The question, for all parties involved, has been quite frustrating.
There will be no easy answer to it, no way to get around it.
But one day soon, its highly anticipated response will come, and when it does, the scenarios that unfold are bound to sadden some, but greatly reward others.
Later this summer, one of the most popular members of Macon’s modern sports scene is expected to answer this inquiry that has fueled a sort of Middle Georgia frenzy: Will he continue to play football, or is he preparing to stick with baseball instead?
The scrutiny, for him, has been unyielding, but his steady reply to it has been patience. When the time is right, and when he’s ready, he will unveil his answer.
DeAndre Smelter, the Tattnall Square phenom who has been cursed with the good fortune of being one of this area’s most dominating three-sport athletes in recent history, has a pair of big life choices lying close to his fingertips.
As a defensive back, the rising senior has the speed, size and physical power to play football for a number of the country’s top colleges from Georgia to Georgia Tech and Auburn to LSU.
But as a pitcher who has topped out with a 97 mph fastball, he also has the rare opportunity to be drafted in the first few rounds of next year’s Major League Baseball draft.
“Oh, it’s going to be real difficult,” said one current college football player who was faced with similar choices three years ago.
Roddy Jones, Georgia Tech’s electric slotback who is best remembered for his 214-yard rushing performance in last year’s Yellow Jackets victory over rival Georgia, was also an award-winning baseball standout in high school.
Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 39th round of the 2007 major league draft, Jones admits his decision to play football likely wasn’t as difficult as the one that awaits a player who scouts believe could go in the first or second round.
“(That) makes your decision much more difficult than the one I had, and my decision was difficult enough,” Jones told The Telegraph last week.
Smelter’s name was never mentioned to Jones. Instead, the Georgia Tech star was speaking in general about the decision awaiting a nameless, faceless, highly touted multi-sport high school athlete.
“It’s all about following your heart,” Jones said. “If it’s not really into baseball, and it’s just something you end up being good at, then eventually down the road that’s something that will catch up. But if your heart is really into it and you’ve got the talents and you’ve got the opportunity, then you should take it.”
Talk around Smelter began heating up early this year once baseball insiders began making suggestions that he could go as high as the first or second round of the baseball draft.
Developing in Macon this summer, the rumors have spread to the recruiting trail, where eager college football fans are beginning to circulate thoughts that Smelter’s football career is done and he is focusing solely on baseball.
But Smelter and his family have told The Telegraph that no firm decision has yet been reached, and one will not be made until after Smelter plays in two national high school baseball All-Star showcases.
The 2007 All-Middle Georgia football and baseball player of the year has been invited to the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game, which will be held Aug. 8 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. He has also accepted an invitation to the Aflac All-American Baseball Clinic, which will be held Aug. 16 at San Diego’s PETCO Park.
Since its inception in 2003, 62 Aflac alumni have been selected in the first round of the draft, with three players being drafted No. 1 overall. Ten former Aflac participants were taken in the first round of the 2008 draft.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Smelter said. “I just want to get the chance to show what I can do.”
Of course, by Aug. 16, his Tattnall Square football teammates would have already been two weeks into preseason workouts as they prepare for Aug. 27’s season-opener at Deerfield-Windsor.
One of the suggestions those who want to see Smelter continue to play football have made includes wanting him to play both sports in college.
While the idea has not been completely ruled out of his recruiting processes, it could be very difficult a very difficult proposition for any recruit at a school like Georgia Tech, Jones said.
Jones, Georgia Tech head baseball coach Danny Hall and former Yellow Jackets football coach Chan Gailey mulled that possibility when Jones — now entering his sophomore season after redshirting his freshman year — was being recruited. But after taking a year off from baseball, and then taking time to learn a new offense when current head football coach Paul Johnson came to Georgia Tech almost two years ago, Jones said goodbye to his baseball career.
“Football was so much that I decided playing both wasn’t for me, at least not that year,” Jones said. “I wanted to get my feet wet with the new system and Coach Johnson, and then one thing led to another, and it didn’t end up happening this past year.
“It’s just one of those things that you might look back on and say ‘Woulda, coulda, shoulda,’ but I’m comfortable with my decision.”
At the end of the day, Jones said, that’s what’s important. Athletes must make the best decision for themselves and no one else, he said.
“My advice probably would be to look at the big picture,” Jones said. “Look at the future and don’t let anybody else influence you. Have your parents and your close friends — I’d really just say your parents — as your advisors. And don’t let anybody else make the decision for you.
“Ultimately, it’s your decision.”