Skip to main content

Most Super Bowl Participants Were Multi-Sport Athletes

James Develin

In an age where young athletes are specializing earlier and earlier, a poll of Super Bowl players revealed only eight of the 28 we asked focused on one sport, and none of those did so until high school.

Tom Brady excelled at baseball and football at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, while New England Patriots teammate James Develin played five sports as a kid growing up northwest of Philadelphia. Carson Wentz played high school baseball, basketball and football in Bismarck, North Dakota, while receiver Torrey Smith played four sports growing up in Colonial Beach, Virginia.

In an age where young athletes are specializing earlier and earlier, a poll of Super Bowl players reveals that wasn’t their childhood sports experience. Of the 28 players polled, only eight of them (28.6 percent) focused on one sport and none of those did so until high school.

By and large, the players insisted that playing multiple sports was beneficial, with nearly 80 percent of them participating in at least three sports in their youth. Several athletes ventured off the traditional path: Patriots guard Ted Karras played rugby, Eagles guard Stephen Wisniewski participated in a swim meet and Patriots tight end Jacob Hollister enjoys volleyball.

“I think it's awesome,” says Develin, who played soccer, baseball, basketball and lacrosse, in addition to football. “I think the more sports you can play, the more athletic abilities you pick up on. The more the better!”

Some athletes don’t have a choice.

It’s common for football coaches to “strongly suggest” that players participate in spring track. Patriots defensive lineman Eric Lee says it was “mandatory” to run track at Daphne High School in Alabama. Not surprisingly, 12 of the 28 athletes polled (42.9 percent) participated in track and field.

Jason King considered focusing on basketball, but he said he loved football and contact too much. So the Alabama native ran track until his sophomore year of high school then quit.

“I wanted to gain some weight, and I was always running and could never pick up weight,” says King, a 6 foot 2, 220-pound defensive back for the Patriots. “That's the reason I quit because I felt like I had a better chance (long-term) with football.”

Eagles linebacker Joe Walker tried four sports growing up but focused on football and basketball at Palos Verdes High School in California. Walker, though, insists his short time wrestling helped him develop as an athlete.

“I think you should play as many sports as you can,” Walker says. “I think it helps with your athletic ability. Specializing at a young age, I don’t know if you even know what you like yet.”

Steve Swope, Smith’s childhood basketball coach, recalls that he believed the talented young athlete had the most potential in baseball. But asked if football is his favorite sport, Smith says, “It depends on the season.

“In the fall, I loved football. In winter, I loved basketball. Spring, I loved baseball,” Smith says. “I was all over the place.”

Smith adds that enjoyment is the key.

“I feel if you focus on one thing, there’s pressure to be great at it,” he says. “I get it when you’re a little older. But (when you’re younger), you don’t really know what you like yet. You may dislike something because you’re friends are doing something else. Whatever time of the year, that’s what I enjoyed most. I just loved competition.”

Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who played three sports, wonders why parents want their children to focus on just one sport.

“I think it’s dumb. They get burnt out, and they’re not having fun anymore. I thought that was the whole idea of playing sports was to have fun?” he says. “I feel like parents these days are more worried about their kids getting scholarships, which is important but it’s really about having fun.”

Eagles offensive tackle Will Beatty says kids should experiment.

“Just so many different sports out there, including karate and dance and ballet. I've tried those, they are not easy,” he says, breaking into laughter. “Oh yeah, football is hard, but football is not the hardest sport.”

Eagles guard Darrell Greene tried soccer and mostly grew up playing basketball. He didn’t [start] playing football until his freshman year of high school. But Greene says he’s got no problem with anyone who specializes.

“I think it’s great,” he says. “If God blesses them with the ability to flourish in the sport they’re in, then that’s great.”

Super Bowl Survey

SportsEngine polled a combined 28 players from the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles on a variety of questions related to youth sports.

Of the eight players who said they specialized in one sport, three of them didn't do so until they were 17.


Sports in this article