It’s been written and said many times in recent years.
Three-sport athletes are a thing of the past.
And it’s true that they’re far less common than they were decades ago. But contrary to popular belief, they do still exist.
Consider Hackley senior Elijah Ngbokoli, who stars in football, wrestling and track and field for the Hornets. He was a Journal News Super 11 selection in football, he’s earned All-America status on the track relay team and he just won his third New York State Ivy Prep wrestling championship on Saturday.
“Personally, I feel like cross-training is the best way to stay in shape each season,” said Ngbokoli, who runs a sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash. “Wrestling is primarily a lot of conditioning, which helps with track. And track is a lot of running, which helps for football.”
Ngbokoli, a Yonkers native, grew up playing soccer, but started with football when he was in sixth grade. His middle school coach was Fran Stanek, who also coaches varsity wrestling at Hackley. And when he saw what kind of an athlete he was dealing with, Stanek couldn’t resist trying to lure Ngbokoli onto the wrestling team.
“In middle school football, we had three plays — Elijah left, Elijah right and Elijah up the middle,” Stanek recalled with a laugh. “The first time he touched the ball, he was gone, and I knew we had something special. And I knew I had to get this kid to wrestle. He gave it a try and he was great right from the start.”
As a freshman, Ngbokoli was already making waves on the varsity level in all three sports.
He had a prominent role as a running back on the football team when the Hornets defeated rival Rye Country Day in the NYSAIS title game, he was a finalist in the Ivy Prep wrestling championships, and he was a member of school record-setting 4×100 and 4×200 state championship relay teams.
By the time Ngbokoli was a sophomore, he was carrying the load for all three teams.
“We were undefeated when he was a sophomore,” Hackley football coach Phil Treglia said. “We were down 14-0 against Suffern in our final game, but he just took it under control and won the game for us. We were behind and things weren’t looking good, and the Suffern running back had a free run to the end zone. He was 10, 12 yards ahead of Elijah, but out of nowhere, Elijah ran him down and saved the touchdown. The next play, we got an interception. It was remarkable.”
Ngbokoli also won his first Ivy Prep state title in wrestling as a sophomore. He’s just the second wrestler in school history to win three titles, despite only wrestling in-season. The vast majority of championship wrestlers train year-round at local clubs, but Ngbokoli spends his offseason — if you can call it that — participating in other sports.
“He only wrestles three months a year,” Stanek said. “He’s never gone to a wrestling club or clinic. He just comes into the fitness center to get a workout in.”
In order to stay on top of his academics and participate in all three sports, Ngbokoli is in Hackley’s boarding program. He lives on campus five days a week, going home to Yonkers on the weekends.
“I feel like having a sport to do all three seasons really helps with my time management,” Ngbokoli said. “That’s a necessary skill. I’ve never had much of a chance to go on vacation, but having something to do all of the time gives me an opportunity to learn how to manage my time better.”
For any elite athlete, there will come a time when they have to dwindle it down and choose one sport. For Ngbokoli, that time will come at Amherst College, where he plans to concentrate on his favorite sport — football — although he said he may also try to run track and field.
But high school is a time when athletes have options, and because of Ngbokoli’s versatility, the three-sport star will leave a lasting legacy at Hackley.
“He’s one of the best athletes we’ve ever had at Hackley, and if you look at his accomplishments, he might be the best,” Treglia said. “On paper, there aren’t many male or female athletes that are better than that. And he does it with humility.”