South Carolina fans saw first hand the impact an elite dual-sport athlete can have on a college athletics program.
Twice the Gamecocks matched up with Florida State and standout cornerback Deion Sanders during his three-year football career. Three times USC met Sanders on the baseball diamond during his two-year college career.
The Gamecocks are now hoping they’ve found two dual-sport athletes capable of having a similar impact. Timber Creek (N.J.) receiver Damiere Byrd will run also run track at USC, and Lake City tailback Shon Carson will also play baseball.
Both have quiet, laid-back personalities, so it’s doubtful they’ll have the off-the-field charisma that turned Sanders into “Primetime” and “Neon Deion.” However, they’ve each got characteristics of the athleticism that made him a dual-sport star.
Byrd has his electric speed. Sanders, who also ran track at FSU, posted 4.25 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 1989, barely edging Byrd’s time of 4.26 at a Nike combine last spring. Carson has Sanders’ instinctual talents on the baseball field, making a name for himself as a speedster on the base paths just as a Sanders did in the 1980s.
USC hasn’t gotten to enjoy many dual-sport athletes over the years. In fact, with the exception of three football players – Carlos Thomas, O.J. Murdock and Brook Antonio – that dabbled in track without much notable success, no football players have played another sport in the Steve Spurrier era, according to USC Media Relations Director Steve Fink.
Dual-sport athletes like Sanders were fairly common in decades past, but they’ve become rarer as college athletics, especially football, have become year-round commitments. Schools and coaches now would prefer their athletes focus on one sport.
But Byrd and Carson have both said the willingness of USC to let them participate in another sport played a large role in their decision to choose the Gamecocks.
USC is still recruiting two other dual-sport standouts. Trinity Christian (Fla.) athlete Ahmad Christian is an all-state corner and centerfielder with similarly high MLB Draft prospects as Carson. Dwyer (Fla.) quarterback Jacoby Brissett is a highly touted dual-threat signal caller and also an all-state performer in basketball.
“We’ve got a great relationship with our baseball program and other sports,” USC football recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said. “When a kid is interested in doing that, we’ll support them anyway that we can. We have no problem doing that when a kid is interested.
“I’ve been in situations where teams don’t want football guys to play another sport. They just want you to play football. They know that if they come here we’ll work with them and help them if it’s something they want to do. From that standpoint I think it is an advantage.”
Outside of a few track participants and baseball players, there aren’t many athletes in BCS-level conferences playing two sports these days. There’s a reason for it, according to 247Sports recruiting analyst Barton Simmons.
“It’s a pretty rare occurrence,” he said. “It’s continuing to dwindle. It’s dwindling on the high school level, where kids have opportunities to play all kinds of sports. Nowadays kids are continuing to specialize, and in a lot of cases they really have to in order to be successful. College is just another world with film study and all the other stuff you have to put in to be successful. It’s a really difficult task to have multiple sports on your plate.”