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The invitee list must have prompted a second look.
As 140 top high school players from around the world gathered in Austin, Texas, this month for the USA Football Under-17 International Development Week, the roster was dotted with emerging stars from traditional prep powerhouses.
There was at least one surprise on the guest list, though.
Junior-to-be Dakota Sneed of Edinburgh, a 6-foot-3, 262-pound center, earned a spot at the invitation-only camp.
“It was special to be accepted to go there. I was playing with some of the best athletes across the nation,” Sneed said after finishing a practice back home with the Lancers. “That was a really good experience to learn from them and from the other coaches.”
The Edinburgh center spent the week learning and battling with players from 25 states and several European countries. What he learned was not just football skills, but that he belonged among the elite company.
“It was intimidating at first, but I decided I had to be strong and go in with a big attitude and knowing that I can compete with these guys,” he said.
This was USA Football’s first under-17 camp, which brings together top players from around the world to work on techniques and build sportsmanship. When Lancers coach Bill Unsworth received a call for nominations to the camp, he knew it was a perfect fit for Sneed.
“This was a good opportunity for him to meet some other guys and see how he matches up against them,” said the coach, who sent players to USA Football’s under-19 camp as a college coach. “It also gets him exposed to college coaches in different parts of the country.”
Make no mistake, Sneed belongs.
“He could play anywhere in Johnson County,” said Unsworth, who started Sneed as a freshman at tackle before moving him to center last season to take greater advantage of his skills. “He could probably play anywhere in the state.”
The coach said Sneed combines strength, intelligence and athletic ability, noting that he is ranked No. 1 academically in his class and lifted 525 pounds with a squat thrust last spring.
“Dakota is special,” he said. “He is very athletic. He also is very smart.”
He also is a great kid, Unsworth said, adding that Sneed is the type of boy every father hopes his daughter will bring home. But watch out for him on the football field.
“He’s got a good temperament for football,” Unsworth said. “He is the nicest kid in the world, but he’s got a little nasty side to him too. He gets out on the field and he is always going down field looking to block people. He’s a tough kid.”
USA Footbal is the official football development partner of the NFL, the NFL Players Association and all 32 NFL teams. Also, USA Football partners with the International Federation of American Football to help improve the game on the international level.
The USA camp came on the heels of other summer camps at IU, Ball State and Notre Dame and the Midwest Lineman Camp. The nonstop training and testing has built Sneed’s confidence going into a junior season that is sure to attract scouts to see the Lancers.
“It was a great experience. I liked to see how I matched up. I did good, and I was proud of my experience,” said Sneed, who also plays basketball and threw 126 feet in his first season of discus competition.
“I learned that I could match up with some of the nation’s top athletes,” he added. “I took what I learned from down there and am teaching my teammates.”
That exposure and advice is eagerly supported.
“He’s a great player,” quarterback Sammy Wilkerson said. “He is the heart of our line at the center position. He makes every call, and he knows exactly what he is doing.”
Sneed’s progress is another sign that Lancers football is growing under Unsworth. Edinburgh won three games last season for the first time since 1996, including a first-round sectional win against South Decatur.
Sneed, who already is bigger than his sports idol, former Colts center Jeff Satursday, is the latest and perhaps the most promising in a modest line of recent football talent at the school. “People think about Edinburgh and say, ‘Small school, single A,’ but we’ve got two kids now going to college from our program,” Unsworth said.
College recruiters are starting to notice.
“We’re slowly but surely getting kids some exposure to college,” Unsworth said, noting that Sneed’s success is a positive reflection on the other Lancers players. “It’s a way to to get Edinburgh noticed.
“Coaches think, ‘Edinburgh had that big kid. Maybe they have some other ones to look at.’”
That is a great reflection, Wilkerson said.
“It gives other players a chance for coaches to give us a look when they wouldn’t before,” he said.
First, though, for Sneed, Wilkerson and the rest of the Lancers is the quest to keep building on the Lancers’ recent gridiron gains.
“I expect great things,” Sneed said. “People may doubt us, but we will surprise them.”
Surprising people, it seems, is becoming common for Sneed.
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