Originally created 09/17/99

Quarterbacks excel on the diamond as well



CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- For nearly two years, Florida coach Steve Spurrier belittled Doug Johnson's two-sport aspirations.

The only way the strong-armed quarterback could manage the nuances of the Fun 'n' Gun offense, Spurrier said, was for Johnson to turn his back on baseball.

It's an approach that wouldn't have gone over well with Miami quarterback Kenny Kelly.

"That wasn't fair on Steve Spurrier's part," said Kelly, who like Johnson spends his summers playing in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' organization.

"Playing baseball in the summer is my job," Kelly continued. "If a coach told me that he doesn't think it's good to go back and do my job, stay here full time, I'd ask, `How would it feel for you not to go to your job?' That's how I take care of my daughters, and nobody can stop me."

Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson showed it's possible to play both sports at high levels. But neither played quarterback, the most demanding position on the field.

With Florida State's Chris Weinke, each of Florida's major powers have quarterbacks with baseball on their minds. It's part of a growing trend that also includes Michigan's Drew Henson (Yankees), LSU's Josh Booty (Marlins). Georgia's Quincy Carter, who played in the Cubs organization, gave up baseball once he became the Bulldogs' starter.

Weinke and Booty returned to football after exhausting their baseball careers. Johnson hasn't played baseball in two years, though the option remains. Kelly and Henson, meanwhile, continue to work at both sports.

"You have to deal with each individual kid," said Miami coach Butch Davis, who has kept relatively quiet about Kelly's baseball breaks. "It might turn out to be better than do only one thing all summer long."

Spurrier wasn't happy in 1997 when Johnson, Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel's heir apparent, left to honor his summer commitment to the Devil Rays, who took him in the second round of the 1996 draft. And the displeasure grew when Johnson threw six interceptions and no touchdowns in two losses.

Johnson wound up being benched, then alternated with Noah Brindise and Jesse Palmer. Elbow surgery, leading some to wonder about overuse, caused Johnson to sit idle in summer 1998.

The relationship didn't really warm until after January's Orange Bowl. Johnson dedicated himself to his senior season, and Spurrier handed him the starting job.

"Doug's got one year left of college football," Spurrier said earlier this year. "If baseball's his best sport, he's got the rest of his life to do it. He's only got one more year to see if football's his best sport."

Johnson played well in Florida's 2-0 start, throwing for 553 yards and eight TDs, and said he understands what his coach was preaching.

"I can tell it helps as far as conditioning, strength and the way I'm throwing the ball," Johnson said. "I'm not coming from baseball trying to catch up."

Kelly spent three months playing center field at Class-A St. Petersburg, where he hit .277 in 51 games with three home runs and 14 stolen bases.

Miami's coaches asked only that Kelly work harder at maintaining his playing weight. Last summer, baseball's daily grind caused him to lose 16 pounds. This year, he came back just four pounds lighter.

Kelly has shown no signs of fatigue through Miami's first two games, throwing for three TDs and rushing for another in wins over Ohio State and Florida A&M.

The decision is never easy. Weinke spent six years in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization before finishing at Triple-A.

"When I got the chance to play baseball, I felt I had to take it," said Weinke, a 27-year-old junior. "I thought that was my best sport. I don't think that way anymore, but I guess we'll have to find out."

Despite some rough spots early last year, Weinke didn't lose his football skills. He was 9-1 as a starter, throwing for 2,487 yards and 19 TDs, and has 510 yards and five TDs in two wins this season.

Kelly said he isn't ready to choose his career destination.

"I don't want to see myself giving up football right now and four years from now deciding that was a big mistake," he said.