Like many high school seniors, I had no clue where I wanted to go to college. I knew I wanted to keep playing sports in the Big Ten Conference and earn a scholarship. Football seemed like a better choice because they are a 100% full ride sport. Baseball is a partial scholarship sport, but I probably had a better future as a catcher than a fullback. Could I get Division I offers? Which sport? Throw in the usual questions like: are my grades good enough? Does anyone want me? Where the hell is Iowa on the map? and we have ourselves a stressful situation.
Football? Baseball? Both? I loved them both equally and was a stubborn kid, so giving up one sport in favor of the other was unacceptable. Giving up both and being a regular student was ludicrous. I thought tracking all my recruiting letters for both sports might help guide me, so I had a 5×7 index card with a line drawn down the middle. Football on the left, baseball on the right. Each time a new school sent me mail I would write it down with a tally mark. Clearly, whoever sent me the most mail was the most interested, right? The leaders were the University of Iowa (football) and the University of Illinois-Chicago (baseball).
UIC had no football team and I wanted to go away for college, so they were out. Iowa, with their distinct black and yellow uniforms, Big Ten presence, and close, 3-hour drive from home was in. In the meantime, I started to get recruited by the baseball team as well. Could this be the perfect situation?
On my first visit to Iowa City in the spring of 1997, the football coaches told me they would not be offering any scholarships to fullbacks but wanted me to walk-on. The famous Chuck Long, their former star quarterback and Chicagoland recruiter, showed me around the football complex and talked about the commitment required to be a Hawkeye. I was sold. Coach Long also said he knew the baseball team was equally interested in me, so both programs would be willing to work together.
As I was shuffled off to visit with Coach Duane Banks and the baseball team, Coach Banks told me I was one of three catchers they were considering offering a scholarship to. (Fun fact, two of those guys ended up going elsewhere.) Coach Banks said although he wanted me all to himself, he respected Coach Long’s request for me to play football and would give me a year to play both sports. Then, I had to decide.
I was sold again. If I could play one year of college football before settling on baseball — at my preferred Big Ten school — I might be at peace giving up football. I’m all in!
Two short months later, Coach Banks was fired. There was no scholarship offer. I was already accepted to the university and committed to the football program, so it was too late to back out. Coach Banks told me that if the new coach was hired from within the program, our arrangement would still be valid (albeit without a scholarship).
In the fall of 1997, I arrived in Iowa City with mononucleosis. My weight dropped to 183 pounds and I sat out for 6 weeks. I was one of the smallest guys on the entire team, not to mention in the running back room. The baseball program promoted Scott Broghamer to the head job, but contrary to Coach Banks’ reassurance, Broghamer told me since I was on the football team, I was a football player and not a baseball player. There was no room on the Iowa baseball team for me.
After a redshirt year of mono, scout team, winter conditioning, and spring football, it was time to find a new baseball home. Did the firing of Coach Banks forever alter my baseball future? Could I recover after a year away from baseball? Tune in again; same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!