February 9, 2013 10:59:59 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Cord Sandberg doesn't want to be average at anything.
That concept confounds the high school senior about playing football and baseball for Mississippi State University.
"My only concern is being able to do both at a high level because the last thing I want to do is be average at anything," Sandberg said in a phone interview Saturday. "I can imagine how hard it is to play quarterback in the SEC and then guess what? Hitting SEC pitching is just as hard."
On Wednesday, Sandberg signed a National Letter of Intent and scholarship papers to play football at MSU. The 18-year-old senior at Manatee High School (Fla.) didn't make a big deal about his signing ceremony, and treated the ordeal in a way that reflects his laid-back personality.
Sandberg verbally committed to play football for MSU on June 11. The baseball-football standout, who is considered the ninth best dual-threat quarterback in the country, didn't create a lot publicity leading up to his signing because he preferred to stay out of the drama that he considers a made-for-television event.
"I know a lot of people like to make a big deal of signing day and think that it's a big accomplishment, but I just think there's so much more after Wednesday I want to accomplish in my life," Sandberg said. "You'll learn I'm very old school in my approach to the idea that as a freshman, I think you should be a nobody until you earn something."
Sandberg capped his summer baseball season by being named a preseason All-America selection by Perfect Game and a prospect who likely will be selected in the first few rounds of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft in June.
Sandberg's father, Chuck, was a first baseman at the University of Florida and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the ninth round of the 1979 draft. He spent three years in the minor leagues before a knee injury cut his career short.
"He and his father have been open and honest with us about his high interest in signing if he's selected high in the draft," a National League scout told The Dispatch this week.
ESPN.com, Scout.com, and Rivals.com consider the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Sandberg a four-star recruit. He also was the 45th best football player regardless of position in the state of Florida, and was named to the Rivals 250 list. As a senior, Sandberg was 186 of 265 for 2,674 yards. He also had a 34-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and rushed for 611 yards on 99 carries (10 touchdowns).
On the diamond, he is four-year starter in center field and left-handed hitter for the three-time district champions. Sandberg played in the 2012 Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego. Baseball America rates him the 46th-leading professional prospect of 2013.
"Cord is a great athlete, and there's no doubt he'll be scouted hard by every team during his senior season of high school," another National League scout said this week. "Cord's upside and potential in professional baseball is too high to ignore."
On Wednesday, MSU football coach Dan Mullen and MSU baseball coach John Cohen talked about Sandberg for the first time since he announced his verbal commitment. The coaches said they would work together to get Cord on campus for both programs.
"I understand Cord is a football player on football scholarship, and a lot of head coach in SEC football would have a problem sharing athletes," Cohen said. "I just think with our ability to communicate and get along, this can work. We can make this work easily."
Mullen has never recruited a two-sport athlete to MSU. The only time he had to deal with a student-athlete being pulled in two directions was when receiver O'Neal Wilder quit football to focus on competing for MSU's track and field team.
"Dan and I have met with Cord on several occasions," Cohen said. "They have a really good handle on how to do this, and I'm confident Dan and I can work together on this. Since I've been here and Dan's been here, this is the best football and baseball recruit we've recruited heavily, and we want to succeed in both."
Mullen recruited a two-sport athlete when he was an assistant coach at Florida. Jeff Demps was a nationally recognized amateur sprinter and standout running back that then coach Urban Meyer allowed to train with the United States Track and Field organization in the offseason and compete on the Gators' football team. This summer, Demps earned a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics on the U.S. 4x100 relay team.
On Wednesday, Mullen described the nervousness of waiting to see if Sandberg would choose a MLB rookie contract or come to Starkville as a "win-win" scenario for MSU.
"If he goes really high, if he goes in the first round of the baseball draft, hey, I'm happy for him, proud for him," Mullen said. "If he doesn't go in the first round, well, that's a great situation, too, (because) he gets to come play quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. I don't think there's a bad ending to it either way."
Sandberg said Saturday he hasn't made up his mind about what he will do, and he said he won't know until after he negotiates with representative from a MLB team that drafts him in June. He said he likely wouldn't be able to watch MSU baseball games if he ever felt like concentrating on football.
"I really think it would be so difficult to just watch a baseball game at MSU knowing I love that sport and would want to be out there playing," Sandberg said. "I don't think I'd be able to take that mentally, even though I'd want to support my school."