Jeff Demps: Back on Track and 21 Forever


Really gloomy times in my profession, but Olympic silver medallist and New England Patriots kick returner Jeff Demps just brightened my day by announcing he intends to return to the track this spring and summer.

This is big news for a track nerds like me, and for anybody else who wonders whether the U.S. track & field program will continue to lose top sprinters to football. I’ve dedicated an entire section of this blog to Ridiculous Football vs Track Debates and welcome any news that adds to it.

dempsFootball

Of course for guys like Demps the debate isn’t ridiculous. It’s beyond serious because it’s about money. And according to NFL.com, it’s ongoing.

Demps was a member of the 4×100-meter relay team that finished second to Jamaica in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. He signed a three-year, $1.451 million contract with the Patriots last August and already has received the $211,000 that was guaranteed in the deal.

Demps has no intention of leaving football and would like to play both sports, his agent, Daniel Rose, told Rapoport. But the Patriots might not be interested in continuing a relationship with a player whose focus isn’t completely on an NFL career.

Essentially Demps intends to return to the life he lived in college, the one most athletes lived before early specialization came into vogue, and the life a few talented and driven collegians lead before turning pro forces them to choose the most lucrative option. Football will be his fall sport, track will occupy the spring and summer and he’ll shuttle between the two for as long as his body will allow it.

Florida Relays

That’s an issue.

A big one.

A lot of NFL players claim to possess the “world-class speed” that would earn them a living on the pro track circuit, but Demps actually has it, and that distinction is crucial. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson risks popping a hamstring just to reach the 10.3 wasteland — faster than all but a handful of people in the world over 100 metres, yet too slow to make big money. But Demps is a sub-10 second 100 waiting to happen, so his potential better justifies the risk involved in competitive sprinting in the off-season.

But that risk is significant, which is why teams work to keep players from off-season activities where injuries are likely.

One hundred metre sprinters are the highest-revving athletes in sport, pushing their bodies to the redline in every final and often paying a steep price. At the highest levels sprinters often move at speeds their bodies can’t withstand, muscles and ligaments snapping like fan belts. But when a car part gives way a few hours with a good mechanic will have your engine purring like new. If an adductor tears you’re out for the season.

And Demps intends to jump straight from that high-intensity training into the most dangerous job in the NFL — returning kickoffs.

A Herculean task, but I’m not qualified to counsel him not to tackle it.

I can’t say it can’t be done in this age of specialized athletes and protective team owners. Clearly it can be done because Demps is doing it. He’s selling a speed 40-yard dash times can’t measure, and he’s selling it year-round. The more buyers, the better.

There are, however, several reasons few people maintain this schedule past college. One is money, and the other is that none of us is 21 forever. When adulthood sets in, competing at the highest level of two high-impact sports is about as tenable an idea as working two full-time jobs. It’s possible, but not an option for somebody who values his long-term health.

Logic says he’ll have to choose one sport soon.

But physics and the unforgiving economics of the NFL say the decision ultimately might not be his to make.

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