Highlights of 2016 C Alex Gourley:
With a list of accomplishments nearly too many to count, it would be easy to forget that Alex Gourley was a middle-schooler this time last year.
As a freshman at South Iredell High School (NC), Gourley earned a starting spot on the varsity team's offensive line, all-conference honors and a state championship.
The 6 foot, 245 pound center was named a first-string lineman after his team's first game of the season.
"At the beginning of the season, I wasn't starting, as expected with a freshman," Gourley explained. "But near the end of the summer workouts, my coach moved me up. The first game, I didn't start. But I got to get in the game...and I started the rest of the year."
Gourley not only started as a freshman, but helped to lead his teammates to a state title.
"I never expected to start on varsity, but I did," Gourley said. "And we made it to state, which is everything I could've asked for. We won state. At the end of the season, I was one of two offensive linemen on our team to [receive] all-conference honors. I was also named to the all-county team."
Although it is far too early for Gourley to hit his stride on the national recruiting front, he's already planning unofficial visits and camp rounds for the coming year.
"I haven't been contacted by colleges except for local ones, like Davidson," Gourley said. "I have yet to go to any camps, but I plan to go to some camps over the summer. It will depend on who contacts me, but I plan to go to a few of the local schools like North Carolina, NC State and Duke."
While Gourley has three more high school football seasons to worry about, his focus is on the years after his time on the gridiron.
"When it comes to schools, I like to look at academics," he explained. "Stanford is the top of my list. I've always loved Stanford. I also really like Notre Dame, which is a great school academically and athletically. Also, I love UNC. There's a good economics program there; I'm interested in economics and history."
Family history gives UNC an edge, as Gourley's parents graduated as Tar Heels, along with many of his grandparents.
"I became a UNC fan by default," Gourley laughed. "Whenever I can, I'll watch Stanford and Notre Dame. My favorite game this year had to be when [those two] played each other."
Though his top schools of interest may be further north, Gourley plans to learn from the southern powerhouses in coming camp rounds.
"When it comes to camps, I want to go to an Alabama and LSU camp at some point," Gourley said. "Hopefully, I can make it down to Florida and also Georgia. I'd also like to visit Virginia and Georgia Tech, two more great academic programs."
With college football on his mind, Gourley admits that it's the athletes who take the field on Sundays that have his attention.
"I admire Ryan Khalil and Jeff Saturday," Gourley said. "Those two centers are my idols. They're not the biggest centers, but they're extremely good.
"I pay attention to the centers in the professional league."
As for his personal growth as a center, Gourley learned the intangibles in his first year as a varsity starter.
"My mindset on the field as a center? I have to go out as neutral-minded as possible," Gourley said. "I have to snap the ball. If I get nervous or if my motion kicks in, the snaps are too high or too low.
"My team runs a shotgun offense," Gourley continued. "It took a lot of adjusting and practice at the beginning of the year, but as long as I kept my nerve level down and kept my emotions at a neutral level, I could play consistently."
Gourley will finish his freshman season in Los Angeles at the Semper Fi Bowl exhibition. Gourley was named one of just 20 freshmen to appear in the Proving Ground Combine on Thursday before All-American seniors compete on Friday.