Consider the case of Brandon Avalos--the pride of Tuscaloosa's Hillcrest High School who describes a recent conversation with Tide football coach Dennis Franchione. "He asked me whether I was a quarterback playing baseball or the other way around," Avalos related. "I just told him, ‘Coach, I'll put it this way. When it's football season, I'm a quarterback. And when it's baseball season, I play centerfield.'"
It's certainly not unusual for an athlete to play several sports, especially not on the prep level. But few youngsters boast legitimate credentials in in both fields. As a junior quarterback for the Patriots last fall Avalos accounted for over 1,700 yards of offense, including 14 touchdowns. Then in the spring he switched uniforms and led off for the Hillcrest baseball team, hitting over .375 with 24 RBIs, four homers and 20 stolen bases.
"Brandon is just an outstanding athlete," was how Hillcrest Head Football Coach Bart Harper put it. "He's got all the tools--great feet and great hand-eye coordination. As a sophomore he had over 50 catches for us playing wide receiver. Then we moved him to quarterback last year, and he just did an outstanding job for us. He was a playmaker for us. He does a great job at quarterback leading our team."
During baseball season, Avalos is a fixture in centerfield where his speed and arm make him an excellent defensive fielder. In football he began for Coach Harper at receiver, waiting his turn while a senior quarterback finished out his career. And 50 receptions in a run-oriented offense proved his athleticism. "I'd classify myself as an athletic, passing quarterback," Avalos said. "That's what I feel like I am. I've run a lot in high school, but those aren't really designed runs. Those are being-under-pressure runs. A lot of my yards--probably most of them--came on scrambling."
Like any good coach, Harper recognized what he had and designed his offense to take advantage of Avalos' quick feet. "We do some option just because of his running ability," Harper explained. "But we like to just get Brandon on the corner and let him make the decision whether to run or throw. We don't just straight drop him back in a pocket. We use a moving pocket, because he's so good with his feet. But Brandon can also throw the football. He's very accurate and has a good, strong arm. He can throw the ball on the run, or he can set up and throw the football. He's not just a running quarterback."
Different high school programs are noted for one type offense or another, and Harper believes in running the football to win. So a great deal of Avalos' rushing numbers (468 yards on 67 attempts last season) came off of scrambles. A quick glance at his highlight tape reveals a quick, fluid runner darting in and out of traffic with the ability to cut on a dime. "He's a very instinctive athlete who always seems to make the right decisions on the field," Harper explained. "We're very comfortable when he goes back to pass in his decision making. If there is nobody open, he's got that great athletic ability to make something happen. He can make something out of nothing."
Viewing Avalos' highlight tape and watching him dodge onrushing linemen, you might expect a smaller, more compact option-type QB. But at 6-1 and 175 solid pounds, Avalos is bigger than the standard running quarterback. And having grown inches and added 25 pounds in the last two years, the Tuscaloosa native is still growing. "There are quarterbacks that either run or throw, but I like to do both," Avalos said. "I'd like to play in an offense where that could happen. Quarterback is what I want. At this point I'm not playing anything else besides quarterback.
"The new offenses these days need quarterbacks that are athletic. Even the NFL is headed that way, and I think that's what you need to win these days. The defensive people are getting faster. You've got defensive linemen running 4.6s. You need someone fast enough to get away from that rush. Drop-back only passers won't last."
Of course when an athletic quarterback performs well in a run-oriented offense, inevitably recruiting experts wonder about his arm strength. "From the camps that I've attended, they've told me my strengths are my arm AND my feet," Avalos said. "There had been questions about my arm, but every camp I've gone to said my arm strength was fine. Every camp I've been to said I had a great arm, so I don't think there is a question."
In football, Avalos is hearing from Nebraska (where he camped recently), Clemson, Notre Dame, Washington, LSU and Duke among others. And Virginia Tech, Purdue, UAB and Southern Miss have already extended offers. But even though his family roots run deep in Texas, Avalos likes the Deep South just fine. "Honestly, (attending school close to family) doesn't play into it," he said. "I didn't even send any tapes to Texas schools. I guess LSU would be close, but not really close.
"I love Alabama. From now until the middle of the recruiting process, they're going to easily stay in my Top Five. And that's not just because they're local, but because I like them anyway. That's the only thing I've ever thought of. I'm not one of those kids anxious to get away from home--not at all."
But in Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington, the Tide signed two outstanding quarterbacks last year. Wouldn't that factor into Avalos' decision, pushing him toward another school where the competition would be less? "That doesn't bother me--not at all," Avalos stated. "Anywhere you go there is going to be competition--Alabama or Virginia Tech or any other school that you can name. I seem to work better under competition. It brings the best out of me when I'm being pushed."
At this point in the recruiting process, indications are that the Tide coaches are waiting until after the summer camps before offering any quarterbacks. And whether Avalos fields an early offer may depend on where the staff projects him to play on the college level. But interestingly, should Coach Franchione decide to offer, he may find himself battling another Tide coach for Avalos' commitment.
It's summertime now, which finds the youngster playing for the South Tuscaloosa American Legion baseball team. And competing against the top prep talent around, including several junior college and college players, Avalos is hitting around .440--good enough to prompt a recent scholarship offer from Alabama's Coach Wells.
Which school he'll sign with---indeed, which sport he'll play---remains up in the air. But at least one thing Avalos has plenty of right now, is options. "At this point I'm open to anything," he explained. "I'm just looking. It is exciting. I've played sports all my life, but you never expect that (attention). It's gotten pretty busy sometimes, phone calls every night. I'm open to anywhere. I'm trying to get as many people as I can interested in me. I think it's important to have more than just the local schools interested."
EDITOR'S NOTE: A Division IA athlete on football scholarship can usually play both football and baseball, provided he goes through spring football practice. But the same athlete on baseball scholarship would not be allowed to play football. Avalos clearly loves baseball and football and wants to play both in college. But projecting beyond the college level, his dream is to play Major League Baseball.