By Dennis Maffezzoli, GateHouse Media Services
Cord Sandberg has not taken a hit on a football field since Dec. 7, 2012, when the former Manatee High quarterback played against St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.
Just more than six months after the Hurricanes fell 35-18 in the Class 7A state semifinal, Sandberg hung up his helmet and signed a pro baseball contract that included a $775,000 bonus with the Philadelphia Phillies organization that made him a third-round pick in the 2013 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.
But after 427 hits in the minors, none above the Double A level, in five-and-a-half seasons, and much deliberation with his family and friends, Sandberg decided to ditch baseball for one final shot at football.
He will be going from getting hits to taking them again.
The former four-star recruit will weigh his options for returning to school and play college football.
During the past few months, Sandberg has spoken to “five or six” coaches, including Florida’s Dan Mullen, who recruited Sandberg at Mississippi State out of high school, LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Auburn’s Gus Malzhan to gauge their interest.
“The conversations I had with them definitely made it easier to go ahead and move on knowing I was going to have A chance to either walk on and compete for a job and get in the football swing of things,” Sandberg said.
According to Sandberg, Auburn and the University of Central Florida have made him scholarship offers. LSU, Florida and a couple of other schools are offering preferred walk-on status with the potential of being a scholarship player his final three years.
“I just have to see where my best fit is,” Sandberg said.
With NCAA football currently in a dead period, Sandberg cannot take official visits until July 25. He plans to make no more than two or three visits and hopes to make a decision before Aug. 20, when most colleges begin classes.
“For me, my mindset is to get on a college campus sometime in August and throughout this football season be able to go to school and work out with the team,” Sandberg said. “Come next fall be in a situation where I can compete for a starting job.”
Sandberg does not expect to play this season, but wants to be part of a college football program.
“I’m not sure how long it’s going to take to get my football legs under me,” Sandberg said. “The best place to do that would be on a campus and be involved with whatever weight and conditioning program a Division I program will be on.
“When I get on campus, I’m going to do everything I can to get into football shape and whatever happens, happens.”
The 23-year-old Sandberg has not spoken with former IMG Academy football coach Chris Weinke, who played minor league baseball before joining Florida State University to play quarterback at the age of 25, or any other athletes who made the move from pro baseball to college football.
He does know, however, he wants to play quarterback. “All the coaches I’ve talked to so far want me to play quarterback,” he said.
The left-hander completed 70 percent of his passes during his senior year at Manatee High with 35 touchdowns and one interception. For his career, the dual-threat Sandberg compiled 9,820 yards of total offense, 7,829 through the air and 1,991 on the ground, and scored 110 touchdowns.
Yet, the baseball route was too inviting.
His best season was last year when he hit a combined .268 with nine home runs and 42 runs batted in for three different teams in the Phillies’ organization.
This season, Sandberg was hitting .231 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 54 games for Double A Reading.
“I played enough baseball to have an idea of where that was headed and what type of player I was to make a decision and move on,” he said.
The left-handed outfielder spoke with Philadelphia director of player development Joe Jordan along with some of his former professional managers and current and former teammates.
“They were very supportive of my decision,” Sandberg said. “I said the same thing to everyone. I understand I could have stayed in baseball, pursued that. But I know that a realistic possibility would be to be 28 or 29 and either still playing minor league ball or have been in The Show and bounced back down. To get released and have nothing on my resume other than baseball was something I didn’t feel comfortable with.”
Now the focus is to play college football with the hopes of reaching the NFL.
“For me to go ahead and make the decision to play football and hopefully have a chance to pursue a career in the NFL is the goal,” Sandberg said. “The backup plan to playing football is a four-year degree from somewhere and moving on with my life post-playing career. I would definitely feel more comfortable with a degree and the actions I could make with that.”
Currently in Ohio with his fiancé Haley Gray and her family, Sandberg plans to relax and do his homework on colleges and their teams before deciding where to visit.
“College football will dictate my next move,” he said.
Dennis Maffezzoli is a sports writer with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org