In the modern era of specialization, the two-sport elite athlete has nearly become a dinosaur. But thanks to University of Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, athletic multi-tasking isn’t dead yet. A freshman on Steve Sarkisian’s football team last fall, Sefarian-Jenkins is joining Lorenzo Romar’s basketball team, and might play as soon as Sunday against Washington State.
Seferian-Jenkins, who made numerous freshman All-America teams this past season, is expected to provide a much-needed inside physical presence to the UW squad. When he sees his first action, he will become the first UW athlete to play varsity football and basketball since Nate Robinson in 2002-03.
“There’s definitely an upside to it,” said Romar. “Right now, we are not as physical a team as we need to be — and that’s the main thing that he does. I’ve got to go back to years ago when Tony Gonzalez played for California. He came out from football and they (the Bears basketball team) became a more physical team — instantly.”
In Gonzalez’s junior year at Cal (1995), he played tight end under Steve Mariucci (made All-America), and then played in 28 basketball games, averaging 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds as Cal reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
“Coach Sark has been fantastic,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “He’s been very supportive to me. He gave me the pros and cons and he just supported me at the end of the day. He’s an honest guy. He promised me when I came to the University of Washington that I would have the opportunity to play both.”
“It takes a tremendous athlete to be able to play football and basketball at the Pac-12 level, and Austin certainly has that sort of ability,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a great opportunity and I fully support him.”
The 6-foot-6, 258-pound Seferian-Jenkins played basketball beginning as a freshman at Gig Harbor High School.
In the past quarter-century, only four athletes have played football and basketball at Washington. Before Robinson, Charles Frederick, a kick returner from 2001-04, played in six 2002 basketball games. Before Frederick, defensive tackle Reggie Rogers (1984-86) played two basketball seasons under Marv Harshman (1983-85).
Whether Sefarian-Jenkins can manage overlapping seasons, given the demands on players made by the programs, remains to be seen. None of the three other athletes just cited could do it simultaneously. Once Robinson joined the UW basketball team, he abandoned his position as a starting cornerback. Frederick gave up on basketball to focus on football. Rogers abandoned basketball to concentrate on football.
Whether Seferian-Jenkins is ultimately forced to choose between the sports, his involvement in each will be fun to watch.
On the subject of multi-sport athletes: Two years ago, Art Thiel and Steve Rudman of Sportspress Northwest and Mike Gastineau of KJR radio published “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists.” In it, the authors ranked the 10 best multi-sport athletes in state history. Here is the list:
10. Sammy White, basketball, baseball. An All-Northern Division basketball forward at the UW in 1948 and 1949 who helped lead the Huskies to their first NCAA Tournament berth, White was also the leading hitter on the UW baseball team in 1947 and 1948. After graduation, White played for the Seattle Rainiers from 1949 to 1951, then spent nine years in the major leagues as a catcher with the Boston Red Sox (1951-59). He wound up his career with Milwaukee (1961) and Philadelphia (1962). On June 18, 1953, White became the only player in major league history to score three runs in an inning.
9. Sterling Hinds, football, track. As a youth hockey player, Hinds rose to the junior B level, one step below the professional ranks. Recruited to Washington on a football scholarship, Hinds won three letters as a tailback between 1981-83 and also played a prominent role on the UW track team. He ran the second-fastest 100 meters (10.27) in school history, the second-fastest 200 (20.61), and ran the second leg on UWs 1983 400-meter relay team that finished second in the NCAA track championships. Representing Canada in the 1984 Olympics, he earned a bronze medal in the 400 relay.
8. Ray Frankowski, football, wrestling, fencing. Frankowski gained his greatest athletic fame as a two-time consensus All-America football guard at the UW under coach Jimmy Phelan, and later as a pro with the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Dons (All-American Football Conference.) Frankowski also won the 1940 Pacific Coast Conference Northern Division heavyweight wrestling championship and was a member of the UW fencing team.
7. Spider Gaines, football, track. A big-play wide receiver who caught seven touchdown passes of 50 yards or longer during his UW football career (1975-78), Gaines also starred in track. As a high schooler, he won the 1975 California high hurdles title (13.3). In 1976, he won the Pac-8 hurdles title, advanced to the finals of the U.S. Olympic trials, became a two-time All-America and set the UW 110-meter hurdles record at 13:57. Gaines biggest track moment occurred in 1977 when he won the hurdles race in the annual USA-USSR outdoor dual meet.
6. Nate Robinson, football, basketball, track. After setting a state hurdles record for the Rainier Beach High track team, the 5-8 Robinson became a freshman starter at cornerback for the 2002 Washington football team. Switching full time to basketball following his freshman season, Robinson developed into a third-team Associated Press All-America and led the Huskies to the round of 16 in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. A first-round draft choice by the New York Knicks, Robinson won three NBA Slam Dunk Contests.
5. Reggie Rogers, football, basketball. A member of two Pac-10 champion basketball teams at Washington (1984 and 1985), Rogers also played in three bowl games (1985 Orange, 1985 Freedom, 1986 Sun) for the Huskies footballers. As a senior in 1986, he was selected a first-team All-America and won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10s top defensive lineman. The Detroit Lions made him the seventh overall pick in the 1986 draft.
