In 1995 as one of the broadcasters for the Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, NY, I got to know a young man who had chosen to play pro baseball even though he had been one of the most highly-recruited high school quarterbacks in the country. After batting .248 in six minor league seasons, the kid decided to give football a try and enrolled in college at the age of 25.
It turned out to be a wise decision as Chris Weinke won a Heisman Trophy at Florida State, led the Seminoles to a National Championship, and spent seven years in the NFL.
Which leads us to UC newcomer Braxton Lane.
After spending three years as a minor league outfielder, the speedy wide receiver has made the switch to football and recently enrolled at Cincinnati.
"He's got a confidence about himself and an aura," said head coach Butch Jones. "He's very intense, focused, and goal-oriented. He knows what he wants and I see that hunger and drive. I'm excited because when you have an individual that has those characteristics, he is going to have great success."
After catching 55 passes for 1,072 yards and 11 touchdowns as a high school junior, Scout.com ranked Lane as the #20 wide receiver recruit in the country. After taking visits to Florida, Georgia, and Auburn, Braxton signed a letter of intent to play college football at Oregon.
But after being selected in the 7th round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, Lane received a six-figure signing bonus and elected to pursue a baseball career.
"Getting selected in the baseball draft was great for me and getting a chance to play professionally was definitely a dream of mine," Lane told me. "But I don't know if I would say that baseball was my first love. I always thought that I was a better football player. Baseball was a sport that I enjoyed playing, but one that I really had to work on to get better. Football was more of a natural sport for me."
Lane excelled in both sports at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, GA - the same school that fellow Bearcat receiver Alex Chisum attended. That connection proved to be significant when Braxton decided to drop baseball for football.
"I talked to Alex when I came out here about the environment and the family atmosphere," said Lane. "He loves every bit of it and shared all of his experiences with me. He was just as big of a recruiter with me as Coach Jones and (wide receivers) Coach T.J. Weist. He was definitely a big part of me coming here."
"We have a great relationship with Chip Walker, the head football coach at Sandy Creek, and Alex Chisum is having a great experience here -- not only in football but socially and academically as well," said Coach Jones. "They are big supporters of our program so when Braxton started thinking about making the switch from baseball to football, we were contacted by them. We had known of him from back in the day when he had originally signed with Oregon."
Coming out of high school, Lane was considered one of the fastest receivers in the country after reportedly being timed at 4.31 in the 40-yard dash. Braxton says that he hasn't lost any speed.
"The main thing about football is using your hips more," Lane told me. "Baseball is really a straight line sport, so now I'm really working on loosening up my hips and getting my side-to-side motion back. But I definitely still have my speed."
After spending last summer playing for the Class A Hickory Crawdads and Spokane Indians, Lane is excited to be a Cincinnati Bearcat.
"Playing in the minor leagues for three years with the Texas Rangers was definitely a great time, but coming here there's a sense of family - Coach Jones and the whole staff really made me feel at home on my visit," said Lane. "Once I got on campus I knew that this was the place for me."
"I know this - he is of the utmost character and I love his maturity," said Coach Jones. "He may be the oldest freshman in America. I think when you look at his previous experiences and the maturity level that he brings, it's a great fit and we're really excited about him."
"I'm 21, so if I hadn't played pro baseball I'd be going into my senior season right now," said Lane. "I think it definitely helps with the maturity aspect. Me being on my own and learning to manage my finances, finding a place to live, meshing with people of different backgrounds...I think that helps me coming to a big school like UC where I'll have to juggle classes and different football activities."
How quickly could he have an impact on the field?
"We'll know more when we go to training camp, but from a maturity standpoint, we would anticipate him competing for playing time this year," said Coach Jones. "Just based off of his character, his competitive drive, and his makeup, we anticipate him playing this year."
"My goal is to come in and work hard every day and do anything that I can to help the team this fall," said Lane. "Whether that's special teams or offense - whatever I can do to help is my goal.
"He seems like he's going to work really hard," said freshman receiver Chris Moore. "He's an athlete and had offers from everywhere. I can't wait to see him on the field in pads."
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