Gophers' Decker continues to do double duty

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Decker looks for a place to sit down and chat, so he enters Minnesota's football offices and pokes his head in the team meeting room.

 
  Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
  Eric Decker led the Big Ten with 84 receptions in 2008.

Hearing the booming voice of a coach going over film with a group of players, Decker quickly ducks out.

"We shouldn't go in there," he said.

If Decker were like most Big Ten football players, he'd be in there, going over routes and formations.

After all, he's Minnesota's best player, a team captain and one of the top wide receivers in America. An hour earlier, Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster sat in the same meeting room and told reporters that Decker, a senior this fall, should be on the short list for the 2009 Biletnikoff Award. Decker was a finalist last fall, when he led the Big Ten with 84 receptions -- 15 more than any other player -- and also topped the list in receiving yards (1,074).

At this moment, however, Decker is an outsider in the Gopher football offices. For the second straight spring, he's playing for Minnesota's nationally ranked baseball team, which is off to a 13-6 start after a solid road trip through Texas.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Decker is more concerned with tracking down fly balls in center field than footballs thrown by Minnesota starting quarterback Adam Weber. The Gophers football team opens spring practice Tuesday afternoon, but Decker will work out with the baseball squad later that night.

"I'll probably come in early, catch the end of [football] practice, see how guys are doing, see how the offense is going," Decker said.

His focus is on baseball, but Decker tries to stay involved with football as much as he can, especially since the Gophers are installing a new offense with new coordinator Jedd Fisch. He still serves as a football captain, and when Minnesota votes on its 2009 captains after spring ball, he hopes to retain the position.

It's a heavy burden, but Decker wouldn't have things any other way.

"It's been hard to balance it, but it's been good," he said. "It's been everything I've wanted."

Decker already has met several times with Fisch, who previously served as the Denver Broncos' wide receivers coach, as well as new Gophers receivers coach Richard Hightower, also a former NFL assistant. The new arrivals give Decker "more resources to learn from," but the biggest help to his balancing act is his roommate, Weber.

"He brings back all the installments and stuff," Decker said. "I get a chance to look at formations and the routes. I haven't really broken it down because I'm more focused on baseball, but when summer comes around, that's when I'm going to really tackle the whole offense.

"Right now, it's learning the formations, learning the verbiage, what the routes are and the concepts."

Walking through the football office lobby, Brewster spotted Decker and jokingly asked him if he's coming to football practice. The coach then switched topics.

"What are you hitting right now?" Brewster asked.

"I have no idea," Decker replied.

".330 or so," a baseball official told Brewster.

"Better be over .400," Brewster said, smiling.

Decker is actually hitting .333 with a home run, 5 doubles and 8 RBIs after what he called a poor road trip to Texas. He hit .329 in 2008, his first season playing baseball for the Gophers, and was drafted in the 38th round by the Milwaukee Brewers, becoming just the third Minnesota player since 1966 to letter in football and get drafted in baseball.

He's very good in baseball, but he might be special in football. Brewster has compared Decker to former Broncos slot receiver Ed McCaffrey and is certain he can play at the next level.

It leads to the obvious question, one Decker hears all the time: Baseball or football?

"It kind of gets old after a while, but I have the same answer: I don't know yet," he said. "I'm just doing both, enjoying both and when the time comes, I'll make a decision."

Former Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija, a 2005 Biletnikoff Award finalist, faced the same choice and picked baseball despite favorable NFL draft projections. Indiana wide receiver Andrew Means, a Cincinnati Reds draft pick, opted to leave school a year early and participated in the NFL combine last month.

Decker said he might reach out to Means before making his choice, but it's not on the front burner right now.

"As I experience both sports, I learn my potential and my future with both of them, where I stand with the rest of the field," he said. "Then, at the end of the day, it's going to do what I love to do the most, what my goals are in life and what sport fits them."

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