By Robert Wilson
Oak Grove High alumnus John Rhys Plumlee – one of the top multi-sport college athletes in the country – did a rare double for the University of Central Florida Friday night.
Plumlee had two hits, including a two-run triple, and played seven innings in right field for the Central Florida baseball team, then rushed over to the football stadium, changed uniforms, and completed 10 of 17 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns in Central Florida’s football spring game.
He was picked up in a golf cart leaving the baseball game, taken to the football facility, changed uniforms and was on the football field in seven minutes.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget,” Plumlee said. “(Central Florida head) Coach (Gus) Malzahn, I remember being on the phone with him when I was in the transfer portal (from Ole Miss) and telling him, ‘Hey, coach, I want to play football, but I also want to play baseball.’ He gave me his word. For him to follow through with that, and to go through the lengths he’s gone through — and (UCF baseball coach Greg) Lovelady, too — to give me the opportunity to do what I love to do is really special. I am super blessed to do this awesome juggling act. It has been really, really cool and blessed to have the ability to do this. This is a movie for me, a dream for me.”
“John Rhys hasn’t missed any practices,” Malzahn said. “He’s really done a solid job, not just offensively but leading and all that. The fact that he can go play high level baseball says a lot about him. It’s been impressive to watch.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Plumlee is a special athlete, blessed with incredible speed and skills.
Plumlee was a superstar at Oak Grove, passing for 5,430 yards, running for 2,314 yards and accounting for 82 TDs in football during his high school career and hit .411 and scored 45 runs as senior in baseball. He was named the MHSAA Class 6A Offensive Player of the Year in football and made All-State in baseball as a senior. Plumlee had football offers from Power 5 schools across the country, including five from the SEC. He initially committed to play football at Georgia during the summer going into his senior year, but decommitted shortly before National Signing Day and signed with Ole Miss to play football and baseball.
Plumlee was a freshman All-American at Ole Miss when he ran for a freshman school record 1,023 yards and 12 TDs in nine games, eight starts, in 2019. He had five 100-yard games, including a career-high and quarterback school record 212 yards and four TDs in a loss to No. 1 LSU. He ran for TDs of 46, 60 and 35 yards in the second half. It was the most yards by a quarterback against LSU since Cam Newton ran for 217 yards in his Heisman Trophy year at Auburn in 2010.
Plumlee’s speed has been well documented. He ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash out of Oak Grove High and reportedly ran the 46-yard TD against LSU in 4.87 seconds, which converts to a 4.23 40.
When Lane Kiffin replaced Matt Luke as Ole Miss head coach in 2020, Plumlee was moved to wide receiver. He made one start at wide receiver, ran 25 times for 94 yards and caught six passes for 79 yards. He caught 19 passes for 201 yards and ran nine times for 72 yards last season before transferring to Central Florida in January.
Plumlee played baseball for two seasons at Ole Miss and became the first player this season to play both sports at Central Florida since Dee Brown in 2003.
Plumlee has blossomed at Central Florida.
Second-year UCF head coach and former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn named Plumlee the starter over returning starter Mike Kenne a few weeks before the first game. And Plumlee showed Malzahn he made the right choice. He ran for 99 yards and one touchdown and completed 20 of 31 passes for 308 yards and four TDs to lead Central Florida to a 56-10 victory over South Carolina State in the season opener.
He tied a school record, accounting for seven TDs, in a 70-13 victory over Temple, completing 18 of 22 passes for a career-high 373 yards and four TDs and ran for 35 yards and three TDs in only two and half quarters.
“I feel really blessed to have the opportunity to be in this situation, to have the abilities that I have, and ultimately with the abilities I have, to try to work hard every day,” Plumlee said after the Temple win. “It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, John Rhys has gotten a ton better,’ but I think when everybody executes — as far as o-line, running backs, wide receivers — it makes me look good.”
Plumlee had more rushing yards (861 yards) than any quarterback in the country and passed for 2,586 yards and 14 TDs and led Central Florida to a 9-5 record, an American Athletic Conference runner-up finish, and an appearance in the Military Bowl game last fall. He was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Week three times.
In baseball, Plumlee has started all 33 games this spring. He ranks third on the team in batting average (.312) and leads the team with nine steals. Plumlee has 7 doubles, 1 triple and 5 home runs.
Plumlee has one year of eligibility remaining and will led Central Florida into its first year playing in the Big 12 Conference.
He also has a NIL deal with Dove Men. In the promotion, Plumlee takes viewers through a typical day in his life. He shows how he stays clean with Dove Men products through a typical day that starts with football practice, continues with classroom time, and finally ends with baseball practice.
“There are a ton of people who are behind the scenes who make all of this happen so I can do the things that I do,” Plumlee said. “Miss Erica (Underhill), the nutritionist, always makes sure if like I’m running late for baseball or something she has a sandwich ready for me right when I get to the door. The training staff in football and baseball, making sure I am healthy and not dragging and trying to be as fresh as I can be. The coaches, jumping through hoops, and making schedules and fit me in and allow me to do all of this, and ultimately, my teammates, too, because they come to work every day as well. And my dog Kenny. He is unbelievable. Kenny has helped me through this crazy juggling thing I’m doing this spring.”