Deon Clifford: The Mariner’s Multi Sport Maven

October 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Canadian Sport Features, Profiles

Deon Clifford

Deon Clifford is the type of athlete that only comes along once in a decade. At a time when student athletes are often encouraged to focus all of their efforts on just one sport, Deon’s approach flies in the face of conventional wisdom as he follows in the footsteps of other dual-sport athletes like Deon Sanders, Bo Jackson and Babe Zaharias.

The unassuming 5’ 9”, 135 pound senior at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey, BC is not only one of the fastest 2,000 metre steeple chase runners in the world for his age group, but he is also a starting full back for British Columbia’s provincial rugby team.

According to Clifford, he loves both sports so much that giving one of them up is simply out of the question. The most unique aspect of Clifford’s story however, is that his two chosen sports are the most unlikely of combinations for elite athletes at any age.

From the standpoint of body types alone, it isn’t very likely that a rugby coach is going to find very many potential recruits by scouring a pack of middle-distance runners. Conversely, a track coach isn’t likely to find his next great miler amidst a rolling maul of rugby players.

What makes Clifford’s ability to excel in both sports even more impressive is the fact that in the B.C. high school sports system, the seasons of play for rugby and track run in the same spring window of competition. In fact, in what will be his final year at Earl Mariott, both senior boys’ rugby and track championship finals are slated for June 2 in Abbotsford and Burnaby respectively.

Clifford’s rugby head coach at Earl Marriott, Adam Roberts feels that due to the nature of the sport of track and field, it is very difficult for track athletes to cross over to other sports, however he is confident Clifford is an exception to the rule.

Above all else however, what makes Clifford an absolute rarity is the level at which he competes in both sports. In June 2011, at the B.C. high school track and field championships, Clifford finished fourth in the 3,000 metres and sixth in the 1,500 metres. In August, he finished eighth in steeplechase at the Worlds in France and also won top spot in his age class at the Canadian championships.

On the rugby pitch, Clifford’s speed and courage have made him a natural at fullback where he competes for Earl Marriott, the Bayside club and Team B.C.

Clifford says there are a lot of people who want him to concentrate solely on running, especially at his young age. He feels that since he has never had a serious injury and is able to train on his own for track if he misses a practice, he should not have to chose one sport over the other in the year ahead

As Clifford’s coach, Roberts laughs at how the fullback defies traditional description. Clifford stereotypical long distance runner body looks rather skinny on the rugby pitch, but he can run for miles without breaking a sweat and is by far the best tackler the Earl Marriot Mariners have seen in recent history.

Amongst all the hype and multi sport practice scheduling, at least for the time being, Clifford is focused on training for one main event, an upcoming running championship. Both he and Vancouver-St. George’s standout Christian Gravel are considered the two favourites for the boys’ final at the B.C. high school cross-country championships slated for November 5 in Kelowna. Both athletes are hungry to improve on their results from last season, where Gravel finished second and Clifford finished fourth.

Although Clifford is very humble about the fact that he is excelling in an extremely rare combination of sports, coaches like Roberts applaud his old school mentality and his desire to simply play the sports he loves to play. It is certainly refreshing to see a high school athlete competing in sports for the pure enjoyment and as he does so, Deon Clifford is defying the status quo and making his case as the best two-sport athlete B.C. high school sports has ever seen.

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