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A different double play for some ACC athletes

- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Playing two college sports at a high level takes much more than the love of the games.

North Carolina State quarterback and infielder Russell Wilson is getting it done.

So is Clemson quarterback and outfielder Kyle Parker.

They are the latest in a line of versatile Atlantic Coast Conference players who have managed to excel in two sports.

"I love them both, and I get the same enjoyment out of them both," Wilson said. "That's why I play them."

But it's not that simple.

Coaches must be open-minded. Teammates must be understanding. And the players themselves must possess perseverance, meticulous organization and a steely focus.

"Time-management-wise, you're not playing two at a time _ you're playing one at a time," said Rusty LaRue, a former two-sport star at Wake Forest. "But you don't get the break that everybody else gets when the season ends. Guys get a little bit of a break, and they get to go into offseason mode where it's just lifting and running.

"The multi-sport guys, you end on one day (and) the next day, you're still going to practice for three hours, and there's not that sort of down time that all the other athletes get."

LaRue would know. He played quarterback for the Demon Deacons from 1992-95, and set the Bowl Subdivision record by completing 55 passes in a game. He also led the basketball team to four NCAA tournament berths before beginning a five-year NBA career that included a championship with the Chicago Bulls.

Of course, there have been other ACC multi-sport athletes.

Charlie Ward won a Heisman Trophy at Florida State before spending a decade as an NBA point guard. The Seminoles' Deion Sanders remains the only player to start in the World Series and the Super Bowl.

"It's impressive, and I always like to see guys doing it," LaRue said. "I think there's probably more kids who could do it, but it's not for everybody, because it can be difficult at times."

The physical skills from one sport might not necessarily translate to another, though having a strong arm always helps both quarterbacks and baseball players.

More important are those intangibles: Leadership, mental toughness, maturity and self-discipline.

"A lot of the leadership from a standpoint of being a quarterback can kind of help you in baseball," Parker said.

Added Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier: "In baseball, you can bat .300 and be an All-Star, so when he does make a mistake in football, it doesn't have that much affect on him. ... And just pressure situations, he's been in a lot of those being part of the team, performing when it counted. The more times you do that, no matter the sport, that's the name of the game."

Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie's situation is a bit different than those faced by Parker and Wilson, who spent this past season playing college baseball.

The 26-year-old Shinskie spent 2003-09 in two big-league teams' organizations before giving up baseball last year to join BC's football program and led the Eagles to a 2-0 start this year before struggling last week against Virginia Tech.

Parker, the first Division I athlete to throw 20 touchdowns and hit 20 home runs in the same academic year, was drafted in the first round by the Colorado Rockies in June. The Rockies took Wilson three rounds later and sent him to their short-season Single-A affiliate in Washington.

"To play both baseball and football you've got to be very athletic, very talented, and I think both (Shinskie and Wilson) fit into that category," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "The more competition you (are) in, I don't see how that's going to hurt you."

It also helped that Wilson brought along his football playbook. He stashed it at his host family's house to keep it out of enemy hands, and studied it for 15 minutes each night.

Ultimately, that greased Wilson's summertime transition between sports. It couldn't have been easy for Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien to let his star quarterback skip spring practice to play college baseball or head west for minor-league ball, but the coach voiced nothing but support for Wilson. The same was true for his understanding N.C. State teammates, who elected him a team captain.

"Obviously, we embraced Russell. He's a great leader and he's always doing the right thing, always leading us in drills, always being the first at everything," lineman R.J. Mattes said. "So Russell's one of those guys you'd love to be your captain, because he knows what to do and he knows the right thing."

The 23rd-ranked Wolfpack certainly can't argue with the results so far. At 4-0, they're off to the best start since 2002. They have their first national ranking since 2003. Wilson leads the ACC in total offense, averaging nearly 300 yards.

Still, the question lingers: If the day comes when Wilson has to pick one sport, which will he choose? Russell says it's too early to worry about that.

"I've always thought the NFL's a future for me. I've always thought Major League Baseball's a future for me," Wilson said. "That's why I play both of them."

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AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C., and Hank Kurz Jr. in Blacksburg, Va., and Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

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