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Front Page - Friday, November 3, 2023

Some Titans dreamed of glory in other sports

Titans receiver DeAndre Hopkins also had great hands as a Clemson guard. The five-time NFL Pro Bowl selection played just seven games for the Tigers before deciding to concentrate on football. - Photo by Nick Wass | AP

In the Bruce Springsteen classic “Glory Days,” the singer reminisces on his time as a high school baseball player.

Those sorts of memories are special for many people as they go about their daily lives now, remembering the fun they had on a particular field, court or track during younger days.

Those sorts of memories even hold true for people who wound up living their dreams of being a professional athlete.

A number of the Tennessee Titans players have histories athletic endeavors other than football. Some of them were good enough that, when asked, wonder what could have been had they chosen a different athletic path.

It should come as no surprise that kickers and punters have soccer backgrounds, while a number of position players were pretty good at basketball, baseball and track and field.

“I played a lot of sports growing up,” starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill says. “In high school, I played football, basketball, baseball, track and even one year of golf. I think playing a lot of sports can help you develop athletically as you move around and learn. I played soccer growing up when I was younger.

“My second-best sport was probably basketball or track. I was decent in the midlevel 300 hurdles, 400, triple jump. Those two were probably my next favorite sports besides football.”

Making it to the show

While Tannehill tried many sports, his two backups – Will Levis and Malik Willis – both talked about how they excelled in baseball and believed they could have gone pretty far on the diamond had they pursued it seriously.

“Baseball was my first love,” Levis says. “I felt like that was the sport I was best at for the majority of my childhood. I regret not playing longer than I did. But no doubt, I’d be in the MLB right now. That’s the confidence I’ve got. You ask anyone I grew up with. I could hit the crap out of the ball.”

Levis played primarily on the left side of the infield into high school, but says an unexpected growth spurt put him on the track to making football his primary focus.

“I was a shortstop and third baseman. I just loved hitting, though,” he says. “I played through my junior year of high school. Once I grew 4 inches after my sophomore year and realized I could play Division I football, that’s what I focused on.”

Like Levis, Willis plays a little bit of what-if when he thinks about his baseball talents. One of his high school teammates, Lawrence Butler, made his major league debut this season for the Oakland A’s. A couple of others played baseball in college.

“I think I could have gotten pretty far, but everybody does. I know a lot of guys that chose that path and they’re still going. So I think I could have done the same thing,” says Willis, who played some at shortstop, third base and also did some pitching and catching.

He says he gave up baseball when he got to college, not only to focus on football but to make sure he got his college degree.

Receiver Treylon Burks was all set to be a dual-sport athlete at the University of Arkansas until a torn ACL caused him to drop baseball and focus solely on football.

“I was pretty good. It’s still my favorite sport,” says Burks, who was a center fielder. “I played all the way till college. When I tore my ACL, I didn’t keep playing. But I was going to play football and baseball at Arkansas.”

One other Titan also professed a love and skill for the game – outside linebacker Harold Landry, who like Levis and Willis, believes he could have been a big leaguer as a pitcher if he had stayed with it.

“I used to love baseball, and if I would have stuck with it, I would have probably been in the major leagues,” Landry says.

Hoop dreams

Several Titans spent time playing basketball. Practice squad receiver Mason Kinsey was an All-Atlanta basketball standout and gave it a go at Berry College before sticking to football only. He averaged 19 points per game as a high school senior.

“At 5-10, I knew the NBA probably wasn’t in my future,” Kinsey says.

If the Titans wanted to put together a basketball team, they would have plenty of size and some wide bodies to take up space in the lane.

Defensive linemen Naquan Jones and Teair Tart both hooped in high school and says they could have gotten some low-level college offers. Tart was a junior before he ever switched to football from basketball.

“I played basketball from seventh grade till my senior year of high school. If I was skinny, about 195, probably D-1, but at 280, probably D-2. I played in JUCO a little bit, but we’re going to leave the past in the past,” Tart says with a smile.

Jones, however, claims to have an all-around game at 6-3, 313 pounds.

“I played all five positions. I could handle the ball. I could shoot,” says Jones, who, like Tart, says he believed he could have played lower D-1 or D-2.

Receiver DeAndre Hopkins did play a year of Division I basketball. He was a two-sport athlete at Clemson for one year before concentrating fully on football.

“I played basketball my freshman year at Clemson, but I didn’t play much,” Hopkins admits.

On track

Jeffrey Simmons actually won a state high school championship in the shot. He also was a powerlifter, something that no doubt helped him for football.

“I used to like power lifting. I grew up lifting weights. I threw the shot put in high school and won the state in that. I think I would have been good at it if I had stayed with it,” Simmons says.

Those alternate athletic endeavors that so many players enjoyed when in high school or college are now just memories – glory days if you will, especially when compared to their livelihood in the NFL.

Tannehill, for one, looks back on them fondly, and also knows he made exactly the right decision by sticking with football.

Asked if he held any school records in other sports, he says, “You’re gonna have to go dig deep. They won’t be the record books, but they will be in some kind of books.”

 Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com