4. Herman Brix, football, track. A Tacoma native, Brix played tackle for three years under Enoch Bagshaw (1923-25) when the Washington Huskies appeared in their first two Rose Bowls. He also won a silver medal in the shot put in the 1928 Olympics, and held both indoor and outdoor world records after the Games while competing for the Los Angeles Track Club. Brix broke his shoulder filming the 1931 football movie “Touchdown,” thwarting his entry into the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, but hastening an acting career in which Brix appeared in more than 100 films under the name Bruce Bennett.
3. Mark Hendrickson, basketball, baseball. A three-sport standout in basketball, baseball and tennis at Mount Vernon High, Hendrickson pitched and played basketball at Washington State University, where he was twice named first-team All-Pac-10 in basketball. After he was selected in the second round of the 1996 NBA draft by Philadelphia, the 6-9 Hendrickson played four years with the 76ers, Kings and Nets before switching to baseball. A left-hander, Hendrickson won 43 games for the Blue Jays, Devil Rays and Dodgers between 2002-07.
2. Johnny and Eddie OBrien, basketball, baseball. All-America basketball players at Seattle University in the early 1950s, the OBrien twins later formed the double-play combination for the MLB Pittsburgh Pirates. Johnny, first player in NCAA basketball history to score 1,000 points in a season (1953), had a six-year major league career while Eddie played five seasons.
1. Gene Conley, basketball, baseball. A Washington State All-America in basketball and baseball, Conley pitched for 11 years (1952-63) in the major leagues with the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox, winning 91 games, and also played for six years (1952-64) with the Boston Celtics. Conley won a World Series ring with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, three NBA championship rings with the Celtics (1959-62), and was the winning pitcher in the 1955 MLB All-Star Game.
Honorable Mention (Listed Alphabetically)
- Ja’Warren Hooker, UW, football, track: A wide receiver and kick returner, Hooker was also an NCAA champion and 10-time (UW record) All-American in track. He won the NCAA 55-meter championship, twice won Pac-10 titles in both the 100 and 200 meters, and still holds the school’s 100-meter record (10.18, 1998).
- Paul Jessup, UW, football, track: A three-year letterman tackle on the UW football team (1927-29), Jessup set a world record in the discus in 1930 (169-8) when he won the NCAA championship in the event. Jessup also threw the discus in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
- Lawyer Milloy, UW, football, baseball: A consensus All-America safety at Washington (1995), Milloy also played on the Husky baseball team. He holds the distinction of hitting home runs in the first and last at-bats of his UW career.
- Isaiah Stanback, UW, football, track: Washington’s quarterback in 2005 and 2006, Stanback placed fifth in the 100 meters at the 2005 Pac-10 Track Championships and ranks among UW’s all-time top 10 in the 60- and 100-meter dashes.
- Dave Williams, UW, football, track: An all-conference tight end on the Husky football team (1965-67), Williams still holds school TE records for yards in a game (257 vs. UCLA, 1965), TDs in a game (3 vs. UCLA, 1965) and TDs in a season (10, 1965). A hurdler and jumper in track, he regularly competed in four events for the UW track team (four-time All-America) and, as a freshman, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the decathlon.
Notable Football/Basketball Athletes
Many football players have taken up track and field as a second sport, while numerous basketball players have also played baseball. Perhaps due to overlapping seasons, the football-basketball combination is rare. Notables who played both sports (listed alphabetically):
- Terry Baker: Here’s a quick quiz How many football players have won the Heisman Trophy and played in the Final Four in the same school year? Terry Baker (1962 Heisman) did it for Oregon State, which reached the Final Four in 1963 with Baker as a point guard.
- Cris Carter: Carter played basketball and football at Ohio State University before becoming an NFL All-Pro receiver.
- Antonio Gates: An all-conference basketball player at Kent State, Gates became an All-Pro tight end for the San Diego Chargers.
- Tony Gonzalez: Perhaps the best tight end in NFL history, Gonzalez played forward on the University of California basketball team in 1997 when the Bears qualified for the NCAA Division 1 Tournament.
- Donovan McNabb: Another quick quiz — How many people have started at quarterback in the Super Bowl and played in the Final Four? Donovan McNabb (Syracuse University) has.
- Antwaan Randle El: How many wide receivers in the NFL were recruited by Bobby Knight? Randle El was, to play point guard. He did that for a year, before committing to play quarterback at Indiana. He later became an NFL receiver.
- Julius Peppers: Peppers played on a North Carolina basketball team as a power forward and later became an NFL All-Pro defensive end.
Top Draft Picks
- Dave Logan: Played nine NFL seasons, primarily for the Cleveland Browns. After a collegiate career at the University of Colorado, Logan was drafted by the Browns (1976, NFL), Sacramento Kings (NBA) and Cincinnati Reds (MLB).
- Dave Winfield: Baseball Hall of Famer was drafted by four professional teams in three different sports basketball (Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and Utah Stars pf the ABA), baseball (San Diego Padres) and American football (Minnesota Vikings).
- Carl Crawford: Red Sox outfielder was offered a basketball scholarship by UCLA and a football scholarship by Nebraska.