In today’s hypercompetitive athletic world, athletic specialization is creeping into the minds of athletes and their parents at younger and younger ages. Year-round baseball schedules take their toll on younger and younger arms as instances of Tommy John surgeries have spiked among young Major League pitchers and those in the college ranks as well.
Club basketball schedules can limit participation in other sports, as can select soccer, and at an increasingly young age, today’s athlete is often forced to decide between sports, rather than to play as many as possible, which was the modus operandi of the most talented athletes of generations past. Developing toward the next level has become the first consideration for talented athletes and their parents, rather than playing whatever sport is in season.
The Trinity football team, as it often is, would seem to be somewhat of an exception to that new rule. Key contributors all over the roster are multi-sport lettermen, and coach Chris Jensen said playing sports across the school year has set the group up for success on the gridiron.
“I look back on when we were growing up and even up until not too long ago, you just played whatever was in season. That was part of growing up and being a kid,” Jensen said. “There weren’t so many opportunities for offseason work and there wasn’t so much pressure on kids to choose, because now they’re told they’re going to fall behind in one sport if they play another.”
Five defensive contributors, from a unit that has given up an average of 19 points and 352 total yards per game while forcing seven turnovers in the first three games of the year, have lettered in other sports during their time at Trinity. The most popular choice for multi-sport lettermen remains track, as both coach and player realize the benefit of added speed, stamina and agility provided by running track in the offseason, but Jensen also shares two of his players with Trinity baseball coach Dave Evartt.
“The more sports a kid is involved in year-round, the more he’s been competing, and that’s one of the hardest things to teach, is how to compete. If a kid plays other sports, you want to encourage that and understand that you may not have him as much as you have a kid that just plays football.”
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary in terms of added tenacity from year-long competition is senior cornerback A.J. Jackson. Jackson runs the 400-meter dash and is a member of both Trinity’s 4x400-meter and 4x200-meter relay teams and said that track conditioning is part of what makes him able to juggle multiple assignments from Jensen.
“I can keep going, even doing kickoffs and going straight to defense,” Jackson said. “It’s not hard for me to get into football shape after running track.”
“He’s just a competitor no matter what, and that really translates into him being an outstanding special teams player,” Jensen added. “His eyes dilate and he’s ready to go whenever you put him in there. He’s just a good senior DB that’s seen a lot, and on special teams, there’s really nobody better.”
The competitive fire that playing multiple sports has stoked in Jackson comes through loudest on what’s known in Euless as Turnover Tuesdays, when fumble recovery drills and creating extra possessions are the top practice priority.
“Turnover Tuesdays - that’s a big deal for us,” Jackson said. “That’s what we do on the Trinity defense – we force turnovers.”
Another defensive leader with track and field chops, nose tackle Chris Daniels, is one of the most coveted recruits in the area. Daniels, a senior, recently narrowed his list of possible colleges to five of the most prestigious college football programs in the country: Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan and Texas A&M.
His modest five tackles through the season’s first two games were probably more due to opposing offenses running away from Daniels than a lack of impact.
“If any unit typifies team, it’s the D-line. He’s just one cog in the wheel – a big, talented one, no doubt, but what makes the defensive line go is the rotation and having fresh legs in there all the time, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Free safety Cameron Jones, while just a sophomore, has refined his raw speed during track season and used it to some early success on on the football field as well. After gaining some varsity-level experience last year as a freshman, Jones is one of the steadying presences on the Trojans defense in his sophomore season, a kind of quarterback of the secondary.
And his wheels don’t hurt his cause. He broke a Trinity record in the 400-meter dash last year before advancing to the Region I meet in the event, a rarity for just a freshman. He nabbed his first career interception in the Trojans’ 41-16 Week 2 win over Rockwall.
“He’s a tremendous athlete and great outstanding track kid. He can really go,” Jensen said. “You’ve got to be half crazy to run that 400. He’s a tough kid, and we encourage it. How do you get faster? You run.”
Trinity (3-0) will meet Houston-area power Galena Park North Shore (1-2) Friday at Baylor’s McLane Stadium in Waco Friday for the Trojans’ final non-district tuneup before facing Colleyville Heritage in its District 7-6A opener next week.