It takes a special athlete to be selected to The Opening Finals. 2019 Mansfield Legacy DB Jalen Catalon did not get his call until days before the event began, but it was a validation of the gifted athleticism he possesses.
Not only does he boast a four-star rating that has led to 23 Division I schools, 18 of them from Power 5 conferences, to offer him a football scholarship, but he also has the ability to play on the diamond at several of those institutions including the University of Texas.
Catalon splits time between safety and quarterback for Legacy, but at 5-foot-9 his next level future on the football field is at defensive back. In Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense, Catalon could fill multiple spots including safety and nickel.
Safeties often are said to be manning a “center field” spot. For Catalon, that’s his other main athletic responsibility. He plays the outfield for Legacy and was part of a team that went 22-8-1 in 2018 before losing to Crowley in the first round of the 5A Region 2 playoffs.
“Center field helped me out with playing safety,” Catalon said July 2 at The Opening Finals.” “It helped me read the ball well and make a play, and get used to moving my hips. It definitely helped me out a lot. That’s why I like playing baseball because it helps me out with football. It just shows me the skills I have in football as well.”
Some of other schools pursuing his signature include TCU, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Along with the Longhorns, those three baseball programs competed at a top 60 RPI level in 2018 with three programs making the College World Series in one of the past two seasons.
Catalon specifically mentioned that Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley told him he could play both if he were to attend Oklahoma. There’s a good example of a player participating in both sports from Norman as Kyler Murray was able to split time between football and baseball during the 2017-18 scholastic year before being selected ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 MLB Draft.
While the Sooners have a recent example, it’s harder to find a Longhorn who did something similar. Catalon realizes that unique opportunity the coaches of both Longhorn programs have presented him.
“Just by the fact that I’m able to have the opportunity to do both, that’s just a great blessing,” Catalon said. “Not a lot of people can say that, especially for a place like Texas. It’s an honor to be able to do both. As I go down, I’m going to talk to my family and see if that’s something I want to do.”
Longhorn baseball head coach David Pierce does have some experience allowing players to play another sport while in his program. While at Tulane, Trevor Simms and Richard Carthon were able to do both. Simms kicked for the football team and was subsequently selected in the 32nd round of the 2016 MLB draft, while Carthon played both and hit .270 in his four-year career for the Green Wave.
Both football and baseball staffs have driven home the special opportunity in front of Catalon to play at both Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium and UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
“I couldn’t name many people that have done both.” Catalon said. “I know Kamron Fields was trying to do it, and he couldn’t do it. He stuck with one. I think it would be an honor out there to do both and be one of the first few to do it.”
Additional help for the Longhorn football program might be having a baseball guy on the staff.
Safeties coach and special teams coordinator Craig Naivar is a certifiable baseball junkie, with Catalon noting sometimes Naivar seems like a baseball coach with the way he speaks about the game.
Naivar showed plenty of support for the Houston Astros during their 2017 World Series run, and was on hand for several games during Texas baseball’s late season run, including watching a game with Catalon.
“He’s a great guy,” Catalon said of Naivar. “He talks about football, baseball, life, anything to keep a conversation and see how everything’s going with your life. I really like how he recruits and how he goes with it.”
Naivar is Catalon’s primary point of contact on the football side, with director of baseball operations Drew Bishop staying in contact with him most from the baseball side.
“He asks me how everything’s going, how I feel about baseball still, and talks about how I can make a difference there playing baseball and how I can help out the program,” Catalon said about Bishop, a member of the 2005 national championship team. “It’s great to have a baseball coach communicate with me and have somebody there I know I can trust, show me around, and keep me updated on baseball.”
Catalon still has a ways to go in his dual-sport recruitment. With the aforementioned Horned Frogs, Sooners, and Razorbacks battling for his signature in addition to Clemson, there’s a lot on the four-star defensive back’s plate.
One of the things that might determine his choice is where he can step up to home plate.
“As I keep going, I’m going to do baseball and keep working on that,” Catalon said. “When the time comes I’m going to keep my options open and see if baseball is something I want to do.”