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From the gridiron to the diamond: Oakland's two-sport stars

I'll confess. When I'm not rooting for the A's, I'm a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan. It's a funny feeling. One franchise is known for being cheap, the other notoriously extravagant.* One franchise is left in limbo in an antiquated stadium, the other plays in a palace of Texas-sized excess.

When I thought about writing a post about baseball players with football backgrounds (and the reverse), my first thought was Drew Henson, who backed up some Tom Brady guy at Michigan, but was going to be the Yankees star third baseman before they traded for Alex Rodriguez. Then it was Chad Hutchinson, a former Cardinals farmhand. Then it was Quincy Carter. Then things got a little dizzy and I had to sit down. Henson and Carter were lauded as Dallas' quarterbacks of the future. The Mayans weren't that cruel with their predictions.

The A's recently traded for an outfielder with a football background: Seth Smith. The acquisition, and hearing that he backed up Eli Manning at Ole Miss, made me wonder who else tried football before sticking with baseball.

*There are some things about the Cowboys that would warm the hearts of anyone who read (or watched) Moneyball. It's kind of cool watching an undrafted quarterback from a I-AA school throw touchdown passes to a journeyman plucked off the scrap heap or an undrafted receiver from a I-AA school.

Oakland notables:

Seth Smith, A's OF 2012-

He didn't take a snap in a game with Ole Miss, but I found some high school stats. He also played soccer and basketball.

Air Couch was in Kentucky last season. Air Smith will be in South Jackson this year.
Hillcrest Christian junior quarterback Seth Smith threw an average of 30 passes per game last year and expects to throw possibly more this season.
Smith completed 144 of 304 passes, 47.3 percent, for 2,008 yards and 20 touchdowns last year for the 5-5 Cougars. He completed 35 of 72 passes for a season-high 497 yards and five TDs in a 49-38 loss to Parklane.

But for some current members of the Rockies, the best thing about playing quarterback wasn't the fame that came with the position. The best thing was being the man in charge.

"It was fun to be the guy who knew the system, the guy who always had to know what was going on," said outfielder Seth Smith, who still considers football his favorite sport. "When I played quarterback, I felt like I was a coach on the field. I loved that. And I still want to coach football someday."

Gabe Gross, A's OF 2010

Gross, unlike Seth Smith, actually did play in college.



Gross led the Tigers to victory in his first college start, against Daunte Culpepper and the University of Central Florida Knights. He lost his starting job as a sophomore and decided to focus on baseball.

Matt Holliday, A's OF 2009

Matt Holliday was actually offered a scholarship to play quarterback for Oklahoma State.

Holliday threw for 6,211 yards and 68 touchdowns in high school, including a then-state record of 35 TDs as a junior. Holliday engineered a 22-point fourth quarter comeback to beat Union, 43-42, in a 1997 game considered by many one of the greatest Oklahoma high school games in history. Every school in the country wanted him for football and baseball. Major league baseball clubs loved him, too. The only reason he was taken in the seventh round is that most baseball execs believed he would opt for OSU — Holliday’s father was the baseball coach at Oklahoma State at the time.

Frank Thomas, A's DH 2006, 2008



Frank Thomas, as a tight end, actually received a football, not baseball scholarship, to Auburn. Injuries and his success for the TIgers' baseball team led him to choose the diamond. The Big Hurt also kicked for his high school team. Imagine breaking a kick return and seeing this waiting as the last line of defense?

But as a nine-year-old tight end, Thomas was laying out 12-year-old linebackers like bathroom tile. Chester Murray, his Pop Warner coach, returned with nine-year-old Frank from one bludgeoning of 12-year-olds in Savannah and said to Frank Sr., "This kid will be a professional athlete. I don't know in what sport. But he will be a professional athlete."

Dye gave Thomas playing time as a freshman for a team on which P.T. was a precious thing. The 1986 Tigers finished sixth in the final Associated Press poll after beating Southern Cal in the Citrus Bowl. Thomas caught three passes for 45 yards that season and might have followed teammates Lawyer Tillman, Brent Fullwood and Aundray Bruce to the NFL had Dye not exempted him from spring practice to play baseball, as Dye had also done for 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson.

"Frank was really a baseball player who played football," says Baird, who had watched Thomas loop balls over light towers when Thomas was in high school. "He was a baseball fan. He followed the game and knew all the league leaders. When Bo was here, I don't think he knew who George Brett was."

As a freshman first baseman at Auburn, Thomas hit .359, led the Tigers in RBIs and set a school record for home runs with 21, almost all of them prodigious. "He hit a huge one at Georgia," recalls Baird. "He hit one over the scoreboard in centerfield at Georgia Tech Stadium," says Frank Sr. "That was a driiive." Frank Thomas, it appeared, would never look back.

He should have, however. On the first day of full-contact football drills in his sophomore year, a ball carrier for whom he was blocking ran into his right leg from behind, straining ligaments in the knee. Thomas abandoned football, but baseball followed him, slobbering on the heels of his hightops even as he was cut from the '88 Olympic team.

Rickey Henderson, A's OF 79-84, 89-93, 94-95, 98



Rickey was a star running back for Oakland Tech, rushing for 1,100 yards in his senior season. Most of his scholarship offers, he said in 1982, were actually for football, not baseball.

Reggie Jackson, A's OF 1967-1975, 1987

Reggie had a rather painful high school football career.

Jackson graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1964, where he excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track and field.[6] In his junior year of high-school, Jackson, a tailback, tore up his knee in a early season game. He was told by the doctors he was never to play football again, but Jackson returned for the final game of the season.[7] In that game, Jackson fractured five cervical vertebrae, which caused him to spend six weeks in the hospital, and another month in a neck cast. Doctors told Jackson that he might never walk again, let alone play football, but Jackson defied the odds again.

Last interesting note, longtime quarterback Rodney Peete, who played a couple seasons with the Raiders, was actually drafted by the A's as a third baseman in 1988, but did not sign.

I'm sure I missed a few people... let me know in the comments!