Aug. 24, 2010
By Jon Cooper
They don’t have a secret handshake or password. They don’t have a nickname or their own special meeting place. But there is something of a fraternal bond that ties wide receiver Stephen Hill, A-Back Roddy Jones and punter Sean Poole.
It’s the kind of bond that comes with representing Georgia Tech in a second sport.
When Hill, a 6-4 sophomore wide receiver, is not going vertical over opposing defensive backs in pursuit of Joshua Nesbitt passes, the high-flyer is going horizontal, as a long-jumper for the Yellow Jackets track team. When Jones, a redshirt junior isn’t cutting through the gaps opened by the offensive line, he’s cutting off the gaps in the outfield of Russ Chandler Stadium, and Poole, a redshirt freshman, when not practicing turning field position is practicing turning two on the infield of “The Rusty C.”
As if balancing academics and football isn’t hard enough, this determined trio adds an extra ball to the juggling act.
“It kind of is like a little brotherhood,” said Poole, with a laugh. “I’m in an elite class, I get the opportunity to play two sports and it’s a privilege to be in that class.”
It’s a privilege requiring the permission of Head Coach Paul Johnson, but one he usually is willing to oblige, provided that football comes first. That’s a condition upon which all three agree.
“When I got the okay [from Coach Johnson] I had to still lift weights and work out with football but I had to find a little bit of time to do long jump workouts,” said Hill, who caught six balls for 137 yards and a touchdown, including a 53-yard reception against Mississippi State, as a freshman. “But other than that, it actually came out well.”
Despite having limited time to train, Hill, a long-jumper since age six, tied All-America Triple-Jumper Alphonso Jordan for the longest jump on the team (24′ 7″) in 2009 and competed in the 2009 ACC Outdoor Championships, which actually cost him a couple of days of Spring Practice.
Ironically, the biggest problem in switching sports was his weight.
“I gained a lot of weight for football and it was kind of hard jumping off one foot having all this weight on me,” said Hill, who plays football at around 195. “Other than that, I wish I could have gone to 25 feet. I didn’t get there but that’s okay.”
Hill had hit 25 feet as a senior at Miller Grove High School in Lithonia, when he went 25 feet, 8 3/4 inches, shattering the state record by nearly three inches, which had been held by Christian Taylor, the 2008 NCAA Indoor Champion.
He enjoyed competing in the long jump but admits that he doesn’t really miss it.
“Not anymore,” he said. “My high school coach used to kill us in track. But we won state. I like football more.”
Jones and Poole, who split their springtime playing for Coach Johnson and Baseball Head Coach Danny Hall, share the same dedication to football.
Jones noticed a difference in making the transition from football to baseball and back.
“It’s a lot harder to go from football to baseball than it is from baseball to football,” said Jones, who raced for 6.5 yards per carry (345 yards in 53 carries), and three scores last season. “Once you step on that football field, a lot of it is just about athleticism. It comes back so quick. A lot of stuff about baseball is about patience and getting the little things down. Football you just go out there and you have fun, you play ball.”
Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 39th round of Major League Baseball’s 2007 June Draft, Jones has abandoned the idea of roaming the outfield…at least for now.
“It’s football season,” he said. “As we get closer to baseball, I’ll talk to the baseball coaches and see what they say and see how I feel. But right now I’m all about football.
“I see the baseball guys around and they joke around with me about coming out in the fall,” he added. “But I’m excited about this football season and I know those guys are, too.”
They are too excited to split their passions between sports.
Poole stressed that staying focused mentally is an important facet of his game.
“Kicking is a mind game,” said the graduate of Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, who redshirted in 2009. “If you’re not prepared mentally you’re not going to be able to perform to the best of your ability physically.
“Punting is a position that you practice all week, work all week, to hopefully never go on the field,” he added, with a laugh. “That means [the offense is] doing great. There was a span last year where we didn’t punt at all for like four games. But whenever it does come time, you have to make sure that you’re prepared to be able to flip the field for the team and do your job.”
Staying ready to flip the field means laying off flips in the batting cage.
“If you try and say, “I’m going to go hit in the cages every afternoon after football practice,’ you’re going to wear yourself out,” he said. “It gets real tiring. You have to make sure you’re one sport, one season and then make the transition.”