The 20 Best 2-Sport Stars in College Football History
Being great at college football is difficult in and of itself.
When you add in the ability to excel at a second sport, you have a truly gifted athlete on your hands.
In addition, whether that second sport is basketball or baseball (or something else), it takes not only skill and dedication, but also a lot of smarts to even compete in two varsity sports in college.
After all, it's not as if these student-athletes get extra study time just because they play two sports. With the time constraints of two seasons, these athletes not only kept themselves academically eligible to play, but they also excelled on the field of competition.
Here's our list of the 20 best two-sport athletes in college football history.
Chas Gessner, Brown
(Photo: Orlando Sentinel)
We'll start with an unlikely dual-sport star from an FCS program that eventually went on to major league status in both of his collegiate sports.
Chas Gessner was an All-American at the Ivy League's Brown University. He also earned All-American honors on Brown's lacrosse team, making him a rare two-sport All-American.
After graduation, Gessner went on to a career in the NFL, and was drafted No. 2 overall by Major League Lacrosse's Baltimore Bayhawks in 2008.
Terry Baker, Oregon State
Terry Baker will forever be remembered at Oregon State for winning the 1962 Heisman Trophy.
What he may not be remembered for is helping the Beavers' basketball team to the 1963 Final Four, where the Beavers eventually lost to Cincinnati (and then to Duke in the now-defunct “third-place game”).
Tom Zbikowski, Notre Dame
Tom Zbikowski played football at the University of Notre Dame before being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008.
In addition to his solid play for the Fighting Irish, Baltimore Ravens and now Indianapolis Colts, Zbikowski's sports record also extends to the realm of professional boxing.
After a victory in his professional debut (a TKO in the first round), Zbikowski went on to three more wins, two by knockout.
His current professional record stands at 4-0 (3 KO).
Sammy Baugh, Texas Christian
Sammy Baugh was a TCU football star way back in the 1930s, but also made an impact on the baseball diamond and the basketball court, making him a rare three-sport star.
Prior to his would-be senior season of 1937, Baugh was offered a contract with the Washington Redskins. After leading his College All-Star team to a victory over the Green Bay Packers, Baugh decided he had what it took to play professional football, and left TCU for Washington.
Interestingly enough, the very next year, Baugh's Redskins lost to the College All-Stars.
Baugh was also drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, playing with the minor league Columbus Red Birds. After seeing his prospects at a major league career dwindle while in the minors, he decided to focus solely on professional football, where he was a quarterback, punter and defensive back.
In 1943, he led the league in passing, punting and interceptions.
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin/NC State
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Russell Wilson may have just left the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but that doesn't mean we won't recognize him as a spectacular two-sport collegiate athlete.
While at North Carolina State, Wilson was not only a solid quarterback for the Wolfpack; he was also a starting second baseman for the Wolfpack's baseball squad.
After graduating from NC State—but before his transfer to Wisconsin—Wilson played for the Asheville Tourists, a Single-A minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, after being drafted by Colorado in the 2010 MLB draft.
Wilson was drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Jim Brown, Syracuse
Jim Brown is probably best known for his career with the Cleveland Browns (1957-65).
But before his record-setting career in the NFL, Brown was a bruising multi-sport athlete at Syracuse.
As a senior, Brown was a consensus All-American selection and set numerous school records, including scoring six rushing touchdowns in one game.
But Brown was also a standout athlete for Syracuse in basketball, track and lacrosse.
In his senior year, in addition to competing in basketball and track, Brown was named a lacrosse All-American after scoring 43 goals in 10 games, second-most in the nation.
Antwaan Randle El, Indiana
Playing football for Indiana probably isn't the easiest way to make a big impression on the history of the game, but Antwaan Randle El comes as close to a big-time name as Hoosier football can hope to produce.
After graduating high school, Randle El was offered a scholarship by Indiana to play football—which he chose to accept over a career in baseball. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1997 MLB draft, but chose to try his hand at football first.
While at Indiana, Randle El not only played football and baseball, but he was also a member of the famed Hoosier basketball team under coach Bob Knight.
Ricky Williams, Texas
These days, Ricky Williams is probably known best for his frequent run-ins with the NFL over his repeated pot use.
