We often hear about two-sport athletes at high levels and how difficult it is to simultaneously achieve success in multiple sports. We saw Drew Henson (Tom Brady’s backup at Michigan) struggle to play college football and minor league baseball at the same time, never living up to expectations, and getting dubbed a “50 percent athlete”. We saw Toby Gerhart try to juggle college baseball, summer baseball, and then college football, back-to-back-to-back, constantly having to leave teams early or join teams late because of overlapping or extended seasons.
It is often assumed that at the Division III level, these problems are not as prevalent because there is less commitment to sports. Pomona graduate and current Claremont Graduate University (CGU) student RJ Maki, would tell you otherwise.
Maki has been playing both football and basketball since his childhood days. Which one did he like better?
“Whatever I’m doing at the moment is what I love,” he said.
Not willing to make a choice between the two, Maki knew he wanted to play both football and basketball in college. Thus, Pomona’s position as an elite academic school with an accessible DIII athletics program made the school an enticing option. Additionally, Maki is a Claremont native and grew up going to football games at Merritt Field and basketball games at Rains Center. Playing on the same teams that he cheered for as a child was a wonderful opportunity.
During his four years at Pomona, Maki had an exceptionally impressive football career, setting many school records and gaining wide recognition, including three All-SCIAC selections. He was even a two-time national leader in receptions per game and played in two Division III All-Star games.
Being so successful at football meant long, exhausting fall seasons for Maki. Having football season and basketball season back-to-back meant Maki never had time to rest, making the transition tough.
“I loved going right from football to basketball,” he said. “When one season was over, I was so excited to start the next, but I always felt exhausted.”
Because of football, Maki always missed out on a month of preseason with the basketball team. Football’s time-consuming nature prevented Maki from even getting into the gym to practice basketball on his own during the fall. Being in shape for football is also very different from being in shape for basketball, so Maki always had physical adjustments to make as well.
“I always felt a little behind when I joined the [basketball] team,” Maki said. “It usually took me about a month to get incorporated and feel comfortable.”
During Maki’s junior year, he realized he had an opportunity he could not pass up. He had always been interested in attending business school, and CGU had a program allowing him to begin work on his graduate degree while still at Pomona. He also knew he would have one year of basketball eligibility left after graduation because of an injury his sophomore year. Going to CGU meant he could accomplish what he wanted academically while playing one last year of basketball without football as a distraction.
“Both fit together so well; it was tough to pass up,” Maki explained. And that is how Maki ended up playing one final season of Sagehen basketball and his first full season with the team.
“This season has been different for me,” he explained. “It’s been great for me to be part of the team for the whole year. I just wanted to give all my effort to basketball, which is something I’ve never been able to do.”
While Maki has accomplished a lot individually in football, he loves the team success he has been a part of with the basketball team. With the basketball team, Maki got an SCIAC championship, something his football team never achieved. Now that he is closing out his collegiate athletic career, Maki is happy that he has had the opportunity to focus on basketball and that they have continued to achieve success as a team.
After receiving his business degree from CGU, Maki plans to work for Merrill Lynch in San Diego. While he will not play either sport competitively anymore, he loves the team dynamic and wants to coach in the future. He already has had experience being an assistant coach after working for the Sagehen football team last fall. But for Maki, choosing between the two sports is still something he refuses to do.
“In my ideal situation I see myself coaching both,” Maki said. “I’m not ready to give either one up.”