Surprise! Northwestern senior Will Ross can consistently nail 50-yard field goals.
Another surprise: Ross will get the chance to kick footballs in college at Coastal Carolina.
It’s a surprise because Ross has been a football kicker since Feb. 13, the day he bought his first football. He played elite development academy soccer in Charlotte, and was discouraged from playing other sports. But after his soccer career stalled a bit this past fall, his dad suggested maybe he should try kicking football.
And Ross incidentally discovered his ability to routinely blast long distance field goals.
“We went out to Westminster Catawba and kicked out there, and after that I got a couple of lessons, and was like, ‘this is really fun,’ and just stuck with it,” he said.
Ross never kicked for the Trojan football team. But he did recently begin working with Charlotte-based kicking coach Dan Orner, who previously helped local kickers like B.T. Potter, Skyler DeLong and Nic Sciba land college scholarships. Ross is going to Coastal Carolina as a preferred walk-on, but even that is kind of incredible given his lack of experience. He also landed walk-on offers from Campbell and Furman.
“Ever since I started playing academy, I was like, ‘I’m gonna play in college,’ but I didn’t think I was gonna be playing football,” Ross said.
Ross said he’ll get a shot at all three types of kicking -- punting, kickoffs and placekicking -- at Coastal. He thinks playing goalie in soccer will translate to kicking in college football games, because of the position’s pressure. He did kick in a football game once at Dutchman Creek Middle School, in eighth grade.
“That’s the only time I’ve ever played in a football game in my life,” Ross said.
Kyle Purdue, Limestone
Here’s a term that Purdue heard constantly throughout his college baseball recruiting process: “projectable.” He was a “projectable” talent, as in, if he was physically bigger, schools would offer him a spot. How’s he feel about that term?
“I don’t like it,” Purdue said, smiling.
Well, Purdue is the size he is, and he was grateful to Limestone for giving him a shot to pitch in the Saints’ baseball program and show that he’s got ability, regardless. He said that Limestone’s coach reminds him of Northwestern coach Mitch Walters, and Purdue also liked that Limeston has small class sizes. He wants to major in business or sports management at the Gaffney-based school.
Zach French, USC Lancaster
About midway through Northwestern’s 2019 baseball season, French was struck with a severe case of “FOMO,” also known as “fear of missing out.” Many of his friends were signing to play college baseball, and it dawned on French that he wasn’t ready to hang up his glove and bats either.
French played first base at Northwestern, but will likely man the opposite corner of the infield for the Lancers. He plans to major in business.
“Graduating high school, it’s crazy, everything is going by so fast,” he said.
Isaiah Reid, Patrick Henry Community College (Va.)
Reid didn’t give up on himself or his basketball career.
He estimates he emailed his highlight films to at least 150 college basketball coaches across the country. Reid heard back from Patrick Henry coaches and traveled up I-77 for a tryout in April with six or seven others. Reid impressed enough to land a spot with the junior college program.
“He liked how I played and just offered me,” Reid said. “I thought my basketball career was over.”
Reid plans on majoring in business administration.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.
Ashton Parker, Spartanburg Methodist
It’s hard to believe that Parker was nearly a foot shorter as a high school freshman. The 6-foot-5 senior towered over most of the crowd at Northwestern’s signing ceremony on Thursday, and, after he signed to play basketball at Spartanburg Methodist, he’ll have a chance to continue growing. At least figuratively.
“The coach, I liked his background, and the school, it wasn’t too big or too small, so I liked that,” Parker said.
Parker plans on majoring in engineering and he’s excited to head to SMC with his close friend, Zay Martin.
A gazelle-like runner of the court, Parker will have the opportunity to show off his skills for two more years to four-year schools. His 10-inch growth spurt was a physically painful experience, and he’s still learning how to use his length. He hopes to transfer to a Division I school after two years at SMC.
Zay Martin, Spartanburg Methodist
Martin’s recruitment didn’t go like he wanted it to go, for various reasons.
But he has a chance at Spartanburg Methodist to get in the shop window again, nail down his grades and continue to add to his scorer’s toolbox. Martin leaves Northwestern as only the third Trojans hooper to top 1,000 career points in the school’s nearly 50-year existence.
“Went on the visit and the campus just fit right for me,” said Martin. “The coaches will give me the opportunity to improve my game.”
Martin said he and Parker have known each other since kindergarten, which should help both adjust to college basketball, but also college life. They’ll help each other reach NCAA Division I programs after two years in Spartanburg.
“I get another chance to play ball, and focus on school,” Martin said.
Clayton Ballog, The Citadel
There were several kids that signed Thursday who figured their sports careers would end when they graduated high school, including Ballog. But a Northwestern coach shared his film with The Citadel and their coaches were interested enough to offer Ballog a preferred walk-on spot.
“I went down there, saw the school more, talked to players and they gave me a good vibe,” said Ballog. “I surprised myself!”
Ballog said he’s excited to attend the Charleston-based military school, thinks he’ll thrive within the tradition and honor systems the school has in place. He plans to study military intelligence and then enter the Navy after college.
Tre Sims, Ramah Junior College
Sims will attend classes at York Tech and play football for Ramah Junior College, which is based out of Rock Hill.
“I just want to go out there and show my full potential,” said Sims. “I just blessed for the opportunity that I got.”
Sims played on the offensive and defensive lines for the Trojans. Attending a prospect camp in early April changed his future.
“It was out of the blue. I was at this little camp, they said they were looking for more local people,” said Sims. “I said I’d give it a shot.”
He had the most sparkly footwear of anyone signing Thursday, some gold loafers that he purchased for prom and figured he should get at least another wear out of before consigning to the back of his closet.
Jenna Boyd, USC Lancaster
Call 2019-20 Boyd’s farewell tour to soccer. She signed with USC Lancaster to play for at least one more year, but will try to transfer to South Carolina after her freshman year.
USC Lancaster was the perfect spot for at least one more year of soccer.
“I just wanted to play again, and it was close to home,” said Boyd.
Boyd plays either striker or centerback. She plans on majoring in nursing.
Meredith Emmons, Wake Tech (N.C.)
Emmons is an AP honors student that will play goalie for the women’s soccer team at Wake Tech, based in Raleigh.
“I picked Wake Tech after having a few offers in South Carolina,” she said, “but felt like Wake tech’s soccer program fit my future goals.”
Emmons plans on studying computer science during her two years at Wake Tech, before transferring to a four-year school to pursue a further degree in the same field.
Taylor Drayton, Claflin
You never know who is watching, and Drayton now knows this as well as anyone.
She and the Trojan volleyball team were playing at Blythewood in the first round of the state playoffs when a Claflin assistant coach -- attending the game to watch a Blythewood player -- noticed Drayton. They got in contact and the result is Drayton signed to play college volleyball at the Orangeburg-based school on Thursday.
“I didn’t know much about it, but I liked how everyone seemed like a big family,” she said.
An AP honors student, Drayton plans on studying biology, and wants to become an orthodontist.
Shemar Washington, Lincoln College (Ill.)
A confluence of life-altering events during Washington’s first year of high school, including the death of a beloved grandfather, put him behind academically. But Washington clawed his way back toward eligibility and the reward for his hard work is a college wrestling opportunity at Lincoln College, an NAIA school in Illinois.
“It’s very exciting,” he said.
After the tumultuous ninth grade year, Washington wanted to give up on his dream of wrestling in college. His mom persuaded him to keep going and Thursday was the fruit of that labor.
“That was really stressful for me,” said Washington. “Just a lot of stuff.”
He plans on studying criminal justice and would like to join the FBI or become a SWAT team member. He’ll wrestle in the 149-pound weight class in college.