Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Senior Safety Dave West & UAlbany Football Team Meet Media at Annual Preseason Luncheon

Courtesy: UAlbany Sports Information

Gone are the days when a collegiate athlete competes in two or three sports year-round on a regular basis. Most athletes have become specialized in one sport, and focus all of their time and energy with a single purpose.

The NCAA doesn’t officially keep track of the number of dual-sport athletes, but outside the realm of track and field and cross country, the dual-sport student-athlete at the college level is a rare breed. Most talented student-athletes make a choice in high school to continue with one sport at the collegiate level. Then there are athletes like UAlbany’s Dave West, who simply could not, and would not, make a choice.

West, a senior safety on the Great Danes’ football team, is also the starting center fielder for the school’s baseball squad. West has earned All-Northeast Conference recognition during his time on the football field, helping UAlbany win the 2007 league championship. He also was an All-America East Conference selection on the diamond, bringing baseball to its first-ever conference title and NCAA tournament appearance in 2006. West wanted that challenge from the beginning.

“I couldn’t make up my mind,” West stated at Tuesday’s football media luncheon in the SEFCU Athletic Hall of Fame Room. “I knew that I had to play both.”

While most schools that were interested in him wanted him to focus on one or the other, UAlbany offered West the solution he was looking for – an opportunity to continue both his football and baseball career wearing purple and gold.

“I have always had the philosophy that if you want to play another sport – play it,” said UAlbany’s Bob Ford, who is in his 40th season as a college head football coach. “It takes a unique athlete to be able to excel in college athletics in two sports.”

Ford, along with head baseball coach Jon Mueller, saw the potential for West to succeed in both areas at UAlbany. Despite having to miss fall baseball to play football, and not being able to participate in spring football practice in order to play baseball, West has convinced both coaches that being a dual-sport athlete is worth the sacrifice.

“We are lucky because Dave is such a cerebral guy on the field,” said defensive backs coach Drew Christ, who works with West on his positional play. “We changed things schematically in the spring, so when he came back in the fall, he was a little lost. But he understands the game, and is such a natural athlete that the transition was smooth.”

West believes his biggest challenge is changing how he approaches his game with the different coaches.

“Coach Ford is old school, and wants us to focus on execution,” West explained. “He talks to us about how it isn’t about what scheme you’re running, but about what players you have. Coach Mueller is more hard-nosed and just wants us to get after it.”

Not to say that West’s respect for either coach waivers.

“I have a great deal of respect for both of them,” West stated. “Coach Ford has been around for so long, and with his reputation and accomplishments, you want to show your best all the time. With Coach Mueller, I can talk to him on a different level. I agree with the way he does things and how he coaches.”

West focuses on each sport individually, but carries over aspects from each into the opposite season. With a short three-week rest between the end of football season and the start of baseball preseason, West doesn’t get much down time. He has discovered that although the baseball training focuses more on running and maintenance of fitness, he benefits more from continuing his football routine in the weight room.

This work ethic has helped him succeed on both the football field and the baseball diamond, something both coaches appreciate.

“Dave is a great kid to coach, he is tough both physically and mentally,” said Ford, whose team has been picked to repeat as conference champion in the NEC’s preseason poll. “By playing baseball in the spring, it is giving him another competitive opportunity. It is not a negative experience to have him compete in baseball. He is a great addition to both teams and has been on the same upward track since he arrived.”

A natural athlete who has been playing organized sports since he was five years old, West takes the challenge of playing two sports at the Division I level in stride.

“I didn’t realize it was such an accomplishment,” West said. “There were so many people who played more than one sport in high school, I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

For the Great Danes, having a highly successful two-sport athlete is a big deal. And for his coaches, they couldn’t ask for anything more.

“He is very gifted athletically,” Mueller explained. “He is focused and determined and I am very proud of him. He is a very tough kid.”

(By Brianna LaBrecque, UAlbany Athletic Media Relations)

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