The participant wearing the No. 134 bib cut sharply to the inside on his slant route. The quarterback threw the ball well behind him, bound for an incompletion.
Not on this receiver’s watch.
He stopped dead in his tracks, leaped backward at full extension and plucked the ball out of the air. He came down and his long, muscular arms ensured the ball would not hit the turf.
No. 134 may have been just a number to the 20 schools looking for football players Thursday morning during a NAIA Showcase at Blue Valley Southwest High School, but his goal was for them to learn, and remember, his name: Chesley Carter III.
“I was gonna let it go,” Carter said while describing his acrobatic catch. “But we had a showcase and I had to show everything I got.”
The vast majority of high school football players will never have chance to ‘show everything’ to college coaches and compete at the collegiate level. For some, it’s a crushing reality they must live with.
Carter refuses to let his dream of playing college football slip away. So, he traveled more than 1,200 miles from The Bronx, N.Y., to participate in the showcase.
His mother researched the showcase and sent him by plane to Kansas City. Carter’s uncle, Tyrone Douglas, lives in the area and accompanied him to the showcase.
Once Carter got there, he had the opportunity to demonstrate his skills, along with 48 other athletes, to coaches from 20 schools, representing a nearly a fourth of all NAIA schools that play football, including MidAmerica Nazarene and Missouri Valley.
He wasn’t going to let his chance slip away.
“It’s a big thing. It’s what I wanted to do since I started playing football basically,” Carter said. “I’m excited about it. This helped me get a lot of connections.”
Even at the beginning of the showcase, when attendees were just lightly throwing and catching, coaches had Carter pegged as one of the few standouts present. By noon, he had at least four scholarship offers.
“It was definitely worth it,” Carter said of his travels. “I went from not knowing, to having a couple of options.”
Because Carter will graduate from DeWitt Clinton High School later this month, Carter was especially high on coaches’ radars as he is eligible to play in the fall. And for NAIA teams looking to fill their 2015 roster, Carter became a valuable commodity. The bulk of the athletes working out Thursday were in the 2016 class.
When asked whether any of the schools caught his attention and could gain his commitment, he coyly replied, “I gotta talk to my mom first.”
This is the second year the NAIA has organized a showcase, bringing coaches and players into one place. It provides a unique opportunity for the athletes, director Austin Bennett said.
“What the showcase does, it gives the kids every opportunity they want by putting them directly in front of the coaches, getting that direct exposure, that direct contact,” Bennett said.
Members of the National Strength and Conditioning Association were also there taking athletes’ measurements. The NCSA assists the NAIA by providing a recruiting service that bridges the gap between athletes and coaches.
“For us, it’s essentially a matchmaking process,” said Izell Reese, executive vice president of NSCA. “We provide information of student-athletes from video to official transcripts to contact information for college coaches and we also guide the high school kids through the process and educate them on the NAIA and the opportunities that are there.”
For some players like Josh Wheeler, football in the NAIA is their gateway to college, so Thursday’s showcase was a big deal to him.
Already at a disadvantage because of his size (around 5 feet 6), Wheeler suffered a further setback when he felt his hamstring giving out during position drills. He spent the rest of the morning on the sideline with his left leg wrapped in ice.
For Wheeler, the equation is simple: no football, no college, no education.
And when it seemed the day would be a waste of the showcase’s $150 sign-up fee, Wheeler, who just graduated from Drexel High School in Missouri, started hobbling up and down the sidelines and introducing himself to the coaches. He told them about the eight-man semi-professional team he plays on, the West Central Warriors, and how he’s the team-leading tackler.
“Even though I came out with an injury, I still think I did OK. I talked to a couple of colleges. Hopefully I’ll get in,” Wheeler said.
And after the meet and greet, Wheeler walked away with a handful of brochures and a pair of offers.
“I just want to play football,” Wheeler said.