From the gridiron to the diamond: FBS players who excelled in college baseball (2024)

The cross between baseball and football dates back to the 1940s when names such as Jackie Robinson made headlines as a heavy hitter on both fields while at UCLA. As a dual athlete, heposted a .097 batting average and led the Bruins in passing (444 yards), rushing (383 yards) and scoring (36 points).

For many years, athletes have been inspired by figures like Robinson and Deion Sanders and have managed to balance both football and baseball in their careers. There are numerous collegiate and professional athletes who have managed to balance both football and baseball, excelling in both sports. Let's explore a few collegiate athletes who have maneuvered their way around baseball and football to become multi-sports stars.

Kirk Gibson

From the gridiron to the diamond: FBS players who excelled in college baseball (1)

University: Michigan State
Years: 1975-78
Football: Wide Receiver
Baseball: OF

Before becoming the legend we know today from two-time World Series champ to College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Kirk Gibson was a dual star and one of the all-time greats for Michigan State.

Gibson made a lasting mark on Spartan history as a football player. By the end of his career, he held records for pass receptions (112), touchdowns (26), and pass reception yards (2347). Even now, he still ranks in the top five for the latter two records. Did I mention he was named a First Team All-American during his senior year?

His accolades on the football field transferred to the diamond. As a junior, Gibson took on baseball where he made a long-lasting effect — landing in the record books for all-time single-season homers (16) and hit .390 with 52 RBIs. As a 1978 First Team All-Big Ten and First Team All-American, Gibson took his talents to the Detroit Tigers where he played from 1979-87 before heading to the Dodgers in 1988.

Todd Helton

From the gridiron to the diamond: FBS players who excelled in college baseball (3)

University: Tennessee
Years: 1993-95
Football: QB
Baseball: 1B/LHP

Todd Helton is considered one of the most established baseball players in Tennessee history, but what you might not have known is that he held a quick stint as quarterback for the Vols in 1994.

That year, Helton accounted for two touchdowns, 406 passing yards and rushed for 58 yards all while balancing his promising baseball future. While we know how that turned out, back then Helton's football status was "unsure," according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel (1993) as he apprenticed under seniors Heath Shuler and Jerry Colquitt.

With a focus on baseball throughout his collegiate career, Helton set a SEC season record in 1995 for 80 RBI. He also led the Vols in at-bats (251), runs (65) and hits (89). Helton went on to play for the Rockies as the eighth overall pick in the first round of the 1995 First-Year MLB Draft, according to Tennessee athletics.

Phil Nevin

From the gridiron to the diamond: FBS players who excelled in college baseball (4)

University: Cal State Fullerton
Years: 1989-92
Football: Punter/Kicker
Baseball: 3B

Before reaching the height of his collegiate baseball career, Phil Nevin was a silent threat for the Titans football team. Taking on the role of punter/kicker (1989-91), Nevin made 15-of-21 field goals and averaged 40.1 yards as a punter in 1990 and 40.9 yards in 1991. He was selected as a freshman All-American Placekicker in 1989.

After quitting the football team during his junior year, Nevin became a powerhouse on the diamond. Overall, Nevin walked away with his name etched as a legend in Titan baseball. He was named the 1992Golden Spikes Award winner and Men's College World Series MVP after leading the Titans to the 1992 title game.

John Rhys Plumlee

From the gridiron to the diamond: FBS players who excelled in college baseball (5)

University: Ole Miss, UCF
Years: 2019-21, 2022-23
Football: QB
Baseball: OF

John Rhys Plumlee's story didn't start at UCF but close to his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Plumlee started his dual-athletic career with Ole Miss as a quarterback in 2019 before transferring to UCF. He recorded 981 passing yards, ran for 1,189 yards and accounted for 12 rushing touchdowns. As an OF for Ole Miss, he recorded one homer and 7 RBIs.

It wasn't until his time with UCF that his athletic career changed and Plumlee was able to excel in two sports. During the 2023 season, Plumlee played in 58 games for the Knights — recording 10 HRs, 32 RBIs and 43 runs.

