Notre Dame's Two-Sport Star Enjoys Balancing Act

Jeff Samardzija could have a future playing professional baseball or football


May 13, 2006

By Bryan Armen Graham
Assistant Editor, CSTV.com



BRYAN GRAHAM

Bryan is a basketball editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
E-mail here!

 

South Orange, N.J. - As Jeff Samardzija conducted a series of interviews in between games of a twinbill Saturday afternoon at Carroll Field on the campus of Seton Hall University, it was plain to see that Notre Dame's junior hurler wasn't just another face in the visiting dugout.

 

Middle-aged men clad in Irish football jerseys shouted, teenage girls and coeds ogled and a gaggle of grade-schoolers clutching baseballs and Sharpies circled him like mosquitoes as soon as the right-hander exited the fenced playing field to speak with a camera crew.

 

Indeed, just months after catching 77 passes for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns as a wide receiver for the school's celebrated football team, the Valparaiso, Ind., native has become one of Notre Dame's most visible sports figures.

 

"There are a lot of things that get packed in, and you get pulled both ways by both coaches and coaching staffs," says Samardzija of the two-sport experience. "There are a lot of things you have to take care of."

 

In one of his more spotty outings of the season, Samardzija surrendered five earned runs over the first three innings of Saturday's opener and suffered just his second loss of the season when his side's ninth-inning rally came up short. (The Irish would force a split in the second game with a 14-12 victory.)

 

Notre Dame (38-12-1, 18-4-1 Big East) had already clinched a spot in the conference tournament coming into its three-game series with the Pirates (16-31, 6-17). While the Irish missed an opportunity to nail down the regular-season title Saturday, they will have another opportunity to secure the crown next weekend at Villanova.

 

Samardzija has anchored a staff that is producing one of the more memorable seasons in the history of the program. The Irish established a school record 23-game winning streak that lasted from Mar. 23 until a loss at the hands of Purdue on Apr. 26. Most of that run occurred during the busiest period of Samardzija's year: When baseball overlaps with spring football season.

 

"No time off is pretty much how it works. You keep running back and forth from one to the other," says Samardzija, who credits a pair of accommodating coaching staffs for helping enable his two-sport ambition. "A lot of practicing, a lot of games, a lot of homework. Spring football and finals week are usually the biggest crunch. Now that finals are over and football is over you can just concentrate on baseball."

 

Samardzija, whose 95 mph fastball has baffled Big East opponents all season long, can only hope that concentration will help lead the Irish into the College World Series.

 

One year ago, Samardzija had snagged just 24 catches for 327 yards and zero touchdowns in his two-season career. But following his breakout campaign for Charlie Weis in the fall, the wideout rocketed up mock drafts and was projected as a high pick in the NFL Draft.

 

Of course, that was before announcing his intent to return to play his senior season in South Bend. But whether Samardzija continues through the spring to play one last year on the diamond remains to be seen.

 

"The one guarantee is that I'll be back to play football for my senior season," Samardzija says. "Beyond that, I just want to keep as many of my options open as possible."

 

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