By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Over the years there have been players who mixed both football and baseball on a very high level, beginning with a pair of Heisman Trophy winners who made it to the major leagues.
The first was Vic Janowicz from Ohio State, but the second was a player who was far more famous, Bo Jackson of Auburn.
Add to them seven members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Deion Sanders, Ernie Nevers, Red Badgro, Paddy Driscoll, Ernie Nevers, Ace Parker and George Halas, who preceded Babe Ruth in right field for the New York Yankees, and Jim Thorpe — who also played baseball.
The most recent example of this phenomena is Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who postponed his football career to first try baseball and to give hope to any number of other young players that this could be done.
One player who would have loved to have found a way to pursue both dreams is wide receiver KJ Myers, a key player on this year’s West Virginia University team that goes after its third victory Saturday against Maryland in M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.
Myers was a pretty good baseball player in Jacksonville, Fla., but decided to concentrate on football to earn his way through college.
It does not mean he has turned his back on baseball.
“I love the game,” he admitted, a rare admission for a young football player in the current generation.
So what is it about baseball that Myers finds so attractive?
“I love the environment of the game of baseball,” he said. “It’s very different — the glory of the game. It has so much history. Being up to bat, being out in the field with your hat on, your shades on.”
No facemask. No gigantic helmet.
And no getting lost among 22 players seemingly running in every direction.
“It’s so much one-on-one. You versus pitcher. You stealing a base,” he said.
What, though, carries over into football?
“I played centerfield,” the 6-2,197-pound Myers said. “You track the ball the same way out there.”
Anyone who has seen Myers run under a pass for West Virginia can almost imagine him streaking into right centerfield to make an over-the-shoulder grab of a sure triple.
Any edge he can get in the battle for playing time here at West Virginia is vital, such is the battle between the likes of Daikiel Shorts, Kevin White, Ronald Carswell, Ivan McCartney, Mario Alford, DeVonte Mathis, Jordan Thompson and himself.
“The competition is crazy,” he said.
It is so crazy that it drives you to be your best — every time you step on the field.
“You can have no off days, can have no bad days. The pressure is on every time you step on that field,” Myers said. “Every day in practice you have to go hard; you have to be consistent. You can’t have drops; you can’t mess up any routes or any plays or anything like that.”
And this week the competition isn’t only against his own wide receivers and the Maryland defensive backs, but against the Terps’ talented two receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, a one-time WVU recruit.
“I want to make better plays than their receivers. I want to make their cornerbacks look bad,” Myers admitted.
And, with the discovery of redshirt freshman Ford Childress at quarterback, he believes he has a big chance to do just that.
“Ford has a great cool in the pocket. He’s also tall. We run our routes, and we can see him. We can spot him over the D-line and over the O-line,” Myers said. “He has a big arm and is not afraid to put the ball down the field and let us make a play.”
This willingness to go downfield makes him a dream quarterback for a daring receiver.
“That’s good,” Myers said. “You never know what is going to happen when that ball is in the air. Your receiver is going to want to make a play on the ball. I feel like a quarterback should take some risks once in a while.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.