As a Knight, Plumlee took on a more extensive QB role as he accounted for 29 passing touchdowns and totaled up 4,857 passing yards. His athleticism allowed him to strive in both sports; ultimately choosing football as the final path after signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers in April 2024.

JonJon Vaughns

From the gridiron to the diamond: FBS players who excelled in college baseball (6)

University: UCLA
Years: 2020-Present
Football: LB
Baseball: OF

Just like the strides of former Bruin Jackie Robinson, JonJon Vaughns is another name that's making his own legacy as a football and baseball player. Vaughns began his career at UCLA in 2020 after being named a three-star recruit according to ESPN.

At 6-foot-2, the 220 lb linebacker has accounted for a career total of 109 tackles and 2 interceptions — including the 2023 season where he played in 12 games and clinched a season-high of five tackles vs. Southern Cal. As a baseball player, Vaughns holds a career total of 19 HRs, 72 RBIS and an ERA of 3.10.

Vaughns recently debuted his not-so-hidden talent of pitching during the 2023 season after throwing a scoreless seventh inning against Cal State Fullerton, according to UCLA Athletics.

From the gridiron to the diamond: FBS players who excelled in college baseball (2024)


Is there a Heisman trophy for baseball? ›

Florida State helps keep the memory of Howser alive, as the Seminoles play on Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium. The NCBWA carries on the tradition as well, handing out the Dick Howser Trophy annually at the College World Series in Omaha. It is widely considered the Heisman Trophy of college baseball.

What does it take to play college baseball? ›

Division 1
  • Height: 5'9''–6'2''
  • Weight: 175–210 lbs.
  • Infield velocity: 87–95+ MPH from the outfield.
  • 60-yard dash: below 6.7.
  • Infield velocity: 87–95+ MPH from the outfield.
  • OBP: .500.
  • Slugging: .600 (minimum 2 at bats per game)

Has anyone sold their Heisman Trophy? ›

Several Heisman trophies have been sold over the years; although there is a ban on the sale of all trophies awarded since 1999, trophies awarded in previous years can be sold. O. J.

Who is the only repeat Heisman Trophy winner when did it happen? ›

On Dec. 2, 1975, Ohio State star running back Archie Griffin claimed his second consecutive Heisman Trophy. He remains the only player to win the award twice.

Can a 30 year old play college baseball? ›

While the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does not set an official age limit for student-athletes to play college sports, their strict eligibility requirements can limit older students' ability to play.

What GPA do you need to play college baseball? ›

Athletes must have at least a 2.3 GPA on a 4.0 scale. To be eligible to play at the Division 1 or Division 2 level, athletes must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. The NCAA recommends starting this after your sophom*ore year of high school. Where are local AAU baseball tryouts?

What is the hardest sport to get a D1 scholarship? ›

What is the hardest athletic scholarship to get? Wrestling is the hardest athletic scholarship for men whereas for women the hardest athletic scholarship to get is volleyball. Wrestling has only a 2.7% chance of earning a scholarship and volleyball has a 3.9% chance of earning a scholarship.

What is the baseball equivalent of the Heisman? ›

The Dick Howser Trophy is bestowed annually to the national college baseball player of the year. The award is named after former collegiate and Major League Baseball (MLB) player and manager Dick Howser, who died as the result of brain cancer on June 17, 1987, at the age of 51.

Who was the Heisman winner who played baseball? ›

In 1987, Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson played for both the Los Angeles Raiders and the Kansas City Royals, becoming the first player to play in both the MLB and the NFL since the 1960s. Jackson played eight years in Major League Baseball and four years in the NFL.

Is the Heisman trophy only for college football? ›

Since 1935, the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to college football's most outstanding player.

What sport gives the Heisman trophy? ›

Heisman Trophy, award given annually to the most outstanding college football player in the United States as determined by a poll of sportswriters.

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