Michael Cendrick just wants to play college football.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
Michael Cendrick just wants to play college football, maintain his status on the Headmaster’s List (4.3 GPA), grow Ignite, the student-led bible study he founded with friend Jess Ford that now attracts hundreds of students from across DFW, and be a regular high school senior in-between.
Like many high school athletes across Texas, Michael wants to have it all, and that includes the opportunity to play the game he loves at the next level. But while he has the measurables 6’3”, 175 pounds and the statistics 51 receptions, 654 yards, four touchdowns as a receiver, 68 tackles, one INT, three forced fumbles, nine passes defensed as a safety, almost 400 yards as a punt and kick returner. The one thing he doesn’t have is the high-profile program behind him to help get noticed, as he plays for The Oakridge School, a small, private, college preparatory school in Arlington. So how does a talented player get noticed? By taking the recruiting process into their own hands.
For Michael, that means relationship building, something he happens to be very good at. Cendrick is ‘that guy’ at Oakridge, the one who takes longer than anyone to get to class as he doles out a series of hugs and handshakes, checking in with friends and classmates, taking a moment to make someone laugh or encourage a friend in need. He is captain of both the football and basketball teams, and has been for the past two years, and was named to the HOBY Leadership Conference as a junior. While Cendrick has a true passion for football, it takes second place in his life to his faith, and as the leader of Oakridge’s Ignite branch, he puts as much time and effort into that as he does perfecting his football ability.
Ignite, a student-led bible study in the vein of FCA meets weekly on Monday nights, as well as monthly with schools from across DFW. Over the summer, it grew from 20 students to nearly 250, and Michael counts that as being as meaningful as anything he has done on the football field. And people have taken notice for the impact he has off the field as well as on it, as Cendrick was recently named the CBS 11 McDonald’s Athlete of the Month. That came just days after he was recognized as the Lone Star Player of the Week. All of those accomplishments in the class, in the community, and on the football field, have netted Cendrick a pair of offers (Oklahoma Baptist University and Davidson), as well as scores of interest. But to get schools to get from the interest to the offer stage can be a daunting task for a student with a lot of his plate, so Michael has gotten creative, and social media has gone a long way to helping that.
“I follow a bunch of different coaches on twitter, and it has become a good way to make sure they know my stats as well as a little bit about who I am as a person. It’s a really easy way to start a relationship with a school that I’m interested in, or to learn about a program that might be interested in me. Having not had much social media prior to this summer, I have been pretty amazed at the reach twitter has and how much its helped me build connections with coaches and programs I might not have had the chance to speak with before.” Cendrick said.
Cendrick has taken or scheduled a couple unofficial visits over the past few weeks, spending time on the sideline at Harding in Arkansas and booking visits to Davidson, Campbell, and Stephen F. Austin. He also has had coaches from OBU and Central Oklahoma watch him play in Arlington. He talks to the Davidson coaches regularly, at times being passed around the entire coaching staff during phone conversations, and laughing while the secondary and receiver coaches banter over which side of the ball he would play on for them. He is sure to check in regularly, either through text or twitter, catching them up on his stats from the week before (a 25 tackle, two forced fumble performance against the Casady Cyclones a few weeks ago caught a lot of attention) and wishing the staffs good luck for their upcoming games. He generally gets a good luck text or tweet in return, and says the schools recruiting him always know who he’s playing, and generally how he played, and often congratulate him a day later, even if they are preparing for their own games.
“I almost always get a DM or a text from every team I talk to on Friday afternoons as I am doing my mental prep for the game, wishing me luck or letting me know they’ll be watching. I’ll usually go back and touch base with them Sundays, and congratulate them on a win or send support after a loss. I’m always amazed how much they know so quickly – after the 25 tackles game, my phone was blowing up. It’s pretty cool how tuned in they are and how much they genuinely seem to care.” Said Cendrick.
That caring doesn’t happen overnight though; it takes hundreds of texts, tweets, and DMs, being available by phone at odd hours, and backing up the talk with your performance on the field. Cendrick admittedly hasn’t master the art of self-promotion yet, as it goes against his naturally humble demeanor. But he also knows that his dream is there for the taking, and if he needs to leave his comfort zone to achieve it, he will. Despite the fact that his days start at 7:00am with weight training and often end at 10 or 11pm, with three AP and three honors classes, afternoon practice, and often supporting the Oakridge Field Hockey and Volleyball teams in between, Cendrick continues to make it a point to update his HUDL profile regularly and reach out to programs he would like to hear from, most recently focusing in on Samford, a school that appeals to him on many levels. He is also working hard towards an offer from SFA, one of the strongest FCS programs in the state, and a school that would not only appeal to him, but could open the offer floodgates as well. It’s a never-ending game of proving yourself on the field and selling yourself off of it. His goal is two new contacts a week, which could take multiple contacts to achieve. While he gets help from his high school coaching staff, who happily make calls and promote their star, it still falls primarily on his shoulders.
For kids like Michael, who don’t have the backing of a star rating, a massive high school football program, or a big name connection, there’s a lot of footwork involved in achieving their dream. But it also means they often want it more, and are willing to work just as hard once they achieve it as they do trying to get there. Michael will keep putting in work, on the field, in the weight room, through social media, in the classroom, and for his classmates, with the hopes that his efforts will pay off in the form of a coveted scholarship from a collegiate football team. But in the meantime, he will just keep showing out on the football field – just like he did Friday night, when he hauled in eight more catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, made six tackles on defense, and returned three kicks for 62 yards against Trinity Valley. And if that wasn’t enough, he also threw the game winning touchdown pass with time ticking away in the fourth quarter. It was just another Friday night for a special player, and another day of the week for a truly special kid.