By Paul M. Banks
Since the early ‘90s, the heyday of athletes starring in both baseball and football, we haven’t heard much about two sport stars. Today’s answer to “Neon” Deion $anders and Bo Jackson is Cold Spring, Minnesota native Eric Decker. He needs just two more catches this fall to tie Ron Johnson for the University of Minnesota’s school record for career receptions. The 6’2”, 215 pound senior with 4.5 speed projects as a 3-4th rounder in most NFL Mock Drafts. In collegiate baseball, he hit .329 this past spring after batting .326 in ’08. He’s been drafted by two Upper Midwestern MLB teams already (the Milwaukee Brewers in the 39th round in 2008, Minnesota Twins in the 27th round this past June).
So which sport does he prefer? “If I had to pick one, I’d pick football, there’s something about the game that intrigues me, a special game requiring team work,” Decker told me during my exclusive interview of him at Big Ten Media Day. “Football is an emotional sport where you have to show up on Saturday with the juices flowing, excitement level. And I learned this quick, baseball is the opposite, you got to have a consistent mindset, you’re going to have good at bats and bad at bats, that’s the nature of the game. You got to learn how to control your emotions,” he said in describing the differences between the two games. I mentioned my idea that football is pretty much war and Decker said “Right- yeah, that’s a good point.”
I also asked Decker what he needs to do to take his game to the next level. “Coming off my breaks, and getting off the line, you can always get better at that, and that’s one thing in order to be a great receiver, you have to be able to get off press coverage and get out of your breaks fast,” he responded. Of course, Decker does a lot right already as he broke the school record for single season receptions as a sophomore, and then broke it again (despite missing two games from injury) as a junior. Decker was named All-America honorable mention by SI.com and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season; and move over Tutu Atwell, because Decker is fourth all-time in Minnesota history receiving yards; third in touchdowns.
I asked Decker what the very best part of his game is. “Toughness, competitive drive. I know I’m not the fastest guy, or the strongest, but I definitely won’t back down, and play through the whistle and play that way the whole game,” Decker said sounding like a cross between Tom Petty and the title character in “Rudy”…only with talent, size and speed.
This year he’ll be working with a new offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch who comes from the team that features the wideout Decker sees himself in the mold of. I inquired as to who his game compares to. “Brandon Stokely who plays for Denver now, He’s not flashy, but he catches the ball over the middle and has good hands,” he responded. Decker probably has a bright future in either baseball or football, but I think we can guess which sport he’s leaning towards pursuing after graduation.