By Brandon HENSLEY
Connor Van Ginkel will spend part of his holidays in South Carolina playing football. The Crescenta Valley High School wide receiver has been selected and will play in the National Underclassman Combine (NUC) All-American game on Dec. 30 in Myrtle Beach.
Players will start practice on Dec. 27, and the game will be played three days later at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium at 8 p.m. EST. Previous participants in this game have been Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota. Both players have won the Heisman Trophy. Manziel now plays for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Mariota is currently at the University of Oregon. Last year’s alumni included Chris Frey (Michigan State University) and AJ Long (Syracuse University).
“I feel extremely honored,” Van Ginkel said, who noted that only 16 receivers, including him, will have the opportunity to participate. “I’m really looking forward to playing and making some new friends while I am in South Carolina.”
Rosters are being finalized for the game but include 100 players nationally that are split into two teams, North and South. The game is for the top 100 high school football prospects of each grade level nationwide, and includes a nationally broadcast game for seventh/eighth graders and seniors.
The 6’2″ Van Ginkel averaged over 100 yards per game as a junior but missed half the season due to a broken collarbone early on. Van Ginkel returned later in the year and the Falcons went 8-2 but missed the CIF playoffs. This year was a different story for him and the team. The Falcons posted their first ever undefeated season at 14-0 and won their first CIF Southern Section championship in 41 years when they beat Downey High School on Dec. 5.
“I was very disappointed last year when I broke my collarbone,” he said. “I was expecting a big year from our team and for myself … This year has been a dream season for us.”
Van Ginkel was a big-time playmaker for quarterback Brain Gadsby. Van Ginkel played all 14 games and caught a team-high 67 passes, 19 more than second place Bostin Lakin. He gained 1,405 yards and hauled in 13 touchdowns. He said both his individual goals as well the team goals, which included winning the Pacific League, were met.
His longest play of the year went for 86 yards. Gadsby could often be seen buying as much time in the pocket waiting for Van Ginkel to get open on a slant route, or he would run to his left and heave the ball downfield for a streaking Van Ginkel, who often went for a long pass play.
Van Ginkel also made one of the more spectacular catches of the year in the championship game against Downey, though it was called incomplete. Van Ginkel leaped in the back of the end zone to catch Gadsby’s high throw. He bobbled the ball and tried to get his feet down in bounds. After falling to the ground, officials ruled that he stepped on the white out of bounds as he came down with the ball, although video footage showed he controlled the ball while stepping on the yellow line, which is for soccer, not football.
While he was a member of the Falcons’ varsity basketball team last year, which won a league title, Van Ginkel has decided not to play again this year, opting instead to focus on football recruitment for college. He said he’s been in talks with several schools and coaches and is planning more college visits in the near future.
“Because of my injury last year, I wasn’t able to fully show coaches until this season what I am capable of as a player,” he said. “I have faith that next year I will be where I am supposed to be.”