But during his gridiron days at Texas, Williams became one of the most prolific backs in the history of the game. Williams broke the all-time NCAA FBS rushing record during his senior season as a Longhorn.
But a little-known fact about Williams is that he spent much of his college summers playing Single-A minor league baseball.
Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
Michael Vick was not only a top quarterback prospect coming out of college (Vick was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2001 NFL draft); he was such a prolific athlete that the Colorado Rockies drafted him in the 30th round of the 2000 MLB draft.
Vick's football career obviously took off nicely in the NFL, so he never pursued an opportunity to play professional baseball.
Herschel Walker, Georgia
Besides being a standout running back at Georgia, Herschel Walker's claim to fame stems from his departure from UGA after his junior year to play professional football.
In 1983, prior to what would have been his senior season at Georgia, Walker opted to sign a contract with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL (as the NFL did not allow underclassmen into the draft until 1990).
Walker moved to the NFL after the USFL folded, but never really lived up to the massive expectations fans placed on him (he eclipsed 1,500 yards rushing in the NFL just once in little more than 12 seasons). Walker was, however, a member of the 1992 U.S. Winter Olympic delegation when he was named as a member of the Bobsled team (his two-man sled, USA I, finished seventh).
Ed Reed, Miami (FL)
Another football standout that also brought his talents to the track was Miami's Ed Reed.
This two-time All-American defensive back for the Hurricanes also was one of his school's top competitors on the track.
He was inducted into the University of Miami's Sports Hall of Fame in March, 2012.
Ollie Matson, San Francisco
During his senior season at the University of San Francisco, Ollie Matson led the nation in rushing and rushing touchdowns, helping the Dons to a perfect 9-0 mark in 1951.
Matson was selected as an All-American and finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Despite the 9-0 finish, the Dons did not receive a bowl invitation.
The New York Times reported that the Orange Bowl offered to invite the Dons if Matson—an African-American—and one other black player did not accompany the team.
Teammate Gino Marchetti put any thought of going to Miami without his black teammates to rest when he said, “No, we ain't going to go without Burl [Toler] and Ollie.”
The University of San Francisco told the Orange Bowl that it would refuse an invitation if offered because of the racist attitudes in the south, and removed itself from consideration.
In addition to being a college football standout, Matson's greatest athletic accomplishments may have come away from the football field.
At the 1952 Summer Olympics, Matson represented the United States and earned a silver medal on the 4x400-meter relay team and a bronze medal in the 400 meters.
Denard Robinson, Michigan
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Denard Robinson is the only current active college football player to make our list.
Robinson is known around the nation for his blinding speed, as he has racked up numerous records over his three seasons at Michigan.
To date, Robinson owns the top six positions on Michigan's list of all-time single-game total offense records, and eight of the top 10.
He owns the top two spots on the all-time single-season total offense list.
He also owns the top spot, and five of the top 10 spots, on the Big Ten's single-game rushing leaders list for quarterbacks.
With so much speed, you'd think that Michigan's track coach would covet his fleetness.
And you'd be right.
Robinson is not only a standout on the football field for the Maize and Blue, but he's also a track star for Michigan. He led U-M's indoor track team in 2010 with a 60-meter-dash time of 6.81 seconds.
Terrell Owens, Tennessee-Chattanooga
Terrell Owens was a three-sport athlete at Chattanooga, adding basketball and track to his football duties.
Even though Owens played FCS football, he was still a coveted draftee, eventually going to the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 1996 NFL draft.
Surprisingly, football was not T.O.'s first choice of sports. Prior to his senior year of high school, he wanted to quit the football team to focus on basketball.
His high school football coach convinced him to keep playing, and T.O. decided to attend UT-Chattanooga in part because he was allowed to play both football and basketball.
T.O. has recently faded from the football limelight after years of questionable behavior and injuries. He was even recently cut from an Indoor Football League team after showing a “lack of effort both on and off the field,” according to the team's owner in a report from the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated).
Jay Berwanger, Chicago
Jay Berwanger is certainly an athlete from a time gone by.
Berwanger was the first recipient of the Heisman Trophy (then called the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy) in 1935. He never made much of fuss over his Heisman win. In fact, later in life the trophy even served as a doorstep.
He was so good as a college football star that he was nicknamed the “one man team.”
