When Stanford recruitniks think of the Midwest, their thoughts gravitate to Big 10 country. The Card have pulled in players in recent years from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. But where are the student-athletes from the Heartland states of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska? The Breadbasket has been anything but bountiful for Stanford, in part due to the relative talent pools from the area. MoKans kids for the last 20 or so years have been inundated with a heavy soccer culture, for one thing. I should know, having grown up in Kansas City (the Kansas side). Population, demographics and culture have made these states sparse producers of Division I football talent, and statistics alone can tell you how rare the Stanford caliber student-athlete is likely to be found there. Kansas produced 13 Division I signees in the 2004 class in TheInsiders Scout Database; Nebraska yielded 14; and Missouri produced two to three times that number.
But this 2005 class has a truly exceptional Stanford prospect with top-end athletics and academics that could break the drought for the Cardinal. Kansas City (MO) tight end Ben Ladner was named First Team All-State as a junior in 2003 and already has heavy recruitment from members of the Big 12, Big 10 and SEC. But the eye-catching news about this Pembroke Hill standout is the 1560 SAT he scored in January. That's the highest board score I have seen in years for a Stanford scholarship caliber football recruit, and it has Buddy Teevens showing personal interest.
"Coach [Steve] Morton and Coach Teevens have both been calling my high school coach," Ladner reveals. "Coach Teevens in fact just called my counselor on Friday."
Ladner says that he is currently being recruited the hardest by Stanford, Colorado State, Kansas, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Arkansas. You might wonder where the Missouri Tigers are in that group, but both his parents are KU alums and the recruit grew up an avid Jayhawk fan.
The Pembroke Hill School standout is being primarily recruited for tight end by collleges, but that is also a reflection of where Ladner has enjoyed his best production in high school to date. His All-State honors in Missouri came at tight end, where he was part of a powerhouse offense that put up ridiculous numbers in 2003. The Raiders (10-1) put up over 40 points per game and almost broke the 4,000 yard barrier with a run-first offense. Ladner's team made their way into the state record books for most points in a half (58) and most points in a quarter (48).
The ball stayed on the ground for the most part during the season, depriving the 6'3" junior of many touches and keeping him in a run-blocking role. Pembroke Hill also blew out opponents so quickly that Ladner only had to play in the first half of the first eight games. Only in their postseason games (2-1) did competition force the Raiders to take to the air in a more balanced offense. Those three games accounted for most of his 20 catches and 400 receiving yards, as well as four touchdowns. Ladner also made an impact at defensive end, though he admits he is not yet the defensive player that he is on offense.
"I'm definitely stronger at tight end right now," the 265-pound junior athlete opines. "I don't think my technique [at defensive end] is where it can be. College coaches are all talking to me about playing tight end, and I'd like to play there. Though I know I could play defense at that level if I give myself a chance."
Ladner is a very strong athlete, with a bench max of 415 pounds and squat max of 560 pounds. He can rip off 35 reps of 185 on the bench. At his size and with those numbers, he is a player you want in the trenches for your football team, yet Ladner is a versatile and valuable enough athlete that he is being moved to tailback and linebacker for his senior year of high school.
"We lost 16 seniors from this year's team, so we have to make some changes," the returning Raider explains. "We will run a wing-T offense, and Coach wants me to be involved. I'm working with a speed coach right now, and running track."
"I'm a physical enough player that I think I can step right in and contribute at a Division I program," Ladner continues. "Most players need a couple of years of strength training when they start college to be able to handle the size and strength at that level, but I think I can make an earlier impact."
College coaches who have yet to see Ladner in person will get a good look at what he is talking about when he travels out to Stanford in May for the Nike Camp held on campus. Each year the Stanford stop on that combine tour yields the biggest collection of players and coaches because it falls during an evaluation period window. The top tight end recruit will put his wares on display at that time, and he will also have the benefit of an unofficial to the Cardinal campus. Stanford's Junior Day is the day after that combine, and Ladner has already accepted an invitation to attend.
"Stanford is definitely one of my top two or three schools," the Kansas City product pronounces. "I'm pretty open right now and I absolutely can't come up with who my favorite is at this time. My feelings on schools change day to day."
After a little prodding, the Pembroke Hill standout names Stanford, Kansas, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Colorado State as his tentative top five at this time. He also notes that he will camp this summer at Colorado State and UCLA. A third camp has not yet been decided, but is up for grabs between Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Michigan State.
The breadth of schools that Ladner is talking about span quite a geographical area, and indeed the Missouri man says that distance should not be a limiting factor in his college decision.
"I really don't think that will be a factor at all," he says about distance as a dimension in his decision matrix. "And though both my parents are KU alums and fans, they haven't pushed me at all to go to Kansas. This will be my decision."
The Jayhawks are certainly a player to watch, though. Ladner went to watch their spring practice on Saturday and will be back in Lawrence on the 18th for their spring game. He will also take an unofficial visit to Fayetteville on May 1 to check out Arkansas. The rest of the month will be focused on preparing for the Stanford Nike Camp.
Ladner wants to make a college decision if possible before his senior season, and he says that his top criteria toward his school choice will be: 1) academics, 2) early playing time, and 3) football tradition.
The Kansas City star carries a 3.5 GPA at The Pembroke Hill School and scored a perfect 800 on the quantitative portion of his SAT. Though that beat out his 760 on the verbal section, he says that he would like to major in English in college.
"After I'm done with school, if football doesn't work out, then I'd like to either teach English in high school and coach football or go to law school," Ladner discloses of his postgraduate plans.
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