Rumors of Kent Youngblood's demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Star Tribune's free thinking Gophers Football beat reporter presented a great idea for a blog entry while we waited for spring practice to end recently.
We saw Eric Decker fast approaching the football field in his baseball gear, preparing for a team training session, when Youngblood wondered aloud where he ranks among some of the best multi-sport athletes in "U" history.
With all due respect to Bud Grant, Paul Giel, and others, we've decided to go no further back than the 1960's for sake of our sanity. Spanning the entire 20th century would entail needing a couple of Sid Hartman's minions, who are kept busy enough.
So without further ado, here is one person's attempt at helping Youngblood answer his question. Keep in mind, we are solely focused on the accomplishments achieved while at the "U", not beyond.
1) Noel Jenke - Lettered three times in football (1966-68) and hockey (1967-69) and once in baseball (1969). He was the captain of the football team as a linebacker in '68. To prove how talented he was, Jenke became the first Univ. of Minn. athlete and Big Ten athlete to letter in three sports and be drafted in all three (Vikings, Blackhawks, Red Sox). His lone year of baseball resulted in First-Team All-American honors. His Gophers hockey career is not noteworthy, but demonstrating the stamina to participate in all three sports puts him number one on our list.
2) Dave Winfield - Lettered in baseball (1971-73) and basketball (1972-73). His baseball success stories are plentiful. We could fill the rest of the page with them. Bottom line, he was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, its inaugural year. His basketball coach, Bill Musselman, once referred to Winfield as the best rebounder he ever had. He helped the Gophers win the Big Ten title in '72. Had career averages of 9 ppg and 5.8 rpg. Even though he was drafted by the Vikings, he never played football for the Gophers.
3) Eric Decker - Maybe it's the immediacy of his achievements, but there isn't a receiver in the Big 10 I would trade him for. Yes that includes Arrelious Benn of Illinois. Decker posseses the rare blend of smarts, athleticism, and confidence. He's the first Minnesota athlete to letter in football and baseball since Andy Persby in 1999. His baseball skills as an outfielder led him to be selected in last June's draft by the Brewers. He hit .329 and led the team in walks. So far this year, through Friday, he has a .318 average and a .985 fielding percentage. He undoubtedly will be drafted again this June and will have a decision to make. Most believe he'll come back for his senior year of football for a chance to play at TCF Bank Stadium. Long-term, baseball is what he may ultimately choose, but he'll be drafted as well in football in April of 2010.
4) Chris Darkins - Phenomenal football player and track star. Was First-Team All-Big Ten in 1994. He ran for 1,443 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 1995 against Purdue, finished with 294 yards on 38 carries. For his career, had 3,235 yards and 21 touchdowns, placing him in the top ten in both categories in school history. Lettered in Track&Field in 1996. That year, he was the Big Ten champ in the 55-Meter Dash with a time of 6.24 seconds. He also shows up in the outdoor records section of the media guide. His 100-Meter Dash time of 10.48 seconds is among the eight best in school history.
5) Omar Douglas - Lettered in football from 1991-93. Was Second-Team All-Big Ten in 1993 as a superb receiver. That same year was also voted the team's most valuable player. The game against Mike Alstott and Purdue in '93 will never be forgotten. Douglas set a Big Ten record with five touchdown catches as the Gophers won 59-56. In 1994, Douglas lettered in Track & Field and finished First-Team All-Big Ten. He was the Big Ten champ in the 55-Meter Dash with a time of 6.29 seconds.
6) Liz Podominick - Never lived up to her basketball hype coming out of Lakeville High School in 2003, but still was a serviceable player for Pam Borton. Lettered in basketball three years and Track & Field four years. Her track production is incredibly impressive. She was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2005 for winning the Outdoor Shot Put and Discuss competitions. She also captured those same Shot Put honors in 2006. Then last year, was the Big Ten champ in the indoor Shot Put battle.
7) Archie Clark - Arguably should be higher. Barely makes our cut as he lettered in basketball (1964-66) and baseball (1964-65). During his senior year in basketball in 1965-'66, Clark was selected captain, becoming one of the first African Americans at Minnesota to hold that honor for any sport. He was also named team MVP and was named to the All-Big Ten team after averaging 24.5 points per game during his senior campaign. He is the 20th leading scorer in Gophers history. On 12/20/65, went for 38 points in a game at Detroit. That is one of the five best individual point performances in the history of the program.
8) Barry Wohler - The current head boys basketball coach at Orono High School, his former teammate, Jim Petersen, recommended him to me. Wohler is better known for his baseball accomplishments. I swapped emails with Wohler for some insight into his playing career. His sophomore year playing basketball resulted in him hitting the clinching three pointer in a win in Madison against Wisconsin. He also hit a shot with five seconds left to help beat Michigan State in East Lansing. The 1982 team won the Big Ten title. As for his baseball days, he was good enough to earn a professional contract.
Other notable multi-sport athletes: Andy Persby (football and baseball), Jeff Nielsen (hockey and golf), Shelton Benjamin (wrestling and track), and Fred Rodgers (football and track).
Assuredly, some athletes were omitted from this list. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.