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Double trouble: McLean making life work as a multi-sport athlete

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Nolan McLean home run

Nolan McLean touches home after a home run against Vanderbilt. 

There have been many great multi-sport athletes.

NFL quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson were drafted for baseball, but chose football. That choice is something Oklahoma State freshman Nolan McLean will have to make.

McLean said players like Murray set a good example for players like him who are trying to play both.

“Kyler Murray is probably the best example because he was a stud in both sports,” McLean said. “It makes you think, ‘if he can do it, why can’t more people do it?’”

Whenever McLean started picking up a lot of interest throughout his high school career for football and baseball, his dream of playing multiple sports in college was becoming a reality.

McLean was a two-time South Wake Conference player of the year for Garner Magnet High School in football. On the baseball field, McLean not only got conference player of the year and all-state four times each, but he was also a Perfect Game and Under Armor All-American as a shortstop. He was the 65th ranked player in the 2020 class and the top recruit for OSU.

Even though McLean was recruited most heavily for baseball, he always had a love for football and basketball too, but realized his best path is in baseball or football since he is 6 feet 3.

“I never shied away from loving all three basically the same,” McLean said. “Unfortunately, I’m not like 6 [feet] 8 or anything, so I couldn’t do basketball, but the football thing kind of worked out for me.”

McLean was considering three schools, East Carolina, North Carolina State and OSU, before signing. When he was being recruited, a lot of schools told him he wouldn’t have time for both.

Finding a school that was supportive of him playing both was the hardest part of his recruitment process, but he said OSU was a great fit for him.

“Luckily I have awesome coaches here that allow me to do both,” McLean said.

In recent history, OSU quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Josh Fields starred in both sports.

Weeden was drafted out of high school and played minor league baseball but did not compete as a Cowboy baseball player. Instead, Weeden walked on the football team and won a Big 12 Championship.

Fields, on the other hand, was a star as a baseball and football player at OSU. On the football field, he led the Cowboys to two bowl games and two Bedlam victories. As a third baseman, he was drafted 18th in the 2004 MLB draft, so he chose baseball.

Growing up in North Carolina, McLean said Weeden and Fields were unknown to him.

“Once I got here, I started to find out who Josh Fields was, and then Brandon Weeden was kind of similar,” McLean said. “That’s just so cool to me, the guys who have been here and done it and know all the tricks.”

McLean is an all-around player on the baseball field. He has mainly been a designated hitter to start the season but should play in the field and pitch more when his arm is in better shape coming from football.

McLean is a special talent, but coach Josh Holliday has been more impressed with him as a person. Holliday said there has been incremental growth for McLean since he has spent 100 % of his time with baseball.

“He goes about his business the right way,” Holliday said. “I think what impresses me most is he’s very humble. He’s very focused and hard working, and even though he’s talented, he doesn’t take the game for granted.”

It has been impressive for McLean to crack a lineup loaded with talented hitters. Senior catcher Brock Mathis, an LSU transfer, is one of those hitters.

Mathis said all McLean has to do is get the barrel to the ball and it’s gonna go.

“He’s such a great teammate, and he’s so mature for his age,” Mathis said. “Not only is he just a freak of an athlete, but he’s just such a good guy.”

Even though McLean is in the midst of baseball season, he has lifted extra to keep his strength up for football.

McLean and tight end Quinton Stewart go to B & V Body Works Gym a few times a week to do extra workouts. Stewart said McLean doesn’t push quite as much weight as he, but McLean grinds.

“It’s impressive for Nolan to come do offseason type workouts in the middle of his baseball season,” Stewart said. “He’s a pretty strong guy, especially for a quarterback.”

McLean isn’t allowed to do anything with the football team during the baseball season because of the limited amount of hours the NCAA allows. Athletes are not allowed to do more than 20 hours per week and four hours per day of athletically related activities, according to ncaa.org.

Because of these rules, McLean has to do the extra drills and meet with the coaches on his own time. He said he has to know the playbook so whenever he goes back to football he can compete.

“It’s mainly just a lot of time management,” McLean said. “If I come back home early after baseball, I set aside an hour to do the things I need to for football like studying the playbook, watching some film and stuff like that.”

Going into next season, McLean is unlikely to play much because the Cowboys return two players with starting experience in Spencer Sanders and Shane Illingworth. Instead, McLean will compete for the third-string spot.

“Nolan has a big arm and he’s a hard worker,” Sanders said. “I respect him being a competitor and trying to play both sports.”

During the Cowboy’s final game in a home series on Feb. 28 against Illinois State, McLean hit his first college home run. It was an opposite field line drive that gave OSU a 1-0 lead in a game it won 6-0 to sweep the Redbirds.

McLean said it’s insane how packed O’Brate Stadium can feel with 25% capacity.

“O'Brate [Stadium] is an amazing place to play at,” McLean said. “The field is perfect. It’s not much more you can ask for in a baseball stadium, that’s for sure. I can’t imagine that place with another 6,000 people in it.”