Firestone senior Kevin Gladney arrived at Delone Carter’s football camp in June draped in Cornhusker red from head to toe.
Nebraska hat, Nebraska shirt, Nebraska socks.
Later in the summer, before one of Firestone’s practices, Gladney was again suited up in red. At any given point in time, really, there’s probably a red “N” on him somewhere.
It’s a constant testament of a player who took on a new position and within 24 months had received a scholarship offer and orally committed to one of the premier college football programs in the country.
Through middle school and then his freshman year in high school, Gladney played running back to put him in the best spot to produce while Firestone lacked a quality option at quarterback. Entering his sophomore season, quarterback Nick Heimbaugh came through and changed that, so Firestone coach Tim Flossie moved Gladney to wide receiver for the first time in his life.
It didn’t take long for Gladney to be noticed.
“His chance to play as a sophomore was at wide receiver, so we moved him out there, and he started going out and getting the ball from Day One,” Flossie said. “And he has the physical growth since then. He’s stronger, faster and he’s coachable, so he understands what we’re trying to get across from him.”
Although he made an impact right away, Gladney’s approach to his new position wasn’t much more than a backyard football game between shirts and skins. Just run that way, catch the ball and run some more.
“I had no technique, nothing,” he said. “Really, all I did was run down the field and catch the ball. Two years now, and I’ve learned how to read the defense, find the open spots, hit the cuts right on my routes and use the right footwork.”
On a scale of 1-10, between running in a direction and using perfect technique and route running, Gladney says he still has things he can get better on and is either a 7 or an 8. Getting to a 10 is the next step.
“I wanna work and get better and I know that there are people out there who are better than me,” he said. “That just makes me want to work harder. Leadership is my main goal now. My recruitment is over and I made my decision, so now it’s just getting better and enjoying my senior season.”
Gladney is fluid in his routes to the point that it often looks like he’s jogging past whoever is trying to cover him.
“He’s not jerky at all — he’s smooth — so it’s hard to gauge how fast he’s going,” Flossie said. “And he’s got all the intangibles. He’s got a couple of different gears. He can jump. He’s real good at getting up and getting the ball ... along with Nate Harris, an All-State receiver who went to Ohio State, he’s in the top three or four receivers we’ve ever had.”
Playing running back for so long, Gladney is just as dangerous running after the catch. He finished last year with 48 catches for 768 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“Playing both positions was a big help,” he said. “Some wideouts can’t do all that. Being a running back, you gotta be able to hit the hole right and take contact.”
Then came the college visits. Gladney visited Michigan State and Iowa before spending some time in Lincoln, Neb. He had planned visits to Cincinnati, Purdue and Vanderbilt but canceled those and orally committed to the Cornhuskers in early June.
‘‘It was a great experience but after three visits, Nebraska stopped me and I said, ‘This is my home,’ ” he said. “I was looking for schools that fit me, and ones that weren’t divided. I don’t like having to take a 15-minute bus ride over a river or something to get to the stadium. Everybody at Nebraska is right at the stadium, even the tutors.”
Flossie is pleased with Gladney’s methodical approach to his recruitment. And he’s just as pleased with what he can do for the Falcons in 2012 as he continues to learn the position.
“He did the right, sensible thing,” Flossie said. “He listened to everybody, talked with everybody and figured out the simple things, like if you want to stay within a six-hour range of home. He was smart enough to realize that Nebraska is in the Big Ten, so his parents can see him play in Ohio and Michigan. And he looked at his chances to play. His opportunity to play there is real good and they throw the ball well enough to keep him happy.
“And for this year, he’ll catch the ball and score a lot of touchdowns.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.