Traditionally, once student-athletes reach the collegiate level, they choose to focus on a single sport and dedicate their efforts into perfecting their craft.
Despite the academically rigorous nature of Pomona College, Eric Prough PO ’24 has found a way to balance schoolwork with both of the sports he loves, serving as a wide receiver for Pomona-Pitzer football and a pitcher for the baseball team.
“Pomona is a phenomenal academic school and it has good sports teams too,” Prough said. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds; I get to play my high-level sports, while still getting a high-level education.”
Even though his main goal in attending Pomona is to obtain a degree, Prough relishes his involvement in both sports due to the wholesome team cultures he is surrounded with.
“With both sports really built on that team aspect, you’ve got a community of coaches and players who want what’s best for you and what’s best for the team,” Prough said.
Prough has always been a gifted athlete. He participated in a number of other sports spanning across multiple youth leagues ever since his childhood, and his standout baseball talent during his later adolescent years caught the eye of P-P scouts and coaches.
“One of my talents is that I pitch from different arm slots; I throw overhand and then I also throw sidearm, which confuses a lot of batters and is definitely one of my biggest strengths as a pitcher,” Prough said. “[In terms of pitches], I like my sidearm fastball and overhand curveball.”
But football didn’t enter the picture until he was a first-year in high school.
“I’ve always been big enough and physical enough so the transition to football wasn’t tough,” Prough said. “I mean it’s a different sport than all the others; you’re hitting people and tackling and getting hit, but I immediately loved the sport and loved to put in hours of practice into my craft.”
His passion for football, stemming from an early age due to his parents’ love for the game, gave him motivation to pursue the sport. He played football with his friends in various youth leagues during his childhood, another factor behind his eventual pursuit of becoming a football player.
However, balancing two sports at such an elite level is a double-edged sword. Only approximately 2.85 percent of male high school athletes get to play a Division III collegiate sport, and well under 1 in 10 high school athletes play college sports at any level. Yet Prough plays two, which is an even rarer accomplishment. But this feat comes with significant challenges.
“To not neglect [one of] my skill sets for the other, I can’t just focus on baseball workouts because then I won’t be ready for football, but if I just focus on football workouts, then my throwing arm won’t be ready for baseball,” Prough said. “So I have to combine workouts and probably do a little extra, but it’s a sacrifice that you make as a two-sport athlete.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it harder to train effectively, given the limited options Prough has in terms of accessing gym equipment and working out with other athletes. For the past year, he mostly trained with free weights at home, and now he is returning to some local gyms as they begin to reopen. When he needs to work on his arm, he’ll go outside and throw with a friend or use a practice net.
For Prough, the community provided by the team has served as an important support system and motivator, even if those interactions have been virtual.
“We all work really hard to try and build that team aspect, even with all of us in separate places: We’ve been in contact and accountable for each other, making sure we’re working hard,” Prough said. “Even though we’re not on campus together, it’s really a testament to the baseball and football team that we’ve been able to build, bonding through Zoom meetings and just reaching out to each other.”
Also, with his main priorities being hitting the books before hitting the strike-zone, Prough emphasized what it means to be a P-P athlete, rather than at any other school.
“At some schools, their student-athletes are athletes first; but at [P-P] athletics, they understand that academics are important and that we need to be seeing success on that side of the balance,” Prough said.
As a first-year, Prough has a long college athletic career ahead of him, but he hasn’t set his sights any further than the next four years. After all, the path from DIII athlete to professional is not one that has been walked more than a handful of times.
“I’m not really concerned about being an NFL or MLB prospect at the moment; my plan is to get my degree and play sports for four years,” Prough said. “It’s hard as a baseball, football player to not dream of playing in the NFL or the MLB because almost every single athlete has thought about [playing professionally] at some point [in their careers], but I’m focused on more short-term goals: lifting, getting stronger, faster for the next season.”
In his admittedly limited free time, Prough likes to hike and hang out with friends outdoors. During past off-seasons, he has spent time giving back to his local communities through volunteer service.
“I’m an Eagle Scout; someone who has done a lot of community service and volunteer hours,” Prough said. “I helped people around the community, whether it’s through food drives or helping at senior centers; especially with the pandemic [I want to] help people in the community and make everyone’s life a little better.”
Just last summer, he was a counselor for an intensive youth camp, adhering to COVID-19 protocols while monitoring kids who roamed in outdoor activities such as “horseback riding, rock climbing, archery, kayaking [and] swimming.” Having a group of “10 to 12 kids,” Prough adores the feeling of helping children “develop and grow when they’re having fun.”
“You feel like you’re doing the right thing when you can see them visibly happy and making friends and learning,” Prough said. “It’s really incredible stuff to witness, and I take a lot of pride that my work is part of what makes that experience so special for them.”