It began so innocently, a timid freshman running onto the field to attempt a 33-yard field goal in the first football game of the season.
Jacob Ballain has been splitting uprights ever since.
Ballain, who on Monday takes part in the first official practice of his final football season at Whiteland Community High School, is one of many Johnson County seniors who could be playing on the collegiate level a year from now.
Among the Division I prospects on display starting the night of Aug. 19 are Ballain, Center Grove receiver/cornerback Russ Yeast, Whiteland offensive lineman Tarnjeet Singh and Greenwood’s duo of free safety Dylan Rosado and offensive lineman Ryder Burchett.
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Running back Titus McCoy, who as a junior rushed for 1,912 yards and 28 touchdowns in Center Grove’s march to the Class 6A state championship, verbally committed Sunday to play football at Indiana State University.
Yeast, a 5-foot-11, 183-pound move-in from Fremont (Ohio) Ross High School (enrollment approximately 1,400 students), is highly coveted as a cornerback at the next level.
Having been offered a scholarship by 21 Division-I programs — including the University of Alabama on a visit to Tuscaloosa this past weekend — Yeast has narrowed his list of finalists to seven (Alabama, Auburn, Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Mississippi and Northwestern).
Ballain has no official offers at this point (kickers/punters tend to be contacted later than other players in the recruiting process).
However, a total of 10 college football programs — including six from the Big Ten Conference — have kept in contact with Ballain. An excellent student (3.92 grade-point average), he’s also heard from three Ivy League programs (Harvard, Pennsylvania and Princeton).
“I was told to kind of enjoy the recruiting process and not stress about it too much,” said Ballain, whose 128 career points with the Warriors is from 15-of-20 field-goal accuracy and making good on 83 of 89 conversion kicks.
“I didn’t even start to get interested in football until the eighth grade. I grew up playing soccer and baseball.”
The 6-foot, 175-pound Ballain attended numerous kicking camps over the summer but thinks the time and effort expended to garner such attention is well worth it.
Yeast originally made a verbal commitment to the University of Kentucky, where his father, Craig, was an outstanding receiver for the Wildcats from 1994-1998.
Russ Yeast is listed as a four-star athlete by Scout.com. The recruiting service lists him as the 28th-best athlete nationally among high school seniors and No. 3 in the Midwest.
Initially recruited as a receiver, college programs lately have seen greater value in Yeast playing in their defensive secondary.
Yeast, who began attending Center Grove midway through his junior school year, knows his lone season in a Trojans football uniform will be spent under a microscope because of the college programs seeking his services.
At this time he is leaning toward taking his five college visits during the course of the upcoming season.
“I think we can definitely work around it pretty well,” Yeast said. “After a game I think I’ll fly out on a Saturday morning and be back Sunday night or Monday morning to be back at practice on Monday. I don’t think I’ll miss any practice time.
“I’m always reminded at how thankful I should be, so I am thankful. I’m happy about it, but I’m humbled. It kind of does put pressure on you because any time schools like that offer you, you’re going to have eyes on you and you’re going to have expectations.”
McCoy is about to be a four-year starter for one of Indiana’s most-respected and most-accomplished high school football programs. He’s rushed for a total of 3,280 yards and scored 43 touchdowns while at Center Grove.
The Trojans during the McCoy Era are 34-6 with four of the losses being by seven or fewer points.
Yet McCoy, for all his accomplishments — including three consecutive semi-state appearances — has only been shown interest by Indiana State, Ball State, Western Michigan, Eastern Kentucky and Southern Illinois.
At 5-11, 190 pounds, McCoy apparently doesn’t possess the physical dimensions of a Division I running back.
This could change should McCoy put up large numbers for a second consecutive season, though he’s remaining loyal to the Sycamores and third-year head coach Mike Sanford.
“Right now I’m happy because the decision is made,” McCoy said. “During the recruiting process, I would say it was more disappointing, but that disappointment turned into motivation just because I’m the type of kid who wants to earn everything I get.
“Right now I think Indiana State is on the same page with me. I’m solid on Indiana State just because they’re the ones who believed in me first and most. What I like most about the program is it’s a brotherhood and a family there.
“When I made my decision, every coach there and even some of the players congratulated me.”
WORTH A LOOK
Senior football players who could be playing collegiately during the 2017 season:
Sam Barnett;Franklin Community;RB/DB
Alex Blackwell;Franklin Community;RB/DB
Logan Bontrager;Center Grove;DB
Triston Clark;Center Grove;RB
Joe Clevenger;Indian Creek;LB
Nick Davis;Center Grove;OL
Parker Ferguson;Center Grove;DE
Seth Ferrando;Center Grove;DT
Clay Hadley;Center Grove;OL
Bryce Hogue;Indian Creek;WR
Trevor Hohlt;Center Grove;RB
Jack Kellams;Center Grove;QB
Jacob Lamping; Franklin Community;OL/DL
Corbin Laque;Center Grove;DB
Titus McCoy;Center Grove;RB
Noah Maness;Indian Creek;OL
Jake Moore;Franklin Community;QB/LB
Tyler Olsten;Center Grove;OL
Parker Osborn;Indian Creek;WR/DB
Dan Root;Center Grove;DE
Bailey Smith;Center Grove;OL
Alex VanDyke;Franklin Community;DE
Lane Voris;Franklin Community;DB
Russ Yeast;Center Grove;WR/DB