Double Play: Checking In On Two-Sport Stars As Football Begins

The college football season officially kicked off last Saturday in Australia, where California defeated Hawaii. For the rest of the country, however, this weekend marks the start of the season. The games begin tonight and continue all the way through Monday.

College baseball is still nearly six months away from beginning, but fans don’t need to wait that long to watch some players in game action. Multi-sport athletes are rare in the college ranks, but several players pull the football-baseball double. As the football season begins, we look at how a few of them are faring.

Jawuan Harris, OF/WR, Rutgers

Harris first committed to Rutgers as a football player, a product of the powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas program in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But he didn’t want to give up baseball and coach Joe Litterio was willing to give Harris a chance.

In Harris’ freshman year at Rutgers, however, he made his biggest impact on the baseball field. He was banged up early in the fall and ended up redshirting in football. Harris was fully healthy by the time baseball started and quickly became a key player for the Scarlet Knights, hitting .278/.365/.389 with 37 stolen bases, the most in the Big Ten Conference.

Litterio said he knew Harris had the skills to succeed in college baseball, and the freshman made the most of his opportunity when starting center fielder Mike Carter was injured on Opening Day at Miami. Harris started in center field the next day and ended up becoming the first Scarlet Knight to be named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team.

“He was thrown into the fire right away and showed what he could do right away,” Litterio said.

Now, Harris is hoping to show what he can do on the football field. He is listed as a backup wide receiver on Rutgers’ depth chart going into Saturday’s game at No. 14 Washington. The Scarlet Knights are beginning their first season under new coach Chris Ash, who was hired last December, and Harris is expected to find his way onto the field for the new staff.
After spending all spring coaching Harris, Litterio is eagerly anticipating the start of football season.
“I’m a lot more excited,” Littero said. “A little nervous too. We don’t want to get him hurt out there.”

Brandon McIlwain, OF/QB, South Carolina

After a strong summer on the showcase circuit, McIlwain appeared to be on a trajectory to becoming a first-round pick in the 2016 draft. Instead, he opted to enroll a semester early at South Carolina so that he could participate in spring football and start competing for the starting quarterback job.

The competition between McIlwain and redshirt senior Perry Orth was joined by fellow freshman Jake Bentley during fall camp. First-year coach Will Muschamp has not announced who will start tonight when South Carolina opens the season at Vanderbilt, and told reporters on Monday that he hadn’t even told the team yet.

“We’re still finalizing the decision right now,” Muschamp said. “We have a pretty good idea where we’re headed with it. We wanted as many practice opportunities as we can give these guys.”

McIlwain’s early enrollment allowed him to play baseball last spring for the Gamecocks, as well as football. But after some impressive performances in preseason scrimmages, football responsibilities limited his playing time on the diamond. He appeared in just eight games, going 1-for-10.

How much McIlwain is able to get on the field this spring remains to be seen, and likely will be influenced by the outcome of the ongoing quarterback competition.

Kyler Murray, 2B/QB, Oklahoma | Zach Farrar, OF/WR, Oklahoma

Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops has long been open to recruiting baseball players. Archie Bradley was committed to the Sooners to play both sports before the D-backs drafted him seventh overall in 2011. Cody Thomas played both sports for Oklahoma before settling on baseball this year and getting drafted in the 13th round by the Dodgers.
Stoops told reporters last week that he’s always open to two-sport athletes.

“It’s different for everybody, but I’m always for ‘God’s given you talents like that, use them,’” he said. “You evaluate where you want to go each year with it.”

Now, the Sooners have two more baseball/football players on campus. Murray, the first player to appear in both the baseball and football Under Armour All-America Games, transferred to Oklahoma from Texas A&M after last football season. NCAA transfer rules forced him to sit out last baseball season and this football season.

While Murray played quarterback for the Aggies last fall, he has yet to appear in a college baseball game. Still, coach Pete Hughes is excited by his addition.

“He could add that dynamic element that speed brings to the baseball field for us,” Hughes said. “I’m looking forward to working with him in the spring.”

Farrar, a true freshman, was drafted in the 26th round by the White Sox in June. He was the Sooners’ first football signee to be drafted in baseball since Thomas in 2013. Farrar does not appear on third-ranked Oklahoma’s two-deep depth chart going into Saturday’s game against No. 15 Houston.

Tre Turner, OF/RB, Arizona State

Arizona State quarterback Coltin Gerhart has left the baseball program to focus on football full time after hitting .139/.225/.139 in 26 games last spring. Coach Tracy Smith will have another football player on his roster this year, as Turner joins both programs as a freshman.

Smith has not had much contact with Turner due to his football commitments, but he got a brief scouting report from the Sun Devils’ workouts from his son Jack, who is a freshman wide receiver.

“My son told me, ‘There’s fast people and then there’s really fast people,’” Smith said. “’And he’s really fast.’”

According to his Arizona State bio, Turner has been clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Smith believes that speed will play well in the outfield and on the bases for Turner in the spring.

Turner is not listed on Arizona State’s depth chart for Saturday’s game against Northern Arizona and Smith isn’t sure how the football staff will use him this fall. But Smith is expecting Turner to be a key contributor on the diamond.

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