High School Football

‘The guys we really count on’: How multi-sport athletes benefit Fort Mill football

Not all athletes play football — but, as it turns out for the Fort Mill High School football team, many of those who play football play other sports.

Of the 59 football players on the Fort Mill varsity roster, 22 of them (nearly 37 percent), are multi-sport athletes. This is nothing new in high school athletics, but having players with expertise in other sports have been beneficial to the program, said Fort Mill head coach Rob McNeely.

“There is a lot of crossover in sports,” McNeely said. “To be the best in their sport, they have to lift, they have to have great time management, and that, in turn, leads to discipline.”

With Fort Mill being a 5A school, the Jackets are going up against some of the best competition in the state most of the time during the season. While the struggle for Fort Mill football has been obvious in the win-loss column in recent years, this season, the Jackets have been more competitive in recent games.

McNeely said the multi-sport athletes have benefited his team more than one could imagine and the team wouldn’t be the same without them.

“We have good numbers,” he said. “But the guys we really count on, guys that are starters or on special teams or the guys with depth, most of them are multi-sport athletes. Without those guys, we would struggle to be competitive. I think it starts with (athletic director Dwayne) Hartsoe and our whole athletic program being advocates for each other. It benefits our whole athletic program.”

McNeely said that nowadays most sports don’t really have offseasons. Sports like baseball have fall leagues that are precursors to what is done in the spring. Basketball has summer practices and competition, which precede the main season in the winter.

“Most of these sports are full time jobs,” McNeely said. “Even our baseball players that play football are off doing stuff with pitching coaches or hitting coaches or stuff like that on the weekend. Our basketball guys are trying to get shots up when they can. They have to be disciplined in their time management. Most of those guys that can juggle two and three sports are the ones you can count on. You know they are going to be doing the right thing.”

The Jackets’ 6-1, 190-pound senior quarterback Dylan Helms plays both football and baseball, and he said the down time during the winter helps in the transition between the two sports.

“When football is over, you get a break before you go to baseball,” he said. “You get a rest and let you body heal. For me, baseball and football aren’t that bad because you get a break.”

For others, like seniors 5-11, 160-pound receiver Cabe Christopher and 6-0, 165-pound receiver Xavier Easterlin — who both play basketball — there isn’t much of a break.

“I go straight from football to basketball to baseball,” Christopher said. “I don’t get any breaks. I just work weekends whenever I can. After football, I just try to go to the gym and get up shots. I try to work in the other sports with whatever season I currently am in.”

Along with playing multiple sports, burnout might be a concern for some athletes, but not for Easterlin.

“I am not worried about it,” he said. “I just try to make sure I stay in shape because football and basketball are two totally different things as far as conditioning.”

While playing multiple sports, athletes also need to find time to be a student and person: juggling things like homework and extra-curricular activities outside of sports. Helms said a lot of the stuff they do is behind the scenes, where no one is watching or noticing. He said playing multiple sports and having to focus on studies as well takes away from a lot of downtime he might have with his friends.

“Obviously, schoolwork comes first,” Helms said. “Once you get that done, then you focus on getting everything else done and being an athlete. You kind of get use to it. You get a schedule and routine down.”

Christopher, who plays three sports, said juggling a hectic schedule has become second nature to him.

“Each sport brings something different to the table,” he said. “You work on different things for each sport, and it translates to other sports. The stuff we work on in basketball doesn’t just apply to basketball; it helps me on the football field. Playing different sports also helps with injury prevention, and I work out a lot of different muscles. The stuff I work out in basketball, helps me not get injured in football.”

McNeely said having a good foundation in the weight room is also key for any multisport athlete.

“We have never told any of our kids not to do another sport, but in the offseason, our weight program is so important to putting a competitive program on the field during the fall,” McNeely said. “We structure our weight program to get them better for football, but that weight lifting is going to benefit them as well in other sports.”

Mac Banks: mbanks@comporium.net, @MacBanksFM