Having Fun With Two

Illinois' Kyle Hudson excels in both football and baseball

April 26, 2007

By Douglas Kroll




Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball.
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Being a two-sport star in college is nothing new. The collegiate ranks have seen its fair share of guys who trade the pigskin for the cowhide each year.


Going back through time, the names stand out of guys that not only excelled as amateurs, but in the pros. There was Deion Sanders at Florida State who even added track to baseball and football. Sanders even played the first game of a doubleheader, ran a leg of a 4x100 relay, then returned to the diamond to play in the second game of the day. 


There was Brian Jordan at Richmond, and Bo Jackson at Auburn. Jackson hit .401 with 17 homeruns in 1985. Now there's Kyle Hudson at Illinois. 


Hudson doesn't put up the same power numbers that Jackson did during his time wrecking SEC pitching. But the Mattoon, Ill. native does strike fear into Big Ten pitchers during the spring and opposing defensive coordinators in the fall.  


Unlike some who have tried their hand in two sports, Hudson has excelled in his two and a half years in Champaign. Playing for head coach Ron Zook this fall, the sophomore wide receiver led the Illini in receptions (30) and receiving yards (403)--the second straight season Hudson led the team in receiving.  On the diamond, Hudson roams centerfield, and is currently second on the team with a .443 batting average and has driven in 16 runs. His on-base percentage is an outstanding .518.


While football and baseball are obviously in two different seasons, there are conflicts that arise each spring when the football team puts on the pads for spring practice during the month of April. Hudson is forced to miss midweek baseball games in order to practice on the gridiron and misses some scrimmages in football to fulfill his commitment to play in Big Ten conference play. He also finds himself never having an off night, which can be tough.


"It was real busy," Hudson said. "I had baseball practice on the nights that I didn't have football practice, and then the next two nights I'd have football practice. It went like that through the weeks, and then on the weekends I would leave on Thursday to play in baseball games on the weekends."


The constant never-ending season can also take a toll on some. By the time football season is over in the winter, baseball practice is only a month away.  And by the time baseball season is over in the spring, football practice is only a couple months away. Add in the overlap of fall practice for baseball and spring practice for football, it can take a serious toll on a player's body.


"My body hurts a little bit," Hudson said of taking hits on the football field and tracking down fly balls in the outfield. "But I can get through it. All of the trainers on the staff do a good job with me to keep me healthy. I get tired every now and then but it's not too bad. I can get through it."


His baseball coach, Dan Hartleb, doesn't have a problem with one of his best players missing out on some games. This season saw Hudson miss five.


"If you ask coach Zook, he'll tell you the ideal situation would be for Kyle to never miss football, and for me, it's for him to never miss baseball," Hartleb said. "He's a special athlete and we have to try and make things work for both clubs. We have to try and make both teams better while having Kyle excel in both sports."


Saturday's in the fall can also be tough for the coach, as he watches one of his most hardworking players get tackled on the field. But Hartleb says he doesn't worry about that.


"I'm a big time sports fan, both football and basketball," Hartleb said. "It's like anything else, Kyle can go out tonight and get hurt playing baseball, so am I out there having those thoughts? No. I'm out there cheering for him, hoping he has great success."


But both coaches haven't expressed any concern to Hudson about worries of injury.


"They've been great with communication and all that stuff," Hudson said. "They both seem real happy for me to do it, so I'm appreciative of them."


The obvious question arises when one comes across a player like Hudson: which sport does he like better? The pure athlete that he is, had a simple answer, "Whichever one is in season."


It's an answer that will please either coach. Zook and Hartleb are very understanding of the player they share. After all, the goal is to help the school succeed, and it's something that each has to keep in mind.


"I've talked to coach Zook over the past two and a half years to make sure that we're doing what's best for both programs and to keep what's best for Kyle in mind," Hartleb said. 


It's not as if Zook hasn't dealt with this kind of thing before. Going back to his days as head coach at Florida, backup quarterback Gavin Dickey doubled as a starter on the baseball team. A Gators team that went all the way to Omaha. So it didn't come as a surprise when Hudson was being recruiting by both Zook and Hartleb. Something that Zook had no problem with after handing him a scholarship.


"I let coach Zook know I wanted to play baseball too," Hudson recalled. "They said as long as I produced for both teams it'd be able to happen."


While Hudson hits ninth in the Illini order, he has helped lead the team to a 7-7 record in conference play and an overall record above .500. The 5-foot-11 speedster is every coach's dream. The prototypical kid that will go all out everyday, and when spring comes, Kyle Hudson happens to be doing it twice as much as any other.

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