Hardwood to gridiron

Staff Writer
Donaldsonville Chief
Donaldsonville's Ladarius Jackson has been a great basketball and football player for the Tigers. Photo by Chuck Montero.

Ever since the turn of the new century, there has been a growing trend in the NFL.

We’ve seen more and more college basketball stars walk away from the hardwood, grab a helmet and shoulder pads and trade bringing down thunderous slam dunks with scoring touchdowns.

Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez was the trail blazer in that aspect.

Gonzalez played both football and basketball at California, but it was the NFL where he would choose to continue his professional athletic career as a tight end.

Many more would follow the same path. Antonio Gates, Julius Peppers, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Vincent Jackson, and now, Rico Gathers, they’ve all made the transition from hoops to football.

But this trend isn’t just restricted to the college and professional ranks.

We’ve also seen it play out quite regularly in high-school football. More specifically, we’ve seen it become a growing trend here in Ascension Parish.

Throughout the parish, there are multiple players from multiple schools that have not only transitioned well from basketball to football, but they’ve become some of the best football players in the area—and in the state, in some cases.

This is nothing new for East Ascension.

Just last year, Justin Harris was one of the Spartans’ key big men on the basketball team, while being their starting defensive end in football.

In his senior season, he was Parish Defensive Player of the Year and signed with Baylor.

Now, East Ascension has two dual-sport stars.

Before last season, Cameron Wire was best known for his play on the hardwood. He was an important inside player for head coach Barry Whittington, Jr. and the Spartan basketball squad as they made a memorable run to the state semifinals.

But in 2016, Wire blossomed as a football player.

Not only did he earn a starting spot on the offensive line, but he earned all-district honors and impressed many big-time scouts along the way. During the summer, he committed to LSU.

Now in his senior season, the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder is regarded by many as one of the top-15 best overall prospects in Louisiana.

Teammate Jimel London also began his career as strictly a basketball player.

The ultra-quick, tenacious and tough London has been the Spartans’ starting point guard since his freshman season. He has been first-team all-district the past two years.

During his sophomore season, he decided to give football a try, and he instantly found success.

By the time the year rolled around, he had become a starting cornerback. By the time the year ended, he was first-team all-district.

But London doesn’t just play defense. He is also a dangerous return specialist, and he is used on offense as a running back/receiver.

In the Spartans’ impressive week-one victory over Lutcher, London scored on a punt return, a kick return and a running play. On defense, he came up with an interception.

St. Amant also has a dynamic playmaker that spends his winters on the basketball court.

Like London, K.J. Franklin has been a starting point guard and all-district star for the Gators since he was a freshman. And like London, his speed and explosiveness made him a terrific asset to the football team.

Franklin decided to give football a try during his sophomore season. He also returned kicks and was used as a running back/receiver on offense.

He has continued that role now in his junior season as the Gators try to repeat a 2016 season that saw them reach the state quarterfinals.

Dutchtown has their own two-way star in Jordan Jackson.

Jackson is one of the school’s top guards on the basketball team, but he has made quite the name for himself on the football squad as well.

He became a starting cornerback for the Griffins last season, and he has remained one of their top defensive backs in 2017.

Donaldsonville is no stranger to this trend.

Stephen Sullivan was once a double-threat for the Tigers. The 6-foot-6 Sullivan was a starting forward on the Tigers’ basketball team and also their top receiver on the football squad.

During his senior season, he was the Parish Offensive Player of the Year and signed with LSU. The sophomore looks to get significant playing time for the Tigers in 2017.

Currently at Donaldsonville, Ladarius Jackson has excelled both on the hardwood and on the gridiron.

On the basketball team, Jackson was a key contributor who actually hit a last-second, game-winning 3-pointer against University last season.

In football, he was an all-district receiver for the Tigers in 2016.