We’ll probably never see another football-basketball star like Florida State’s Charlie Ward from two decades ago. Today’s players have a tendency to specialize in one sport early, but not all of them do. Many of today’s top basketball players could have made a career in football, too.
As we usher in the annual opening of football fall camps this week, here is a list of players we’re glad decided to trade the gridiron for hoops:
Ryan Spangler, 6-foot-8, 231, F, Oklahoma: You would never suspect Spangler had a passing touch watching him bang for 9.3 rebounds per game for the Sooners. But he played quarterback and punted at Bridge Creek High School, and went so far as to take unofficial visits for football to Arkansas and Texas Tech as a sophomore. He finished his three-year career with nearly 7,000 passing yards with 71 touchdowns and just 20 interceptions. (Not to mention averaging 37.8 yards per punt as a senior.)
Montrezl Harrell, 6-8, 235, F, Louisville: Harrell played for football powerhouse North Edgecombe High School in North Carolina’s smallest classification. He had drawn interest from N.C. State as a tight end, and there is no reason to believe he couldn’t have been an Antonio Gates clone. Harrell, who has a track record for shattering backboards, would have had no problem breaking a cornerback in two.
Willie Cauley-Stein, 7-0, 244, F, Kentucky: The visual of seeing a 7-foot receiver split wide had to be as intimidating to defensive backs as it is when an undersized guard dribbles down the lane attempting to score on the Wildcats’ leading shot-blocker. Cauley-Stein totaled 1,140 receiving yards -- averaging 20 yards per reception -- and caught 14 touchdowns in just nine games as a senior.
Denzel Valentine, 6-5, 225, G, Michigan State: Valentine’s father Carlton played basketball for the Spartans from 1985-88 and coached his high school basketball team to consecutive state titles. Valentine’s path to playing hoops was probably paved at birth -- but there was a time he played quarterback as a freshman at Lansing Sexton High School. A knee injury and the subsequent surgery he needed solidified his need to focus on basketball.
Nigel Hayes, 6-7, 250, F, Wisconsin: Hayes could have easily followed in the footsteps of his older brother Kenny, a defensive lineman who played a season at Ohio State. Hayes was an all-conference receiver at Toledo Whitmer High as a junior, but he decided to leave football behind as a senior to concentrate on basketball.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 6-7, 215, F, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson has something in common with Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. Both played football at Chester (Pennsylvania) High School. Hollis-Jefferson was listed as a receiver and defensive end as junior. He even got a shot at playing quarterback, but his basketball skills were so much further ahead he missed football games because of hoops obligations.
Rod Hall, 6-1, 205, G, Clemson: Hall is listed as the exact same size as Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, who was taken fourth overall in the 2014 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. And Hall drew interest from Kentucky and Georgia Tech as a wide receiver after recording about 1,200 receiving yards his senior year at Augusta (Georgia) Laney High School. He was named all-state in football by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
J.P. Tokoto, 6-6, F, North Carolina: Okay, not football, but futbol. Tokoto has a strong pedigree as his grandfather once played for the Cameroon national team. Although Tokoto stopped playing soccer at 13, his athleticism would pretty much allow him to be competitive on any field.