For basketball star Girard, football worth the risk

Despite risks, Joe Girard III said he will continue to play football, despite a future as a Division I basketball player.
Despite risks, Joe Girard III said he will continue to play football, despite a future as a Division I basketball player.

Joe Girard III is first and foremost a basketball star. His future is on the hardwood.

But despite the risks — and the related concerns raised by others — Girard says he isn’t ready to put away his shoulder pads and helmet.

“It’s a sport I grew up playing. It’s been in my family,” said Girard, who led Glens Falls to the state Class B football championship last fall.

“It’s another sport I love and I want to play. I wouldn’t play if I didn’t have a love and passion for it.”

The sophomore earned a spot on the all-state first team for his play at quarterback while also excelling in the Glens Falls secondary.

But as a freshman he also garnered all-state first-team honors in basketball, after leading the Indians to a spot in the Section II title game when he averaged 33.9 points and sank 122 3-pointers. He is already being recruited by Division I schools for basketball.

So why risk that college career when one play at a high-risk position can put it in jeopardy?

“I like playing more than one sport,” said Girard III, who turned 16 just days after he accounted for four touchdowns in a 47-39 state title-game win over Chenango Forks. “I think it helps you in the sport you specialize in.”

That would be basketball, a sport for which he gave up baseball. He isn’t ready to do the same for football.

Girard III has received basketball scholarship offers from the University at Albany, High Point, George Washington and Siena. He’s made unofficial visits to the first three of those institutions, as well as Michigan, Notre Dame, Fordham, Syracuse and Penn State this past weekend.

“The only thing stopping me now is if I commit to a college and they say I can’t play football,” Girard III said.

This is fine with dad.

“We’ll play [football] next year and see where it goes,” Joe Girard Jr. said. “You only go through it once. He loves his teammates, and he’s enjoying it. They won 13 games in a row so why stop now?”

For one, the potential for injury. Glens Falls’ career basketball scoring leader Jimmer Fredette was also a football star, but opted not to play the grid sport his senior year after earning all-state first-team recognition as a receiver the year before.

“That’s always in the back of people’s heads,” the younger Girard said of the potential for injury. “The same things can happen in basketball: Going up for a layup and someone goes for the legs. The possibility is there, but so far God has taken care of me.”

Girard III said he has never sustained a serious injury playing basketball, football or baseball. He stepped away from baseball after playing on Glens Falls’ junior varsity as an eighth-grader due to time constraints with his Albany City Rocks AAU team.

“What I’ve learned is if you think you’re going to get hurt,it’s going to happen,” said Girard III, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds on the Glens Falls football roster. “I don’t think about it.”

Girard III is not only quick and agile with a football in his hands, but smart, too. He’ll take a hit when it’s warranted, but has no problem stepping out of bounds and moving on to the next play when it’s not.

“You’ve got to know when,” he said.

Scotia-Glenville basketball coach Jim Giammattei said he would have concerns if one of his stars heading for Division I wanted to continue to play football. (Joe Cremo, a Scotia grad now at the University at Albany, did not.) But the one thing the coach would not do is tell the student-athlete not to play.

“It’s on every individual,” he said. “The last thing an [athletic director] wants to hear . . . is someone telling a kid not to play. We would tell the kid it’s his decision, and he has to think about his long-range goals.”

Girard III passed for 25 touchdowns and scored 15 times on runs, kick returns and interceptions as part of his stellar sophomore season. Five of those touchdown tosses came in a 49-14 state semifinal win against Pleasantville, and the following weekend he quarterbacked Glens Falls to a state championship like Allen Iverson did as a youngster in Virginia before his stellar hoop career at Georgetown and in the NBA.

LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Danny Ainge. John Havlicek and Linton graduate Pat Riley all played high school football, too, although not all played through their senior year. 

“He’s going to play basketball from November to July with his high school team and the City Rocks,” Girard Jr. said. “I think football is a good break for him mentally and physically. He’s using different joints and muscles.”

A more recent example of a basketball star who continued to play another sport with a risk for injury, even as a senior, is Kevin Huerter. The 2016 New York State basketball player of the year for Shenendehowa also played outfield on Shen’s state champion baseball team before starting his college basketball career at Maryland.

This past week Girard III was selected the New York State High School Football Coaches Association Class B Player of the Year. 

“He’s a role model for other kids,” Girard Jr. said of his son playing two sports. “It can be done.”

Schalmont football coach Joe Whipple had a chat with Girard III after Glens Falls beat the Sabres in a Week 2 game 32-28. Girard threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score to fuel the victory.

“He came up to me and thanked me,” Girard III recalled. “I asked him, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘You’re showing kids that they can play two sports.’ ” 

Girard III believes football has made him a better all-around basketball player. He came into the week averging 35.8 points for the state’s No. 1 Class B team.

“Football is the only time I lift,” he said. “Football gets me stronger and tougher, and I’m proving it on the basketball court.”

Girard Jr. said he wouldn’t be surprised if college football recruiters start calling in the wake of his son’s state player of the year award.

“Probably some football looks are going to come,” he said. “There will be some opportunities. Obviously we’ll listen.”

“Right now my eyes are open to everything,” Girard III said.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

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