For two guys fans would just as soon see on the sideline all fall, Skyler DeLong and Todd McKinney have come an awful long way – all the way to All-American.
DeLong, a top high school football punting recruit, and McKinney, a top flight marimba player, give Nation Ford High School two U.S. Army All-Americans. Both will participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 6 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’ve been playing football since middle school,” said DeLong, a University of Alabama commit. “I never thought this would ever happen. It’s a dream come true.”
McKinney continues a tradition of Nation Ford musicians performing at the bowl game. Band director Martin Dickey, whose career includes time at Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools, now has 14 All-Americans he’s taught. Still, any student honored has to earn it. The bowl game only has 100 football players and 125 musicians from across the country.
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“It’s amazing,” McKinney said. “Just to know that out of thousands of students around the country, that I was selected to be playing in the All-American Bowl, it’s amazing.”
It’s possible the pair’s paths could cross again on the football field. DeLong plans to graduate from Nation Ford early and join the Crimson Tide for spring drills. Down the road, he hopes to play in the National Football League. McKinney plans to study engineering at Clemson University. Those two schools have developed a bit of a football rivalry of late, splitting the last two national championships in head-to-head games.
Like any head football coach, Nation Ford’s Michael Allen would’ve been fine this fall if his punter never saw the field. But when the team had to kick the ball away, the Falcons had the right guy to do it.
“Skyler’s done a fabulous job of punting,” Allen said. “It’s an extremely important part of the game. It helps us both offensively and defensively, changing the field.”
Allen credited football players, band members, cheerleaders, administration and a host of others in creating a school environment that could produce two All-Americans.
“Skyler has really put the work in, though,” Allen said. “He’s paid the price. To be where he is, it’s taken years.”
The latest honor for his punter is one Allen hopes the whole school can savor.
“Everybody’s helping him along the way, but he certainly put the work in and he deserves to be where he is,” Allen said.
McKinney never needed to cross the sideline to perform. The marimba is a percussion instrument, one of several fixed just beyond the boundaries and hash marks, between marching performers and the drum majors.
Dickey, who has helped with the All-American band along with producing so many members for it, said the San Antonio trip will be a first-class experience for deserving students – an opportunity to work with some of the best students, band members and football players in the country.
Announcing the two All-Americans on Tuesday was more than just convenience for Army personnel who came to do it. Dickey said despite so many students who weren’t born in the area, Nation Ford in the decade it’s been a school has developed a sense of community – one that brought football players and members not just to cheer for their own Tuesday, but for both honorees.
“Everybody’s moved here,” Dickey said, “but everybody supports everybody.”