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Phil Anastasia: This triple threat is a genuine rarity

W. Deptford's Tommy Jakubowski plays 3 sports well.

Tom Jakubowski is an impact player on West Deptford's football, basketball and baseball teams. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)
Tom Jakubowski is an impact player on West Deptford's football, basketball and baseball teams. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)Read more

Tommy Jakubowski never heard of Chip Hilton.

Hilton was the fictional star of Claire Bee's popular series of novels, set in the 1950s, about a three-sport athlete who excelled on the football field, basketball court, and baseball diamond.

They don't write books like that anymore.

They don't make many athletes like Jakubowski, either.

"I love all three," Jakubowski said of football, basketball, and baseball.

Jakubowski is an old-fashioned, three-sport star - a football player in the fall, a basketball player in the winter, and a baseball player in the spring.

There's even a throwback aspect to the three sports that Jakubowski plays for West Deptford - the once-holy trinity of boys' games that now is crowded and occasionally overshadowed by the likes of soccer and track, wrestling and swimming, tennis and golf and lacrosse.

That's a good thing, by the way. More sports equal more opportunities for more athletes.

Still, the geometric growth of what used to be known as "minor sports" - as well as the explosion of offseason demands in every sport - only underscores the vintage nature of Jakubowski's athletic career.

"I actually quit football for a little while when I was a sophomore," Jakubowski said. "But a week into camp I decided to go back. I knew you don't get these memories back. I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity."

The 6-3, 180-pound Jakubowski doesn't just participate in all three sports. He's an impact player in every season.

He is the leading scorer on the West Deptford basketball team, which has a 2-1 record. He's averaging 15.3 points as a swingman.

"He's such a top athlete," West Deptford basketball coach Don Clark said. "He's had such success in other sports, and he brings that to this team."

Jakubowski's final football season for West Deptford ended in dreamlike fashion. On Dec. 3 at Rowan University, he had two interceptions, plus a 23-yard reception on a third and 19, as West Deptford upset previously unbeaten Haddonfield by a 22-14 score to capture the program's fifth South Jersey Group 2 title since 2002.

"I don't think he missed a practice in three years," West Deptford football coach Clyde Folsom said. "He plays with so much enthusiasm."

Baseball is Jakubowski's top sport. He has signed a letter of intent to attend Long Island University on a baseball scholarship. Jakubowski batted .517 with 10 doubles, eight home runs, 51 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases last season as West Deptford won the South Jersey Group 2 title.

"Baseball has always been my No. 1 sport," Jakubowski said. "I always wanted my future to be in baseball."

It's increasingly rare for a Division I-caliber athlete to play two other sports. That's because there is no such thing as an offseason anymore.

Excel in baseball? Nice. You better participate in fall ball and summer ball and spend your winter in the batting cage.

A star in basketball? Good. You must play in spring, summer, and fall leagues and make major time and financial commitments to your road-tripping AAU team.

Flourish in football? Great. You have to get in the weight room soon after the end of the season, participate in 7-on-7 leagues, and prepare for those spring and summer showcase workouts for college recruiters.

"There's so much pressure on a multisport kid from coaches and teammates," Folsom said. "To be able to balance that, to satisfy the demands in all three sports, that takes a special person."

Jakubowski said he was pulled in every direction by his determination to play all three sports.

"I heard it in every sport," Jakubowski said. "I heard in basketball that I needed to shoot more in the offseason. I heard in baseball that I needed to hit more. I heard in football that I needed to spend more time in the weight room.

"I would say, 'I'm trying my best.' "

Jakubowski has managed to sprinkle offseason workouts in another sport into his routine for that in-season sport. He's a regular at the batting cage during football and basketball season. He played some basketball in the spring and summer. He hit the weight room and made a few 7-on-7 games for football even while playing travel baseball in the summer.

"It starts with his work ethic," West Deptford baseball coach Mike Rucci said. "The only guys who can play three sports are guys with an unbelievable work ethic."

Jakubowski said that changing sports with the seasons has kept him mentally fresh and helped him from a physical standpoint, too.

"You play one sport, you can get sick of it," Jakubowski said. "I think playing all three helps you. They each teach you something different."

Chip Hilton used to say the same sort of thing as a three-sport star for good old Valley Falls High.

A Hall of Famer in basketball who is credited with inventing the 1-3-1 zone as well as the three-second violation, Claire Bee wrote the Chip Hilton series after retiring from coaching.

He won most of his games at Long Island University, where West Deptford's real-life Chip Hilton will enroll next summer.