Multi-sport athletes are a dying breed

Of the 26 players named to the All-Met first team in football this fall, only seven, including Atholton's Matt Robinson, chose to also play for the basketball team at their school.
Of the 26 players named to the All-Met first team in football this fall, only seven, including Atholton's Matt Robinson, chose to also play for the basketball team at their school. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thinking back to his own high school days, Battlefield boys' basketball Coach Al Ford recalled how athletes used to pine for multiple pins on their school varsity letter jackets -- a sign that they played multiple sports.

"That was something the girls enjoyed, your parents enjoyed, the community enjoyed," Ford said. "That made impressions on impressionable people."

But in a sports landscape in which athletes receive attention at younger ages, and earning a college athletic scholarship is the ultimate goal, the standout multi-sport athlete -- such as the football-basketball crossover star -- is becoming increasingly rare.

"That's the way of the dinosaur now," Ford said.

Of the 26 players named first team All-Met in football this past fall, just seven -- Annandale's Melvin Robinson, Arundel's Ronnie Harris, Atholton's Matt Robinson, McNamara's Brandon Coleman, Brooke Point's E.L. Smiling, Paint Branch's Ivan Tagoe and T.C. Williams's Jay Whitmire -- are listed on a varsity basketball roster. In the previous two seasons combined, only nine first-team All-Met football players also suited up for basketball. Despite the higher-than-usual numbers this season, area players and coaches said they have seen more high-profile athletes focus on one sport to avoid the distractions that can come from starring in multiple sports.

Two prominent examples are Bryn Renner, an All-Met quarterback at West Springfield in 2008 who's now at North Carolina, and Louis Young, an All-Met defensive back who's currently a senior at Good Counsel. Renner opted not to play basketball his senior year, despite averaging 26.6 points as a junior. Young was initially recruited to Good Counsel to play basketball, but he chose not to play this season after spending the past three on the varsity.

"Last year I played even with the offers I had, and I thought about playing this year," said Young, who has committed to play football for Stanford. "It wasn't so much about risk, it was about getting focused for the next level for football. Get my body right, get stronger, faster and mentally prepared."

Others, however, continue to suit up for the basketball team -- even with football scholarships lined up.

"Of course a lot of people told me not to play, don't hurt yourself," said Coleman, who is weighing football offers from Maryland, Rutgers and Syracuse while averaging 12.3 points for the Mustangs' basketball team. "I thought about it but I couldn't sit in the bleachers watching my friends play when I know I'm supposed to be on the court. My heart wouldn't let me. I love basketball too much to not play when I have the opportunity."

Ford's team has managed to avoid the trend this season. Three prominent football players, including 6-foot-6 honorable mention All-Met quarterback Bo Revell, stepped into starting roles for Battlefield after the football team lost in its Virginia AAA Division 6 semifinal. At the time, the basketball team was 0-4. Since the arrival of the football players, the Bobcats are 5-1.

"Just on Saturday night scouting Osbourn, they have that 6-11 kid and I'm like, 'Wow, we really have to be grateful that Bo . . . decided to play,' " Ford said. "Because that's not a given anymore."

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