There is a perception by many that track speed doesn’t translate to football speed so track stars can’t make it in the NFL. Despite the fact that players have done so before, many are questioning the New England Patriots signing of 2012 Olympian Jeff Demps for this very reason. This year will gives Demps a great opportunity to prove them wrong.
Demps’ change from track to football is not unprecedented. After starring at Tennessee, wide receiver Willie Gault competed for the United States in a special event for countries that boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games. Running in the 4×100 meter relay, 100 meter, and 100 meter hurdles, he would likely have medaled in Moscow. Gault went on to be a key receiver for the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Raiders in an eleven year NFL career. After starring at West Virginia as a wide receiver, James Jett went to Barcelona in 1992 winning gold in the 4×100 meter relay. He went on the star for the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders in a ten year NFL career.
Demps is trying to take a similar route. He was the starting running back at Florida and was on their national championship team in 2008. After leaving Florida, Demps was a member of the United States 4×100 meter relay team that won the silver medal in London. Like Gault and Jett, he’s now trying to change directions and have similar success with the Patriots in the NFL.
It has been a struggle thus far for Demps. The biggest problem he’s had is conditioning. Wide Receivers coach Chad O’Shea has noted that Demps has had the problem of getting tired after two plays. But that should change as he gets into football shape heading towards the start of the regular season. With the assumption that Stevan Ridley recovers completely from his recent injury, the Patriots will probably have three running backs already going into the 2012 season. Demps will likely be the third or fourth running back but his biggest contribution will probably be to the return game. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has made it clear he’s not happy with the current return game and an Olympian may help change that.
Despite the common perception, Jeff Demps is not the first and will not be the last track star to play in the NFL. Players have done it before and been successful. However, Demps does have his doubters going into his rookie season and soon will have his opportunity to quiet them.