People were talking about the quarterback long before he came to campus. They were saying it might be hard to turn down the pros if the sign-on bonus were large enough. He had options, and a few hundred thousands of dollars straight out of high school would be hard for any teenager to refuse.
Now, this seemed inconceivable for a high school quarterback.
But not for a pitcher.
On February 16, months after the football Razorbacks were destroyed by Missouri to finally end a mercilessly unending season, Hog fans gathered at Baum-Walker Stadium to watch quarterback Connor Noland toss the baseball. He was respectable on this wintry first day of baseball, giving up two unearned runs and striking out seven in just short of five innings. Everyone at the stadium could see the glimmer on the horizon.
This was a multi-sport athlete.
In the minds of sports fans, the multi-sport athlete is the definitive proof that "everything is possible." Individual sports are in their own spheres; games of baseball and games of football may as well take place in separate worlds. But the multi-sport athlete wanders in like an inter-dimensional explorer, pick-ax and backpack in tow. He surveys the environment and thinks, "I’ll conquer this, too."
The multi-sport athlete doesn’t even need to be great to conquer, either. Having done it is enough. Matt Jones was one of the most electrifying football players in Razorback history. His grace when running was balletic. He looked as if he weren’t even moving across the field, and defenders often tackled air as he floated by them. He was so amazing that I can’t even conjure faults with which to quibble (it’s possible that, as he played quarterback, I should be able to remember him throwing a downfield pass, but I don’t think that ever actually happened). The man was peerless. Jones was the face of Razorback sports, the most popular man in the state, and he pushed that fame further when he stepped into the basketball gym.
In 2004 Razorback basketball was in a slump. The fans were exhausted from recent upheavals (and lousy play) and seeking reasons to be excited. What the team needed were shooters and big men who could be a presence under the basket. Matt Jones was neither of these, but when he led a breakaway, resulting in his own dunk, fans couldn’t remember to be frustrated with the piling losses. Matt Jones dunked that ball!
Seeing athletes in unexpected situations, interacting with other athletes in other sports, lends itself to awe-inspiration. This is Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí. This is Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson (as I said, one doesn’t need to be great to conquer). This is "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue."
In his freshman baseball campaign, Connor Noland has had highs follow lows. As fans, we're hopeful he'll take the lessons he's learned from this season and continue on an upward trajectory to Omaha. When he takes the mound this weekend, he'll get a standing ovation and a crowd of people holding their collective breath.
Because when the football player comes into the baseball game, everything is possible.