Legends of the fall: West quartet inks college deals
Plano West baseball has sent numerous players to the collegiate level the past six years and added to that burgeoning tradition Wednesday morning with Billy McKinney (TCU) and Aaron Draper (Abilene Christian).
"It's awesome to be signing alongside Billy," Draper said.
"It's cool that I didn't have to sit up at that table by myself," McKinney jokingly added.
He was more serious when discussing the type of player ACU is getting in Draper.
"I really think ACU is getting lucky with Aaron and a lot of schools are going to feel like they missed out," McKinney said. "It's tough to get a shortstop like that; someone who always gets the job done and keeps getting better and better as he goes along."
Draper, who talked with New Mexico, Louisiana Tech and Baylor, was spotted by ACU over the summer at a regional tournament in McKinney. Talk moved quickly with the Wildcats offering in early September.
"It's just so much weight off your shoulders," Draper said.
Draper was excited as he felt he had found a good fit in terms of academics, athletics and especially distance.
"It's about perfect from that perspective," he said. "My family can come watch me play but, at the same time, it's not 15 minutes away."
While talking about college, Draper was quick to return kind words on his teammate.
"Billy has been a top tier talent since he came in as a freshman," he said. "But the thing that really sets him apart is that so many of those talents peak early while he keeps progressing and getting better each season."
That was particularly evident in the last year when McKinney was invited to the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game and Perfect Game All-American Classic in addition to numerous state all-star games. Those appearances raised McKinney's profile, but also slowed down his college decision.
"It took awhile," he said, "and it was a really tough decision."
McKinney's list of semifinalists also included Vanderbilt and Arkansas, but his finalists came down to Texas, Arizona and TCU.
"In the end, I just couldn't see myself at those other two schools," McKinney said. "I liked the campus at TCU so much; plus it's called Texas Christian and [religion] is a big part of my life."
But for everything McKinney likes about TCU, he won't be there for sure next year.
That's because the outfielder has been a staple of national prospect lists for several seasons and been in contact with a number of pro scouts since appearing at the national all-star games with the possibility of being selected early in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
"I don't really like to talk about that because it feels like gloating," McKinney said. "But if God blessed me with the opportunity to play professional baseball, I would definitely be interested."
While the high-profile McKinney had little trouble securing a scholarship, the process was more difficult for golfer Marc Johnson (Northeastern State) and lacrosse player Ryan Schaffer (Providence).
"This is such a big step," Schaffer said. "It means we're almost there."
For Johnson, securing a spot at his Oklahoma-based school (which he said is a five-hour drive away) required a good deal of leg work.
"There was a lot that went into it," he said. "It takes e-mailing, calling, dedication ... and maybe even some persistence."
Even after verbally committing, Johnson said things weren't finalized until Monday.
"It was so relieving when I finally realized that everything was going to pan out," he said. "And I think the fact that I put so much work into this process made the whole thing all the more rewarding. I mean, this is a pretty big day; this is my future right here."
Schaffer shared a similar story as lacrosse offers aren't easy to come by for Texans.
"You pretty much have to travel to the Northeast to be recruited," he said. "So I went to a bunch of camps in Maryland, New York and other states to get noticed."
The process worked earlier than most for Schaffer, who has been the Wolves leading scorer the past two seasons and was all-district in 2012, as he was spotted by Providence during his sophomore season. That doesn't mean it was all smooth sailing though as a coaching change over the past year threatened his college prospects.
"I was definitely worried," Schaffer said. "But the new coach said he was keeping all the prior recruits."
That included Prestonwood Christian Academy senior Brett France, who played for West, attended Schaffer's ceremony and signed with Providence later in the day.
"Our new teammates will probably look at us a little weird when they here where we're from," Schaffer said. "But I'll be sure to show some Texas pride; maybe I'll wear cowboy boots or something."