Putting his two best feet forward

Two-sport athlete: Dean Roberts has no time to spare in the fall at John Carroll, where he plays soccer and football.

High Schools

October 05, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dean Roberts must endure a tougher time at practice than most athletes at John Carroll.

His afternoon begins when he dresses in his football gear and heads out to the field about 2:45 and works on his place-kicking skills. This is Roberts' second year on the varsity, and the senior has developed into a consistent kicker.

But after about an hour, things change again. Roberts must race back to the locker room to switch into his soccer gear. He'll then go back on to the field with the soccer team and practice from about 4 to 6. Roberts is a starting sweeper and tri-captain on this year's team.

High school athletes who play on two teams at once are rare. Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association executive director Ned Sparks said his organization doesn't have a specific rule banning athletes from playing two sports at the same time, but it considered one in the 1990s.

"We tried to pass one about six years ago, but fell one vote shy," Sparks said.

However, Sparks said that several individual public school districts have rules prohibiting it. But John Carroll is a private school, and coaches and Roberts are fine with his being on two teams at once because the senior understands his commitments to both squads.

"Being at a small school ... being able to share athletes like that is a good thing," John Carroll football coach Sean Ireton said. "If a kid's got God-given talent, I don't care what it is, let him use it. Why should we hold him back?"

Roberts saw his older brother, Chris, play both soccer and football for three years at John Carroll and decided to try both at once before his junior year. Resolving conflicts between the soccer and football schedules proved to be the main concern. There was none last year when the John Carroll football team won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference championship, but two popped up right away this fall.

The coaches and the Roberts family decided that soccer would receive priority in the event of a conflict unless the football game is a conference battle and the soccer game isn't as important.

He missed John Carroll's first two football games, road contests with Class 1A state champion Joppatowne and Bel Air. The Patriots lost both games while Roberts played with the soccer team. He rejoined the football squad in the third game, a 45-13 rout of Sparrows Point, kicking six extra points and one field goal. The Patriots won their next two games, improving to 3-2, while Roberts made 14 of 15 extra points and his only field-goal attempt.

"He actually handles it very well," John Carroll soccer coach Tom Whiteleather said. "He's very athletic, he understands the rules and commitments to both teams. He's managed to keep both coaches happy."

Roberts' production keeps everyone happy. He had one goal and five assists through late last week for the John Carroll soccer team, which was 2-7. Last year in football, he made seven field goals in eight attempts and connected on all 25 extra-point tries.

Roberts, who has played soccer since he was 4, said joining the football team wasn't a tough decision.

"The [extra practices] are a pain ... but I get to show up to soccer late and get to leave football early," he said with a laugh.

Stan Williams, the John Carroll kicking coach, said that Roberts continually works to improve and remains a weapon for the Patriots football team.

"He has a strong leg for his size [5 feet 6, 140 pounds] and learns quickly," Williams said. "He's a natural athlete."

Interestingly, despite his soccer and football success, neither may be Roberts' best sport. Roberts was an All-Harford County pick last year in wrestling, posting a 38-4 record in a tough weight class (135).

All of that success will leave him with a decision next year when he moves on to college. For now, however, Roberts still works on playing two sports at once and trying to gain more experience as a kicker.

"I played soccer for so long that it was kind of natural to become a kicker," Roberts said. "It was fun; it was pretty easy and not that much different than soccer."

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