The first week of September is here, which means the return of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, but also college football. While 10 Innings’ attention throughout autumn is on fall ball, scout days and exhibition games, there wouldn’t be college baseball programs to coverage without the revenue generated by college football.
In an ode to those the gridiron warriors, here’s a look at two-sport athletes, those who starred on Big Ten football field and baseball diamonds.
Minnesota OF/WR Eric Decker (2006-2010)
The Big Ten’s most noteworthy baseball-football athlete of this century is Eric Decker. The former Gopher starred at wide receiver under football coach Glen Mason, while serving as John Anderson’s center fielder for two seasons. Before being a third-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 2010, Decker compiled 3,119 receiving yards with 24 of his 229 career receptions going for touchdowns. Between the 2008 and 2009 baseball seasons, Decker picked up 121 hits in 374 at-bats, good for a .324 average. Decker recorded 20 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs, along with 20 stolen bases in the two seasons. Following Minnesota’s 2009 Fullerton Regional season, Decker was drafted in the 29th round by the hometown Minnesota Twins, a year after the Milwaukee Brewers grabbed him in the 39th round.
Rutgers OF/WR Jawuan Harris (2015-present)
Rutgers junior Jawuan Harris is today’s Decker. A top wide receiver target for the Scarlet Knights, Harris’ athleticism provides game-changing ability on the diamond. After redshirting the 2015 football season, Harris’ first taste of the Big Ten came on the diamond, where he led the conference with 37 stolen bases, finishing fifth nationally. In his first season seeing action in football, all Harris did was lead RU in receptions. Harris’ 39 catches yielded 481 yards and three touchdowns, the latter two leading all Big Ten freshman. As a sophomore for Joe Litterio, Harris batted .269, a drop down from his debut season’s .279 average, but picked up nine doubles and eight home runs, including a three-home-run-game against USC-Upstate.
Illinois OF/WR Kyle Hudson (2005-2008)
Kyle Hudson’s two-sport career in Champagne ended in 2008,when the Baltimore Orioles selected the Illini center fielder in the fourth round. The MLB Draft capped an impressive six months for Hudson, a time where he was named an All-American in baseball, after playing in the 2008 Rose Bowl for the football team. Finishing with a career average of .376, Hudson left Champagne with his name littered throughout the baseball program’s record book. His 40 stolen bases during the 2008 season reset Illinois’ single-season record, as did his 25 stolen bases in a single Big Ten season, leading 36 for his conference career, two marks that still stands. In three football seasons, Hudson hauled in 73 catches for 999 yards with five touchdowns. Hudson made his MLB debut for the Orioles on Sept. 4, 2011 and appeared in 14 games that September. Following his pro career, Hudson returned to Illinois as a volunteer assistant, helping the Illini during their Big Ten-winning 2015 campaign.
Indiana OF/WR Andrew Means (2005-09)
The 2006-08 era was a Golden Age for Big Ten outfielders who also played catch at wideout. Joining Decker and Hudson was Indiana’s Andrew Means. Means recorded 102 receptions and 1,272 in Bloomington, becoming for the 14th player in IU football history to join the 100-1,000 club. Finishing third and second in receptions, respectively, in 2007 and 2008 for the Hoosiers, Means meant even more to Tracy Smith’s baseball team. The center fielder batted .301 with 16 stolen bases, and upped the production to a .369 average with 27 swipes in 30 attempts a year later, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2007. Means was named one of the Big Ten’s top three outfielders, grabbing named first-team All-Big Ten in 2008, batting .357 with 33 stolen bases and a conference-best 72 runs. Means was selected in the 11th round by the Cincinnati Reds and played five years in the Reds’ farm system.
Northwestern OF/K Jack Mitchell (2012-2015)
Northwestern’s Jack Mitchell may not have the statistics of his two-sport brethren, but he may have the most noteworthy moment. In 2014, after sending the game to overtime with a 45-yard field goal as time expired, Mitchell kicked a game-winning 41-yard field goal against at Notre Dame, then the N0. 15 team in the country. Mitchell finished third in Northwestern history with 213 kick scoring points, fourth with 41 field goals. In baseball, Mitchell made 73 starts in 102 games, batting .230.
Two-sport stars of yesteryear
While it is less common these days, the Big Ten has a history of elite two-sport athletes. Some notables football/baseball players from prior generations include
Michigan State OF/WR Kirk Gibson
All-American wide receiver, 1978 first-round draft pick (Detroit Tigers), 17-year MLB career, 1988 NL MVP.
Michigan OF/QB Rick Leach
Four-year starting quarterback, 1979 first-round draft pick (Detroit Tigers) nine-year MLB career.
And of course…
Nebraska P/OF Darin Erstad
Although he didn’t play in the Big Ten, Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad put together an impressive career in three seasons with the program he now leads. But before capping the best baseball career in Cornhusker baseball history, Erstad was a punter under legendary head coach Tom Osborne and a member of Nebraska’s 1994 national championship football team. That spring, Erstad was named a Golden Spikes finalist, earning All-America honors after batting .410 with 19 home runs. The California Angels made Erstad the first pick of the 1995, the club he debuted with in June of 1996, the start of a 14-year MLB career.