NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — There are only one or two legitimate dual-sport athletes per generation that can compete at the highest level of two major sports.
Deion Sanders enjoyed successful Major League Baseball and National Football League careers in the 1990s, as did fellow Atlanta Falcons defensive back and Atlanta Braves outfielder Brian Jordan.
Former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown was also a successful basketball, track and lacrosse player at Syracuse, and current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was once a middle-infield prospect in the Colorado Rockies organization and was drafted again by the Texas Rangers last month.
But former Auburn running back Bo Jackson is perhaps the most notable two-sport athlete in recent memory. The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner was a star running back for the then-Los Angeles Raiders, rushing for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns in four seasons of playing football as "a hobby," according to The New York Times.
What was his day job? Oh, just an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals. In 1989, he was named MVP of the All-Star Game.
A hip injury in January 1991 ended his NFL career and limited his ability as a baseball player, but Jackson is widely regarded as the top dual-sport athlete in American sports history.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston could be the next in line.
The redshirt freshman signal-caller of the Seminoles and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner doubles as an outfielder and pitcher on the Seminoles baseball team. He hit .235 with a .377 on base percentage in 119 at-bats while making 17 appearances as a relief pitcher, posting a 3.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 27 innings.
The Hueytown, Ala. native is a stone's throw across I-20/59 from Bessemer, where Jackson grew up. He possesses many of the same qualities as Jackson, especially his arm from the outfield, as you see above.
If that looks familiar, it should. Check out Jackson nailing former Seattle Mariners outfielder Harold Reynolds at the plate on June 5, 1989:
So could Winston be the next two-sport stud in the same vein as Jackson?
"A lot of people are going to say, 'No way. He's a quarterback. Bo Jackson was a running back," Winston said at a BCS National Championship Game press conference on Friday (password required). "The one thing I always seem to do is gain the trust of my teammates. Even being in the NFL, if I can convince those guys I can be your quarterback, I can go play baseball for the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, I can't talk about that, because I'm living in the moment right now."
He is not lacking confidence, but Winston has the utmost respect for Jackson.
"Bo Jackson, no one can beat Bo Jackson," he said. "If the guy wouldn't have got hurt, he probably would be in the Hall of Fame in both baseball and football."
Winston can come close, though.
In addition to his accolades this year on the gridiron, he was drafted in the 15th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft by the Texas Rangers and had the tools coming out of high school to go even higher, but his football future got in the way.
Would he have been a first-round draft pick had he not committed to playing football at Florida State?
"I would hope so," he said. "Obviously, I can't control none of that. I have to get better at baseball just like I have to get better at football."
While he may not know it, scouts recognize his upside as a baseball player.
"Winston could have been a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, but his strong commitment to Florida State as a dual-sport athlete, as well as the strict draft spending restrictions implemented in the first year of baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, simply wasn’t worth the risk for teams in the early rounds," said Mike Rosenbaum, Bleacher Report's MLB prospects lead writer.
It isn't Winston's dual-sport ability that could conceivably scare off Major League Baseball scouts; it's his duality within the game of baseball itself. Rosenbaum notes that he's more of a prospect as a pitcher than an outfielder, and he would have to commit himself first as a full-time baseball player and then as a pitcher to have a shot at baseball superstardom.
"The arm strength Winston showcases behind center is equally impressive on the mound," he said. "Armed with a fastball that touches 97 mph and jumps on opposing hitters, the right-hander emerged as one of Florida State’s key relievers last spring as a sophomore."
"He’s more than just a flame-thrower, though; Winston also demonstrates a feel for a hard slider in the mid-80s, throwing it early in counts for a strike and burying it to induce whiffs. He also began developing a changeup this past season, which has the potential to be a highly effective offering if he can replicate the arm speed on his fastball."
But just how likely is Winston as a legitimate dual-sport star?
If the scouts are right and he projects as a pitcher, that would require an extraordinary amount of wear and tear on the throwing shoulder of a player whom one NFL general manager will likely give the keys to his franchise, along with a contract that will pay him millions.
Can you see an NFL quarterback missing a season due to Tommy John surgery sustained while playing baseball? A general manager would be crazy to even allow that to be an option.
But before he crosses that bridge, Winston isn't thinking about pro baseball just yet. A tiny little thing called the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night is occupying his time at the moment, but a baseball decision has to be made soon regarding his future in Tallahassee.
"Right now I got one thing on my mind, win the national championship on Monday," Winston said. "Tuesday comes, I be ready for it then. I'm pretty sure [Florida State baseball] coach Mike Martin, he'll talk to me about it then. I know he's not saying nothing about baseball to me right now."
He'll have to address it soon though, because while his stock on the gridiron couldn't be higher, that guaranteed money in Major League Baseball—especially for pitchers—is hard to resist.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Winston quotes obtained on location from his BCS National Championship Game media day, and Rosenbaum quotes were obtained firsthand.
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