Wichita high school football stars make college commitments
When Mason Fairchild picked up the phone, he didn’t know what to think.
The Andale High School senior tight end was verbally committed to South Dakota after talks with Kansas fell through earlier in his high school career. He was set to be a Coyote and live in Vermillion, S.D., until he heard the voice on the other side of the line.
It was Les Miles.
Miles, a national championship-winning coach with LSU, had been hired at Kansas to help build a winning culture after replacing four-year coach David Beaty. He wanted Fairchild on board.
On Dec. 9, Fairchild flipped his commitment, and Wednesday he signed to be a Jayhawk.
“(Miles) is a big name in college football, so even just to talk to him was pretty amazing because of everything he has achieved,” Fairchild said. “I think with coach Miles, they’re going to get the program turned around, and I want to be a part of that.”
Fairchild’s signature on his National Letter of Intent was meaningful, maybe even historic, for Kansas high school football: he’s one of the first Kansas-grown products of the Miles era in Lawrence. But he was just one of five Wichita-area stars who took the leap to Division I football Wednesday.
Together they make up one of the greatest high school football classes Wichita has ever seen. Here is the full list of those who signed Wednesday:
- Clay Cundiff, tight end: Bishop Carroll, Wisconsin
- Mason Fairchild, tight end: Andale, Kansas
- Breece Hall, running back: Wichita Northwest, Iowa State
- Marcus Hicks, defensive end: Wichita Northwest, Oklahoma
- Quinton Hicks, linebacker: Campus, South Dakota State
Carroll tight end Cundiff flipped his commitment from Kansas to Wisconsin on Oct. 7. There he will join Blue Valley North All-American quarterback Graham Mertz, with whom Cundiff played on a summer 7-on-7 team.
Cundiff said going through his high school career with such a talented group of players in the Wichita class of 2019 was special.
“It feels really good that Kansas kids are growing and developing,” he said. “You grow up knowing Kansas kids get overlooked, so it feels good that all of us are succeeding in our own lives.”
Down the road, Wichita Northwest sent two more All-Americans into the Big 12. Running back Breece Hall signed with Iowa State, and defensive end Marcus Hicks chose Oklahoma.
They are one of the only pairs of Kansas high school teammates to earn All-American status. Northwest coach Steve Martin said he thinks that when you add in Mertz, this is the first time Kansas has produced three All-Americans in the same graduating class.
Even more important, Martin said he doesn’t remember a signing class in Wichita as strong as the one that went through Wednesday since brothers Arthur and Bryce Brown ran the City League at Wichita East.
Hall said leaving a legacy at Northwest, in Wichita and on Kansas is something he will never forget.
The Wichita products are joined by a slew of Kansas City-area recruits in the Division I ranks. Mertz is the headliner, but Aquinas offensive lineman Joe Michalski signed with Oklahoma State and Aquinas defensive back Jayden Russell committed to Kansas.
“We’re going to be remembered in Kansas forever,” Hall said. “Our names, they’re going to be talking about us forever. Marcus was one of the best defensive ends. Graham was one of the best quarterbacks. And I was one of the best running backs, so just to know some of Kansas’ best players are getting offers, it’s real good for the state.”
A four-star prospect by most recruiting services, Hicks was one of the most sought-after players in the nation. He was offered a scholarship before he took a varsity snap at Northwest. But he said he understands many aren’t as fortunate.
According to a recent study by The Eagle, Kansas high school products make up just 11 percent of all players in the Jayhawk Conference, a junior-college league made up entirely of Kansas-based universities.
Before a recent rule change that did not require Kansas junior colleges to sign a minimum of Kansans, they accounted for about two-thirds of all players, according to the study.
Those who signed Wednesday did not fall victim to the changing landscape, but Hicks said hearing stories, even from within his own locker room, and watching talented players miss opportunities motivated him even further.
“It drives me,” he said. “I want to show people that they’re wrong about Kansas kids. We have a lot of talent. I want to represent Kansas in that aspect.”
Campus linebacker Quinton Hicks, who signed with South Dakota State on Wednesday, said the same. Hicks snatched the first scholarship offer he received because it showed someone was willing to take a chance on him.
Hicks said he was in talks with many schools, but none pulled the trigger with a scholarship to back it up. That’s why he is a Jackrabbit, he said.
“I don’t come from a super-rich family,” Hicks said. “I have to figure out a way to pay for my college, and when they said they will help me out, it just means a lot. It’s a lot of stress of me and my mom’s shoulders.”
And there is added hope on the horizon. Since Miles was introduced as Kansas’ new coach on Dec. 1, he has offered at least of The Wichita Eagle’s Top 11 players from the 2018 season. Fairchild took Miles up on that offer, and Cundiff nearly did, too.
At Kansas State, Bishop Miege linebacker Taylor Poitier received an offer Tuesday and committed in the same Tweet. Furthermore, Taylor Braet, K-State’s director of recruiting, was retained under first-year coach Chris Klieman.
Braet is a Wichita-born coach who showed his passion at the Wildcats’ National Signing Day event Wednesday.
“If I could really explain to you how much I appreciate it, I’d probably start crying,” Braet told reporters. “This is my home. I’ve been here for 12 years. I’ve put everything I have into this. I’ve been a student-coach, a (graduate assistant), probably even a janitor at one time. But I know I can relate with anybody who walks through that door. I know I can have a conversation with any kid in the country.”
Although it takes a special player to make it to the likes of Kansas, Kansas State or any of the schools that Kansas’ best signed with on Wednesday, the class of 2019 helped lay the groundwork for the continued growth of Kansas high school football, Martin said.
“I think this class was really good,” Fairchild said. “I hope it helps open things up for other Kansas kids in the future to get a chance to go to a four-year college. Hopefully it gives us more opportunities.”