If you watch an Ole Miss football or baseball game on television, chances are you'll hear something resembling the following from the commentators.
"John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy are two-sport stars. They make their presence felt on the gridiron as well as the baseball diamond."
Ole Miss has a history of athletes playing multiple sports while on campus, a history that includes legendary quarterback Archie Manning, and there's another baseball player waiting in the wings of Mike Bianco's recruiting class who loves the game of football.
Kaden Irving of Gautier High School (Miss.) has made ripples in the baseball recruiting world, but this fall, he's making an impact as the Gators' quarterback as well. The Gators currently sit at 2-0 on the season with wins over fellow Mississippi teams Provine and Pascagoula, and a large part of that success is a credit to Irving. The Gautier signal-caller has thrown for 672 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in two games, including six scoring passes in his team's 52-41 shootout win over Pascagoula.
Gautier is a 5A school, the second-highest classification in Mississippi public high school football, but has never appeared in a state championship game since the Mississippi High School Activities Association moved to a playoff format in 1981. Irving, obviously, has hopes of changing that in his junior and senior seasons.
"That was my best game of my high school career," Irving told SI All-American about his team's win over Pascaougla. "At one point in the game we were down two touchdowns. So coming out after halftime, just fighting and scoring really quick -- it was something that was great.
"If you were there, it was one of those grab your popcorn and watch the game kind of nights. It was a fun game."
We'd be amiss if we didn't mention the work of SI All-American's John Garcia Jr. when it comes to Irving. Garcia wrote a story for SI naming Irving the "Freak Of The Week" for Week 2 of the high school football season. You can find that story here.
Irving, when he sat down with Garcia, made sure to make an emphasis on the fact that baseball and football aren't competing interests in his mind. In fact, his baseball prowess has assisted his football career thus far.
"Baseball has saved my butt plenty of times in football," Irving said. "The other night I'm rolling out left, and if I throw it over the top it probably would have been intercepted or batted down by the D-end, but I was able to go to that side arm slot. It fits into windows where throwing out of one arm slot can't."
The throwing motion for a baseball and football are different, but having experience doing both can make for a versatile athlete in both sports when difficult throws are required. Tough throws in football are common, but Irving has made the most of his opportunities thus far at Gautier, including last season when he threw for 2,399 yards and 15 touchdowns paired with five interceptions in his sophomore campaign.
As you can tell through some simple mathematics, Irving is well on his way towards shattering his passing touchdown mark from a season ago.
Even with this much success on the gridiron, Irving hasn't always had a deep love of football. That was something he discovered later in his childhood athletic career.
"Growing up I tried to play as many sports as I could, baseball, football, basketball," Irving said. "It was just something about baseball that I absolutely loved. I didn't start liking football until about eighth grade, seeing that I was pretty good at it. Ever since then it's been football and baseball, the things I love doing.
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"I started playing football around age 4, but it didn't interest me as much. I was always interested in baseball as a kid."
That should be a sign that's welcome to Ole Miss fans. Irving's football skills have been documented, but it's his baseball talents that have made him a sought-after recruit across the country. Irving turned plenty of heads at a baseball showcase over the summer, breaking some records along the way.
Showcases aren't always an option for Irving due to his football duties, but there's a good chance that his attendance this summer could change his future for the better.
"Coming into this summer, I was nationally known, but wasn't getting the attention like some of these other guys in my class," Irving said. "I'm a dual-sport athlete, so I'm unable to go to all the showcases in the offseason for baseball.
"I got to make it to one this summer, and my numbers were off the charts. I ended up breaking a Perfect Game junior national record for exit velo (velocity) and I played great in the games. I hit 102 (miles per hour) off the bat. My rankings improved dramatically and people were starting to call me every day."
For those curious, the average exit velocity in the Major Leagues is 89 miles per hour. The pitching and level of play in the Majors is certainly higher than that featured a showcase, but Irving's performance this summer gives an idea of what he's capable of on the diamond.
As a Mississippian with noticeable baseball talent, what led Irving to commit to Ole Miss was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, one that featured Rebel head coach Mike Bianco.
"Ole Miss is definitely one of the best places in the country to go," Irving said. "As a kid I always wanted to grow up and be an Ole Miss baseball player and play for Mike Bianco. I committed Christmas break of my ninth grade year."
Of course, as is the case with many prospects in Irving's shoes, his placement in MLB draft following his high school career will impact his decision to come to Oxford.
"[I'm projected] somewhere within the first three rounds," Irving said. "This summer was huge for me on my draft stock."
If Irving winds up in Oxford, there's a chance that he would want to play both football and baseball in his collegiate career, but he's taking his decision day-by-day and not rushing it.
"I've had some conversations with the staff," Irving said. "They love me, but it's about the fact of football and if it's something I want to do. I've been talking to a lot of schools, they're just trying to figure out if I want to play football or not. Every time I talk to a coach it's like, 'do you really love football?'"
If the answer to that question is "yes," could Ole Miss have another dual-sport star waiting in the wings? Head coaches Mike Bianco and Lane Kiffin have both shown the willingness to allow their athletes to play both sports while on campus. Why couldn't the same be done for Irving if it's decided that he could assist the Rebels on the gridiron as well?
"That's just one of those things I'm going to have to figure out in the next year," Irving said. "I've got a lot of big decisions coming up."
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