My journey as a Division 1 football prospect during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ransom+runs+a+route+before+catching+a+pass

Photo courtesy of Kamau Ransom

Ransom runs a route before catching a pass

Kamau Ransom, Staff Writer

This past year for me, as an athlete, has been somewhat of a blessing.

Since four years of age, football has always been my sport. Every single year, I’ve played and enjoyed it more. It has been my passion, my escape and has put me at mental peace for a while now. Before high school, football was still important to me—the sport had never failed to take up my summer and my fall—but, before high school, I wasn’t nearly putting in as much work to better myself as I could have. So, as I made the transition into high school, the game went from a summer and fall situation to a year-round dedication.

Forever, I’ve wanted to play college football, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized that I needed to put in a ton of work to get to where I wanted to be—stepping onto the field as a Division I college football player. I had played defensive end my whole life, but, freshman year, my coach put me at slot receiver too, simply because of my size and hands. I didn’t think offense would be my side of the ball in the future at all; I’ve never had the quickness or “swag” you’d see a normal receiver acquire from the jump. I was just long and stiff—with no rhythm. None.

After my freshman season, Coach Healy, my varsity coach, said he wanted me to play for him my sophomore year at the receiver position. As soon as I heard that news, my work ethic elevated greatly. Every day, from then on, I was working on bettering myself. Whether it was in the weight room, catching footballs at the field or watching film, I was always working. Come sophomore season, I turned myself into a starting wide receiver, despite the fact that the position had felt foreign to me just a year prior. I made obvious strides, but they still were not good enough. My season was nothing amazing, but it showed me where I needed to be by the time my junior season came around so that I could dominate whoever lined up across from me.

So, the work continued… only to be challenged five months later by this pandemic.

We started quarantining in March. This cut into my offseason, 7-on-7 team. 7-on-7 is touch football for quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. Basically, it’s football with no lineman and no tackling. It is nothing more than extra exposure and another opportunity to be seen by college coaches.

My team travels the nation trying to win tournament championships and the end goal—hopefully a national championship. At this time my 7-on-7 team was EFT Football Academy. I knew everyone, I was comfortable with everyone and we were winning games. The season was going great.

We were in Michigan for a tournament when we found out everything would probably be shut down. The very next weekend, we were supposed to be in Kentucky, so we were in full swing of things.

As the world started slowing down, I had to find ways to keep improving. I knew a lot of athletes wouldn’t be working as hard because nobody was forcing them to do anything, and their excuse would be “quarantine.” So, I decided to form separation between me and them, the same way I’ve learned to do as a receiver.

In March, I was going to Mount Trashmore every morning to run the hill for speed and explosiveness. Although the hill helped tremendously, I strongly dreaded every single second of it. I got resistance bands to keep my legs in shape while at home. I did jump squats, one leg raises, slow shuffles and backpedals. For keeping my upper body in shape, I was doing simple stuff like elevated push-ups and chair drops.

As the weather got warmer, I got a ladder for footwork and endurance. In the span of March to May, I might’ve touched a football a couple of times. I was strictly focused on speed, quickness and bettering my body. Skill work was limited.

Come June, approaching my all-important junior year, everything started opening up with limits. With football on a bit of a hold, I played travel basketball with Full Package Athletics to stay in shape—and, because, if there was a basketball season, I wanted to bring my game to a level where I could contribute offensively and defensively. I was getting full games and workouts almost every day of the whole summer on the court.

At the same time, I went back to my workout place—EFT Football Academy. I was at the field every day, perfecting my craft. Meanwhile, Evanston team practices started back up, in hopes of a season. I knew that the junior season for every athlete is the most important year if you’re looking to get a scholarship or a college offer to play at the next level.

Junior season is when coaches start realizing potential and how you can fit into their program. It’s also traditionally the first year that the majority of athletes start playing for their varsity team. The stakes are always high. Most athletes also commit to their colleges after junior season and before senior season, so that an injury senior year can’t affect them. With that being said, junior season is extremely crucial to an athlete’s future. In a normal world, I would be put in a position to have the best season possible, which would then put me in the position to have a shot to
play Division I football.

One of my mentors, one of my wide receivers coaches from outside of school, ended up transferring to my school to coach my position and help with the offense. They had me playing the X, a wideout position that forces me to exploit one-on-one match-ups because they trusted my ability to do so. I was hoping for a season, but when they proposed the idea of playing in the spring, I wasn’t fully against that. I don’t know what clicked for me in September or October, but I started making obvious improvements. Every day, you could visibly see I was better than I was the day before. To be honest, I was kind of surprising myself. Canceling the season obviously wasn’t fun, but it ultimately gave me more time to work.

I’m so much better today than I was back in March.

Overall, the past four or five months have been extremely beneficial to my future despite the delay of an entire season. I have been invited to and attended some showcases for extra exposure. Showcases give college coaches the ability to see what kind of player you are and if they should keep in touch with you. Also, these events give an athlete the ability to become comfortable with media outlets that can be a gateway to colleges and recruiters. With Illinois being on hold, showcases have been held in Indiana. At the same time, I’ve put together a recruiting video with my football program (EFT), and I’ve just been constantly working.

In hopes of a season in the spring, I put myself in a position to be looked at as a player to “keep an eye out for.”

This pandemic has had so many losses, of course, but, overall, I’ve tried to take advantage of every single opportunity.