KEEPING TRACK - Football and Track Athletes

RUNOHIO Monthly Newsletter

Sign Up Now


KEEPING TRACK - Football and Track Athletes

Written by Rod O'Donnell on 15 January 2015.

Speed, strength, agility, and flexibility are four key ingredients to the success of any football team. Track and field requires the same. If the two sports work together, both benefit. A well-organized and disciplined track program is a great way to remain in a competitive situation in the spring and improve in all areas listed above, thus helping the fall sport. In some instances, the football coach may be reluctant to turn over his charges to someone else for a period of three months because he may feel that he will lose control or that the athletes will not benefit as much as they would in his “off-season” conditioning program. It is the job of the track coach to convince his counterpart that the spring program will be beneficial.  The physical and mental results will only enhance his program; additionally, the opportunity to participate in track gives the athlete a chance to be a part of a team in a different environment.

According to the website,, in 2013, 55% of Division I football players (13,500) participated in high school track and field (7,500).  90% of players drafted by the NFL in 2014, were multi-sports athletes, and almost 60% of the 2014 NFL draftees were members of their high school track teams.

Among current NFL running backs, Marshall Lynch, Jamal Charles, Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Alfred Morris, and many others were track athletes in high school. NFL Hall of Famers, Jerry Rice, Walter Peyton, Emmitt Smith, and Bob Hayes were among those who also competed in track and field.

Quoting, “Most college football recruiters and coaches actively recruit multi-sport athletes.” To back up this statement, the Ohio State football classes from 2011-2014, were made up of 61 young men who took part in high school track. Alabama showed 51, and Baylor an astounding 70 for the same period. When looking at professional football players, 152 of the 172 players listed were on their high school track teams.

Carl Lee, a multiple-time All Pro for the Minnesota Vikings, despite being a 7th round draft pick, ran at Marshall University when I was there as the head coach. Not only was Carl a great athlete, but he is also an outstanding person. He has told me on many occasions, that had it not been for the conditioning and speed improvement that he developed by running track, that he would not have made it through his rookie summer camp, and therefore, not attained stardom in the NFL.

In a story that appeared in a 2014 issue of the Miami Herald, football players Artie Burns and Phillip Dorsett, both members of the University of Miami track team, gave the following quotes: “I don’t have a No. 1 sport. I love both. I never put one before the other”… (Burns, a 6-3, 190 lb. cornerback.)

“The shape I’m in when I’m in track shape is light years past a lot of people in football. But I’ve been in love with both my whole life”… (Dorsett, 5-10, 185 lb. receiver.)

Long-time director of track and field for the Hurricanes, Amy Deem, summed up how the sports benefit each other. “There’s a mental toughness in football that can be a positive in track, and the confidence gained being out there alone carries back to football. But the biggest thing is speed development.”

As the reader can see from the information in this article, the two sports compliment each other, and it is the norm, not the exception, for athletes to compete in both.

Track coaches must sell their programs to their head football coaches by showing them that they are there to help, by including the skills, organization, and discipline necessary for both sports to be successful.

If a football coach is knowledgeable, has the sincere interests of the athletes in mind, and isn’t afraid that he will “lose control,” he would be foolish not to take advantage of exposing his athletes to our great spring sport.


Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell


Read more of Rod O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles on

The Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross-Country Championships -

Cross Country -

Track Faces Challenges that could have adverse effects thus causing severe damage -

Marketing Track & Field -

Student Athlete’s Questions -

The Need to Speak Up -

A new book by John McDonnell -

KEEPING TRACK - From September-October 2013 print RUNOHIO -

Random Thoughts -

Another Division I institution has dropped its men’s track program -

 Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision -

Life Lessons from Cross Country -

Ten Pledges for Cross Country Coaches -

London Olympics -

 Improving as a Coach –

You Only Go Around Once -

Dear Jesse Owens –

West Virginia State Cross Country Championship –

SPIRE Institute -

 _ _

Why is the OHSAA Treating Cross Country Different than All of the Other Sponsored Sports?

Current Issue