There’s simply no time for it.
Unicoi County’s triple-threat athletes are running, throwing, jumping, catching and scoring — winter, spring, summer and fall. And through it all the Blue Devils teammates each managed to create an academic portfolio worthy of college interest.
||RB, WR, DB
||P, 1B, 3B
Three-sport athletes are less common these days. High school sports have morphed into year-round adventures, and athlete sharing isn’t always friends and handshakes at some schools. But at Unicoi County, cooperation between coaches Michael Smith (basketball), Drew Rice (football) and Chad Gillis (baseball) is not an issue.
“All of us have a really good relationship,” said Rice. “We understand we’re all better with kids like Troy on our team, even if as a football coach I’m not seeing those kids until the summer time — or Coach Gillis doesn’t see them until March. We very much encourage these kids.
“In today’s time — especially when sports are year round — that they are willing to put the time in says a whole lot about their commitment. Their willingness to not only make themselves better, but to help the sports programs says a whole lot about them. Other kids after school do what they want to do, but these kids are at some sort of practice every day.”
And forget about summer fun time. For Podvin and Strother, summer is just as busy as other times.
“Throughout the whole summer last year, I was doing as much as I could do,” said Podvin. “When I wasn’t traveling for baseball, I was with football. If I didn’t have football, I was with basketball. I was doing something every day.”
Said Strother, “I’d much rather be on the field or a court somewhere, rather than sitting at home.”
Challenges of change
The football to basketball transition required some finesse.
“We had to make adjustments, not being able to hit people,” said Strother. “The first few games, Troy and I fouled out.”
Podvin was already a baseball and basketball standout before he decided to give football a try last season. He was an instant plus for the receiving corps, and he gained a toughness edge that has served him well in basketball.
“I think it definitely helped me,” said Podvin, who currently leads Northeast Tennessee with 10.4 rebounds per game. “I mainly just get rebounds, and going through football helped me a lot. I’m very glad I played.”
Both of these athletes have to train their bodies for the next sport. Weightlifting is a key for football, conditioning and shooting come into play for basketball, and arm strength plus hitting eye must be developed for baseball while basketball season is still active.
“During basketball season, we throw and hit as much as we can,” said Podvin, who has signed to play baseball at Milligan College. “It can get difficult at times. You still have to make time for baseball, especially for me because I pitch. I have to be ready to go seven innings.”
Strother has a little edge on Podvin because he’s been doing the three-sport thing since eighth grade, so it’s old school for him. He said it can be demanding on the body.
“There have been a lot of times when I’m sore, but overall it’s not really too bad,” said Strother, who accounted for 16 touchdowns last season for the Blue Devils.
Strother and Podvin both said eating is an important part of playing three sports.
“As long as I try to eat as much as I can to fuel my body, it helps,” said Strother. “I try to put as much as I can into my body because I know more than likely I will burn it off.”
Podvin said he doesn’t have a special diet.
“I just kind of eat,” he said with a laugh. “I eat a lot, pretty much anything.”
So what is a lot? Smith said Podvin knocked off 30 chicken nuggets, a chicken sandwich and a milkshake in a recent trip to Chick Fil-A.
Grades before games
Strother has another year to tackle the three-sport challenge, but at the end of his senior year — just like Podvin this year — the excellent study habits will still be a big part of life’s equation.
“To me academics always comes first,” said Strother. “I take all honors classes and things of that nature, and I make sure to get my school work done.”
Said Podvin, “It can definitely be a challenge. You have to make time at night even when you don’t feel like it.”
Gillis said he’s impressed by Strother, who is in his third year of playing three sports.
“Personally I don’t see how he does it,” said Gillis. “In the summer they might have baseball practice in the middle of the day and later go play basketball or football. I don’t know if it’s just them being mentally tough. They definitely have a competitive edge. To juggle what they do, I just step back and applaud them.”
Smith agreed with Gillis.
“The discipline to juggle school and the commitment to these three sports is tremendous,” said Smith. “We need our athletes to play multiple sports and these guys go above and beyond.”
Advice for others
Both players said being a three-sport athlete is something others should consider in high school.
“I think it’s absolutely doable,” said Podvin. “It makes high school a lot more fun.”
Another athlete, Austin O’Dell, is part of the three-sport participation for the Blue Devils. Podvin said it’s good to have other teammates with the same commitment level.
“He’s a hard worker and comes out every day just like me and Troy do,” said Strother.
Strother said he would tell younger athletes to play as many sports as they can.
“You only get to go through high school one time,” said Strother. “Sometimes it’s tough, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.”