LJCD's Sage Burmeister strains for extra yards during Santa Fe Christian's football game against La Jolla Country Day Saturday afternoon at SFC.
Charlie Ward pulled it off. So did Tony Gonzalez and Ronald Curry. The list doesn’t extend far beyond that.
Those three rank among the rarest of standouts, having successfully balanced football and basketball duties at Division I colleges.
But since Curry left North Carolina in 2002 to play receiver for the Oakland Raiders, it seems the overwhelming majority of similarly talented two-sport athletes have been answering an important question before they even arrive on campus:
Football or basketball?
La Jolla Country Day’s Sage Burmeister has long ignored that pesky two-letter word. Last week the multi-talented senior committed to Idaho State, where he plans to play football and basketball. He’s been told he can redshirt his freshman year of football before joining the basketball team near the end of October.
“He’s been told his whole life he needs to concentrate on one sport or the other, and he’s always gone against that,” said Burmeister's father, Dan Burmeister, who played college football at North Carolina and was a replacement safety for the Washington Redskins during the players’ strike of 1987. “He’s always thought that playing football makes him a better basketball player and playing basketball makes him a better football player.”
It’s not just that Sage Burmeister dreams of following the course charted by Ward, Gonzalez and Curry. He truly can’t decide which sport he likes more. When the Bengals last month offered him the chance to play both, Pocatello, Idaho, became a must-see destination.
“I’ve just always loved both (sports),” Burmeister said. “This whole recruiting process has been really tough for me to pick one, so this was great.”
Even Burmeister’s coaches have a hard time debating his best sport. Last fall the receiver/defensive back/jack-of-all-trades racked up more than 2,000 all-purpose yards to go along with a Coastal League-leading 28 touchdowns.
“I think he’s gonna be a stellar slot receiver in that system up there,” LJCD football coach Jeff Hutzler said, noting that Idaho State’s spread offense specializes in four-wide sets.
Last spring Burmeister, a 6-foot-1 point guard, averaged a team-high 16 points as the Torreys claimed the San Diego Section Division IV championship. He’s back at it this year, ramping up his scoring to nearly 20 points a night.
“He’s a warrior,” LJCD basketball coach Ryan Meier said. “He never backs down from a challenge.”
Why would doubling down on sports in college be any different? Sure, the Football Championship Subdivision and the Big Sky represent significant jumps in competition from the San Diego Section, but Burmeister has been making the quick turnaround from football to basketball for four years now.
Still, even Burmeister admits he may not keep this up for the next four years. The recent history of collegiate football-basketball athletes is littered with stories of two-sport standouts who’ve become one-sport specialists.
Should Burmeister continue playing both sports after his freshman year, he’ll go forward on a football scholarship. Or he could opt for one sport (if he chooses to play only basketball, he would be switched to a basketball scholarship).
That flexibility led Burmeister to pick Idaho State’s package over football offers from defending FCS champion North Dakota State, Gardner-Webb and Coastal Carolina, and basketball offers from Eastern Washington and Creighton (partial scholarship).
For now, he won’t have to make any decisions about a favorite sport, which suits him just fine.
“I know someday I’m gonna have to pick one and roll with it,” Burmeister said. “I’m blessed to be able to play both.”