Blanchard, of course, is the celebrated quarterback who Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe has often called “a baseball player playing football,” a moniker the player doesn’t really like and the coach says he might retire after watching his sophomore direct the offense as the emergency full-time starter this past season.
When the Gamecocks report to camp in August, receiver Josh Barge will be concentrating on football, but he’ll also have plans to join the JSU basketball team in the winter.
“I think it’s a real neat opportunity,” Barge said. “My dad played baseball and basketball and when he got to college he stuck to basketball.
“I had a whole bunch of schools talk to me … but when Jacksonville State came by and said I could play both, it was like a dream come true. I know it’ll be tough for me, but I’ve been doing it for four years. I think I can do it.”
Barge is among a half-dozen incoming freshmen Crowe said has a chance to make an impact on the football team this fall. As a senior, he had 13 touchdowns among his 27 catches. This winter, he is averaging 20 points for the Carrollton basketball team, a favorite for the Georgia 3A state championship.
The minute he hits the hardwood, Barge will be the first football-basketball player in Crowe’s 13 seasons at JSU and perhaps the first of JSU’s Division I era; speedy receiver Maurice Dupree, who played junior college basketball, considered it but didn’t follow through at the end of his football days. Former JSU tight end Keith McKellar played in four Super Bowls after playing four years of basketball for the Gamecocks, but never played the two sports at the same time.
With the seasons likely to overlap, Barge probably won’t join basketball coach James Green’s squad until the Gamecocks have played their final football game, and then his availability depends on his recovery time. Blanchard stays with football from August to December, then moves to the baseball team all spring.
Barge didn’t see the JSU basketball coaches on his football recruiting visit, but said Green later saw him play in person and reportedly told him he “really liked the way I played.”
“He reminded me of my high school coach; I liked that,” Barge said. “I just like the way he coaches. I feel I could come play for him and fit in.”
Barge plans to take some summer classes to get a jump on his academics and if any basketball activities are going on at the same time “I might go out and see what’s going on.”
Green wouldn’t comment on Barge’s plans, fearing it would impact the program’s one-time announcement on all its new signees after school starts next September, but he isn’t new to coaching a crossover player. At Southern Miss he coached Adalius Thomas, a former NFL All-Pro linebacker who was the first to play basketball and football for the Golden Eagles.
“He was a pretty good basketball player for us,” Green said. “The (football) coaches gave a lot of credit to his footwork to what happened in basketball.”
JSU fifth-year senior quarterback Thomas Darrah also considered joining the basketball team this semester, but nothing came of it. The Alabama transfer is now trying to hook on with the Gamecocks baseball team.
Initially, Barge thought his best bet to play sports in college was basketball, but then he started receiving separate interests from schools in both sports -- JSU, UTC and Middle Tennessee in football; Coastal Carolina and Vanderbilt in basketball. The dual-sport possibility only came to light after JSU gave its unconditional blessing.
“After they did that, UTC and Middle Tennessee said I could play both,” he said. “When I went to UTC the coaches really didn’t want me to play basketball; they wanted to tell me that so I could go there and play football. Middle Tennessee said they were going to offer and let me play both, but it was taking too long for me.
“After I talked to some of my basketball coaches and football coaches, it seemed Jacksonville State was where I was supposed to be. It felt right to me.”
It also helped that Carrollton teammate Telvin Brown signed to play football with the Gamecocks.
Crowe’s rule for any of his players involved in two sports is simple: You can play both as long as you’re a regular contributor to the other. If you’re just a developmental player, get back to the football field.
Then Crowe watched some basketball and quickly figured Barge should be getting some regular playing time there.
“The best thing I like about it is (Crowe) is it’s not all about football with him,” Barge said. “It’s beyond football to him. It’s about life.
“All the other coaches, they talked about academics, but it was mostly about football. With Coach Crowe it was academics and getting your career in line before football. You never know if you’re going to make it in football or basketball.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.