With each passing year, the two-sport athlete fades closer to extinction.
Gone are the days of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, scoring touchdowns in the NFL and hitting homers in the major leagues. Long forgotten is Julius Peppers, who dominated offensive lines for the North Carolina football team while getting significant minutes for its legendary basketball squad.
Facing increased pressure, advanced technology and specialized coaching, young athletes continue to get pushed toward one sport, often encouraged to master a specific position.
But sometimes, like in the examples above, talent trumps trends.
Such is the case for Oklahoma State's Toni Young, an All-Big 12 scholarship basketball player turned All-American walk-on high jumper.
“Basketball is my real love,” Young said. “But I like them both.”
Months after completing her junior season for the Cowgirl hoops team, a successful one that ended with an NIT title and MVP (she averaged 20.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in six games), Young walked into the OSU track office to meet with head coach Dave Smith and jumping coach Zivile Pukstiene.
Neither had seen her jump — Young hadn't competed in three years — but both had heard the high school legend and seen the famed video. The one where Young, as a senior at Del City, shattered previous high school records with a 6-foot-4 high jump, which was more than two inches higher than the current OSU record.
“I saw the YouTube video of her jumping six-four,” Pukstiene said. “That's basically all I knew about her. I knew she was capable of going to dunk and jumping 37.5 vertical.”
In reality, the sell was easy.
Coming out of high school, Young could have hand-picked any school for a track scholarship.
“Some coaches, big coaches in the United States said, ‘Wow, she is talented, she could be the best high jumper probably in the United States,'” said Pukstiene.
But while Young liked track, it was always going to be basketball.
That's what intrigued her about Oklahoma State. In the recruitment process, OSU offered her a basketball scholarship, but also promised a chance to compete on the track team, as long as she maintained in the classroom.
Her freshman year, she played well on the court but struggled with the academic adjustment. Her sophomore year, she straightened out her grades, but had a freak accident before her final basketball game, breaking her arm on an attempted dunk in practice.
Finally, with her health and academics in order, she was able to join the track team midway through her junior year.
During her first event in three years, on April 21 in Fayetteville, Ark., Young entered with the expected nerves.
“She was afraid to go,” Pukstiene said. “She said, ‘I don't want to go and get made fun of by everybody.'”
With understandable rust, Young jumped only 5-foot-10, six inches shorter than her famed high school jump. It was still the second-highest in school history, easily winning the event.
From there, Young took off, setting the school jump record one week and then resetting it the next.
She either won or placed in the top five of every event the rest of the season, winning All-American honors with a 6-foot-1.5 jump at the NCAA Finals.
Now, two months after the basketball star restarted the sport, Young has a chance to make the Olympic team, competing in the high jump trials Thursday in Eugene, Ore.
“It's crazy to think I have a chance to go to the Olympics,” Young said. “I can't even really think about it. Just have to thank all my teammates and coaches for accepting me into the team.”