Athletics participation in any sport at the level Alabama competes is very, very difficult. Keith Holcombe is attempting the task of playing both football and baseball for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban has said in the past that he encourages those men who can play more than one sport to do it, but understands the challenge that comes with that effort. Saban pointed out that when he was growing up, he went from football to basketball to baseball, but that in today’s world many high school athletes settle on one sport.
Even for multisport high school players, the college game requires intense dedication to a primary sport. Beginning in January, Alabama football players begin an off-season program, the Fourth Quarter, which is designed to prepare them for the rigors of spring practice. Following spring training, there is a summer conditioning program. Fall camp begins in August, and the season goes through late December or early January.
College baseball players have fall practice, pre-season practice, college seasons, and then almost all play in some summer league.
Holcombe, who will be a third-year sophomore in football, is listed on the spring practice roster as a 6-4, 227-pound linebacker. He is not, however, participating in football drills. Instead he has become a valuable member of the Bama baseball team this spring.
Last fall, Holcombe participated in all 15 games in Alabama’s national championship season, both as a back-up inside linebacker and as a member of special teams. He was in on nine tackles, broke up a pass, and the the highlight his season was the block of a Florida punt for a safety in the Southeastern Conference Championship game.
He will be with the Alabama baseball team when it plays in the Capital City Classic against Auburn at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery Tuesday night, and then the team will leave for Athens and a three-game series against Georgia beginning Thursday.
Holcombe has played in 15 of the Tide’s 23 games, starting 12 of them. The left-fielder, who did not have the benefit of baseball’s fall practice, is batting .293 (12-41) with 10 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, and 4-6 stolen bases.
A few football players contribute in track and field, but without missing football. They include cornerback Marlon Humphrey in sprints and hurdles and running back Xavian Marks in sprints.
Saban said that Holcombe has a tough job playing football.
“I don’t know how they do it,” Saban said Monday. “They leave today and are gone until Sunday, going to Montgomery to play a game,then stay there and go to Athens. I get concerned about a guy playing two sports when he’s got to miss four days of school. Football players don’t have to miss a lot of school because we play on Saturdays. So seldom do we miss hardly anything. It takes a little getting used to for me for guys to do that. Keith’s a bright guy, he’s a smart guys, he’s a good student, and so it shouldn’t have that big an effect on him.
“We want him to play baseball. He wants to play baseball.
“It make it more difficult for him to balance what he needs to do in football and he has a chance to be a great contributor next year on the football team. By not being here [for football practice] in the spring and doing some of the things in the role that he fits into, it could affect his development to some degree.
“But whatever he misses, we’ll make every effort to make up so that he gets those reps and can get where he needs to be.”