athleticism provides a look that the Seminoles' walk-ons can't, and he'll have the ability to contribute as a point guard later in his career as he spends more time with the team.

"(White) is very valuable," Hamilton said. "He helps us tremendously in practice while he's learning. I'm so happy he's with us, and he's doing a wonderful job for us."

Winston, of course, is a special case. The Heisman trophy winner hasn't just helped the football and baseball programs, but has elevated the profile of the athletic department and the university as a whole.

His baseball teammates spent the fall watching his success on the football field and took it as a challenge to win a championship of their own. He pitched three scoreless innings in FSU's first four baseball games.

"After I won the Heisman I think a lot of people were thinking I wouldn't set foot on a baseball field, but I love this game, too," Winston said before baseball season. "That's what some people fail to realize, some people don't understand that after football season I've got to go to baseball."

Balancing Act

Participating in both may have been an easy decision for athletes during the recruiting process, but it can become more complicated once they reach campus. While their teammates have an offseason, they go directly into another season.

They split their time between classes, football conditioning and their second sport. There's no way to ease from one sport into the next. When Winston, Ramsey and Franklin leave the national champion football team, they join a track and field program and baseball team that also have designs on national championships.

"I don't like to sit still," Franklin said. "I get bored real easily. If I had too much downtime, I wouldn't know what to do with it. I'd bore myself to death. Doing two sports and making me go to practice, it keeps me busy and keeps me going. I'm away from football right now, but I'm preparing myself for football while I'm doing track."

There's still a tremendous payoff for those who can do both. Ramsey and Franklin don't have any visions of going pro in track and field, but the benefits of competing in college are clear.

Speed is critical on the football field at their positions, and they've both gotten faster since arriving at FSU. Ramsey and Franklin both just finished their first year with the football team, but that extra speed can make a huge difference down the road when they begin their NFL careers.

"Those tenths of a second at the (NFL) combine can be hundreds of thousands of dollars," Ramsey said. "As long as I keep working with track in my years here, when I get to the NFL combine and run the 40 for professional teams, I can really impress people with my speed."

Winston's goal has been to play both football and baseball professionally all along. He was drafted in the 15th round by the Texas Rangers after his high school career, and reiterated his desire to continue playing both last month.

For others, it's simply a matter of trying to take advantage of every opportunity available. Playing football and basketball is a challenge for White, but it's one he's never shied away from.

"I think about it every day, but I only have one shot at college and one chance to do that," White said. "I'm trying to make history. Trying to be different. That's what really pushes me."

Future Stars

Winston, White, Ramsey and Franklin may be following in the footsteps of athletes like Sanders and Ward, but they won't be the last to play multiple sports at Florida State. Running back Jonathan Vickers, who signed with the Seminoles earlier this month, has said he wants to play baseball as well in college. Defensive tackle signee Frederick Jones won the Class 2A state title in shot put in 2012 and 2013 and could join the track and field team.

"We know it's a long-term thing," Braman said. "If we keep working together, along the way we're going to get some benefits and certainly along the way they're going to get some benefits."

Hamilton said it's becoming more difficult for athletes to participate in more than one sport as football takes up more time year-round, but there are still opportunities. That's always been the case at Florida State, and there's no sign of it stopping.

Fisher makes it clear that he's open to players participating in more than one sport. That opens possibilities for football, for the rest of the athletic department and for the athletes themselves.

"I came to Florida State to play football and baseball and getting the amount of support from both sides, it means a lot as a player and as a person," Winston said. "You gain respect for those people and it makes everything easier for you to do, because it's not stressful."

It may not be stressful, but it's also not easy. Playing two sports is part of these athletes' identities, just like a tradition of two-sport athletes is part of Florida State's identity.

"If you want to be great in the long run, it's a great investment," Ramsey said. "If you can do two sports, then do it, but it's not for everybody."



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