Olympic Sprinter Jeff Demps Wants to Play Football; History Says Teams Should Give Him a Try

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bill-swift - August 16, 2012

Coaches can teach players many things, but there is one thing that they can't—speed. If there is one thing that every team is hoping to get or wishing they had more of its speed. Where better to find it than on the U.S. 4X100 meter relay team that just won a silver medal in London?

Jeff Demps (who ran in the semis in London but not the finals) spent a good part of his final year in school at Florida saying that he was not interested in the NFL. He wanted to concentrate on training for the Olympics. Now that the Games are over it's time to find another line of work.

What will make Demps intriguing to teams is not just his speed. Along with becoming a track standout at Florida he was an important player on the school's football team. In 2008 he helped the team win the national title by rushing for 605 yards (on just 78 carries) and seven touchdowns.

It's unlikely that many teams will look at him to play running back. While his speed would be good, at 5-foot 7-inches and 175 pounds he's a bit small. However, he could make for one heck of a return man. As a Gator he averaged 28.8 yards a return. Last year there was only one player with at least 25 returns that averaged more (New York Jets running back Joe McKnight; 31.6 yards/return).

So far there are two teams that have shown interest in Demps, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Should anyone else consider signing him they should be aware that history has smiled favorably on Olympic sprinters in the NFL:

Bob Hayes, Dallas Cowboys: In the '64 games he became the fastest man in the world when he set the world record in the 100M (10.06) and won the gold medal; he won his second gold in the 4X100 relay (also setting a new world record).

Dallas drafted him in the seventh round that year and were quite happy with what they got. His ability to spread the field added a dimension to the ‘Boys offense that defenses found hard to handle. Hayes went on to help the team win a Super Bowl (VI) and was named to three Pro Bowls en route to catching 371 balls for 7414 yards and 71 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

James Jett, Washington Redskins: Jett lived up to his last name by helping the U.S. win gold in the 4X100 relay in Barcelona during the '92 Games. His speed impressed the Raiders who picked him up as an undrafted free agent. He went on to catch 256 balls for 4417 yards and 30 touchdowns over nine years with the Raiders.

Ron Brown, Los Angeles Rams: Another former 4X100 relay runner, Brown was a part of the gold medal team for the U.S. at the '84 Games held in Los Angeles. The following year he joined the L.A. Rams where he primarily contributed on special teams as a kick returner. His speed was evident in the three touchdown runs he ripped off as a rookie; he also averaged close to 33 yards a return that year.

Willie Gault, Chicago Bears: He too was a part of a gold medal 4X100 relay team; his at the Boycott Games in Philadelphia (1980; 29 countires boycotting the Games held in Russia) along with being a bronze medal winner in the 100M.

His career spanned 11 seasons (6635 yards, 44 touchdowns), five with the Bears and six with the Raiders. He was a part of the '85 Bears team that went 15-1 en route to winning Super Bowl XX; and yes, he was in the Super Bowl Shuffle video.

Michael Bates, last with the New York Jets: Bates won a bronze medal in the 200M at the Barcelona Games in '92. The Seahawks saw enough to make him a 6th round pick in '93. He went on to have a stellar career primarily as a return man for Seattle, Cleveland, Carolina, Washington, Dallas, and the New York Jets.

Over the span of his career he was named to five Pro Bowls (1996-2000), returned five kicks for touchdowns, and accumulated over 9000 yards in returns.

There have been some other players that were Olympians first namely like Ollie Matson (silver, 4X400 relay and bronze in 400; played for four teams from 1952-66), Jim Thorpe (gold in pentathalon and decathalon in '12 Games; played in the 20s), and Michael Carter (only player to medal—silver in shot put—and win Super Bowl in same year, 1984).

So in case teams were wondering if he could work out I think the answer is an easy yes!

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