Gretchen Etling originally didn’t want her son to play football.
She pushed Danny to stick with tennis. He was a good player and there was less chance for a serious injury.
But the little fourth-grader wanted to play football and nothing was going to stop him.
“My mom didn’t want me playing football because it was too physical, so I had to play tennis,” Danny said. “I actually got to play football because I won a tennis tournament, ironically enough. I bet my mom if I won a tennis tournament, I’d get to sign up for football the next day.”
Danny did win, and the next day, true to her word, Gretchen signed up her son for the football team.
More than a decade later, Danny Etling is the starting quarterback at LSU, and it’s all thanks to his play on the tennis court.
But convincing his mother to let him join the football team isn’t the only reason Danny is grateful for during his time with a racket in his hand.
Footwork and lateral quickness have been key tenants of Etling’s development as a quarterback over the years, qualities he directly relates to his experience on the hard courts.
The sentiment is the same for countless college football players across the country.
Not necessarily tennis, but few experiences prepared them for them for life on the gridiron than diversifying their athletic development through different sports.
Of 20 LSU players polled, all but one played a sport in addition to football at some point in their high school career, several playing multiple sports.
Most players participated in something easily translatable to football like track or basketball. Others competed in more distant sports.
But to a person, each multi-sport athlete took something from it they use today.
“(Swimming) taught me how to be an athlete,” said tight end Foster Moreau, who competed in freestyle and fly stroke. “Taught me drive, taught me focus. It gave me a purpose. Taught me a little work ethic. It’s a tough sport, and I applaud anyone who does it. It developed my core and made me a better athlete. That and basketball teaching me balance and awareness of where I am on the court definitely transferred over to football.
“I don’t think specializing in sports is the best idea for any athlete at a young age.”
Coming from the Jimmy Johnson coaching tree at Miami, recruiting multi-sport athletes has been a key tenant of coach Ed Orgeron’s philosophy.
Tommy Tuberville, an assistant with Orgeron at Miami who’s now an analyst with ESPN said of Johnson’s recruiting tactics, “You can find out more about a football player from watching him play basketball than anything.”
Orgeron played basketball and threw the shot put and javelin at South Lafourche High School in the 1970s.
At Northwestern State, while Orgeron didn’t participate in any other sports, several of his teammates were on the track team at the time.
LSU currently has three players who split their time in the spring between football and the track team, including starting cornerback Donte Jackson who posted the second fastest 100-meter time of any FBS football player last season.
In the past, LSU football coaches resisted the idea of their players splitting focus with track. LSU sprints coach Bennie Brazell, a former dual-sport athlete himself, said his former coach Nick Saban eventually let him go out for track, but was not fond of the idea at first.
But that thought process changed under Orgeron, who said he wishes more of his players would go out for the track team.
“I’d like to have the fastest team in America,” Orgeron said. “I wish I had six or seven track guys. I came from Northwestern State where Mark Duper and Joe Delaney and those guys won the 4x100 meter relay (national championship). I’m into speed.”
There’s a wide range of skilled players who played other sports.
LSU safety Ed Paris said he learned focus and patience growing up playing golf throughout high school.
Wide receiver Drake Davis developed conditioning as a soccer player.
Nose tackle Greg Gilmore still plays tennis, albeit recreationally, even challenging his quarterback to a match one time, but said it was unfair with Etling and Moreau against just him.
“I thought about it, when you’re a pass rusher and get off a block and you burst to the quarterback, that could be a drop shot right there,” Gilmore said. “You have to burst with control to that net. (In football), you can’t just run full speed at the quarterback. He’s going to duck and dodge.”
While linebacker Donnie Alexander was the only player to say he didn’t participate in any other sports as a child, defensive end Christian LaCouture was one of a handful who played other sports early on, but gave it up for football.
Growing up in Nebraska, LaCouture played basketball, baseball, threw shot put and even dabbled in hockey for a while.
As a sophomore, though, his high school coaches talked him into focusing on solely football so he could participate in recruiting camps during the spring.
And while LaCouture is thankful he choose football over everything else, considering where he is now, he does wish he branched out more.
“For me, it was something I really missed,” LaCouture said. “I loved baseball. I grew up playing it. It was always something where football and baseball were right there for me. Ultimately football, at the end of the day, that was my goal. But I wish I had those couple years (of baseball).”