President Gerald Ford had a memorable run-in with Berwanger in the 1930s. Ford was a center for the Michigan Wolverines, and while attempting to block Berwanger he received a gash under his left eye. Ford bore the scar for the rest of his life (from the University of Chicago Chronicle).
In addition to his football exploits, Berwanger was a track and field star, setting numerous school and Big Ten records that stood for decades.
In fact, his University of Chicago decathlon record stood until 2007.
After college, Berwanger received another distinguished “first” for football to go along with his Heisman Trophy; he was the first ever player drafted by the NFL (first pick in the first round of the inaugural draft).
Interestingly enough, Berwanger turned down playing in the NFL so he could retain his amateur status to compete in the 1936 Olympics.
He not only failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team, but he also failed to come to terms on an NFL contract.
He never played professional sports.
Julius Peppers, North Carolina
At the University of North Carolina, there's absolutely no argument that basketball is king.
While the seven-time Pro Bowl selection was certainly a standout for the Tar Heels (1999 Freshman All-American, 2000 All-ACC, 2000 Second Team All-American, 2001 All-ACC, 2001 All-American, 2001 Nagurski Trophy finalist), he's being included in this list because he was also able to walk on to the famed UNC basketball squad.
He played in the 2000 Final Four, but left the team after the 2001 second-round loss to focus on football.
Making the UNC basketball team is an accomplishment in and of itself. Walking on when you're there to play football is downright impressive.
Tony Gonzalez, California
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Tony Gonzalez is yet another two-sport athlete that excelled in basketball while more than holding his own on the gridiron—where he was an All-American for Cal in 1996.
This 12-time Pro Bowl selection from UC Berkeley also played for Cal's basketball team, which he helped guide to the Sweet 16 during the 1996 tournament.
Gonzalez averaged 6.8 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Gonzalez was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1997 NFL draft, and he went on to become the first NFL tight end ever to record 1,000 receptions. He holds the current record for most receptions in the Pro Bowl (49 combined) and most touchdowns scored in the Pro Bowl (six combined).
Donovan McNabb, Syracuse
Donovan McNabb is best known as the six-time Pro Bowl selection from the Philadelphia Eagles.
But before making a name for himself in the NFL, McNabb was a three-time Big East Offensive Player of the Year for Syracuse.
McNabb chose to attend Syracuse over Nebraska for academic reasons, and in addition to his prowess on the football field as the quarterback for the Orange, McNabb also played on the Syracuse basketball team—a team that finished second in the nation to Kentucky in the 1996 Final Four.
McNabb, among many other college accolades, was named the Big East Player of the Decade for the 1990s.
Bo Jackson, Auburn
Despite being drafted by the New York Yankees right out of high school, Bo Jackson decided to accept a scholarship offer from Auburn University to play football.
Jackson proved to be a star for both the football and baseball squads, winning the 1985 Heisman Trophy and Walter Camp Award.
On the Auburn baseball diamond, Jackson finished that same Heisman-winning season with 43 RBI, 17 home runs and a .401 average.
Jackson also spent time on Auburn's tack team, making him one of those rare three-sport athletes.
After college, Jackson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL draft, but decided to pursue a professional baseball career instead.
By 1989, Jackson was an All-Star starting for the American League team. He was named the MVP of the 1989 MLB All-Star Game.
Jackson also played for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1987 to 1990, making him one of the rarest of all athletes—the kind that plays two professional, major league sports at the same time.
Deion Sanders, Florida State
Deion “Prime Time” Sanders is probably the most successful two-sport athlete of all time, and it's the reason why we've given him the prestigious final spot on our countdown.
Deion Sanders' sports career is filled with accomplishments, not the least of which are his eight Pro Bowl selections, two Super Bowl rings, NFL Defensive Player of the Year award (1994), two NFC Defensive Player of the Year awards (1993, 1994) and his 2011 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sanders was also a two-time All-American for Bobby Bowden at Florida State and won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1988. In addition, he led the FBS in punt return average in 1988.
Florida State retired Sanders' No. 2 jersey, and he is the only player to win both a Super Bowl and a World Series.
Oh, and if all of that wasn't enough, he also ran track at Florida State, helping the Seminoles to four Metro Conference championships.