DING LONG Dean COLLEGEhttp://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/...football_dream/
Place-kicker chases dream around the world to Dean
FRANKLIN - His 7,000-mile football odyssey began at a National Football League-sponsored kicking clinic in Beijing in 2006. A year later, Long Ding suited up in pads for the first time in the foothills of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, at the New Hampton School, and his journey has come nearly full circle at Dean College in Franklin.
Nearly, because the 21-year-old sophomore place-kicker with the quiet demeanor and winning smile is being recruited by a pair of Division 1 colleges, Bryant University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, according to Dean’s head football coach, Todd Vasey.
“His leg has gotten stronger every year and no one works harder than Long,’’ said Vasey, who has guided the Bulldogs to a 7-0 start in his sixth season at the two-year school.
“He ran our fitness center here this past summer and after doing our regular workouts, he’d spend a lot of extra time on his kicking. And it’s paid off. When he misses, which isn’t often this season, I kid him and call him ‘short Ding.’ ’’
He was perfect Saturday against visiting Erie Community College, converting both of his field-goal attempts and all four extra points in the 42-19 victory for Dean.
In his first season at the Franklin college, Ding converted 36 of 42 extra points but just 3 of 11 field goals, struggling occasionally with his timing. But this fall he’s 20 of 25 in extra-point tries and a vastly improved 8 of 10 on field goals.
“Long was waiting for the ball to be set before kicking it last season,’’ said former New Hampton coach Dave Perfield, who still talks to Ding after every game. “Now he’s developed a more fluid motion and while he still has to polish his skills, he has the determination and discipline to move on and kick at the next level.’’
Ding received a few bonus tips during the summer from Tom Malone, a former punter at the University of Southern California who was working out in the area while trying to land a job with the New England Patriots.
Todd has come across a very good one in Long, who’s having a solid year,’’ said Caba. “His presence at Dean and in our conference is great for college football because of the opportunity for international players, and I’m glad for his success.’’
His story is attracting wider attention.
Earlier this season, a crew from NFL China filmed Ding at Dean’s Longley Field as part of a documentary, “NFL Blitz,’’ that was scheduled to air in his home country this month.
He has been the subject of feature stories in Hamptonia, the New Hampshire prep school’s magazine, and in Sports Illustrated’s Teen edition, which ran his photo on its cover.
Ding’s picture and a short story also appeared in the Super Bowl XLII program in February 2008, noting his arrival in the United States through the USA Football International Student Program and his success as a student-athlete at New Hampton.
A club rugby player in China, Ding was used to physical contact - but putting on a football uniform and full pads for the first time at New Hampton was a brand-new experience.
“I was late for practice because my English was not so good then and the equipment manager and one of the JV players had to help me get dressed,’’ said Ding, whose family resides in the seaport city of Qingdao. “It felt pretty heavy.’’
Ding, whose athleticism and 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame prompted the New Hampton coaching staff to also play him on the line, missed his first field goal attempt that season. But he wound up making 21 of 26 extra points and six of eight field goals to help the team finish 5-3.
He also tried junior varsity hockey, but discovered that kicking, rather than skating, is his strong suit.
“The culture and environment at New Hampton was a stepping stone for both Ding and the school community, we learned so much from one another,’’ said Perfield, now a development officer at the school who recommended Ding to Dean because of his friendship and respect for Vasey. He also felt the college’s support for international students would benefit Ding, who carries a 3.57 grade-point average.
Dean’s schedule, and success, last season resulted in trips to Niagara Falls, where Dean played Erie Community College, and to Iowa, where the Bulldogs played in the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Graphic Edge Bowl after winning their second consecutive Northeast Football Conference championship.
“It was easy to see how much enjoyment he had, taking pictures and bonding with his teammates,’’ said Vasey, who noted that Ding is NCAA eligible, perhaps for admission to a Division 1 school as early as January.
“It’s been fun,’’ said Ding, who is on partial scholarship at Dean. “Someday I want to teach other Chinese guys how to play football, too.’’
Dean quarterback Anthony Baskerville, the holder for extra point and field goal attempts, said the squad considers Ding “one of us, a teammate.
“And we have total confidence in Long,’’ he said. “I’ve learned that I have to hold the ball a certain way for him because he kicks side foot, so I tilt the football toward me and a little back. We talk a lot about where both of us are from, and it’s been a great friendship.’’
Ding, whose father drives a truck and whose mother works as a nanny, sometimes far away from home, has not visited China since Christmas 2007. He enjoyed chatting with the Chinese film crew last month and showing them his kicking technique. There are occasional train rides into Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood for a meal and reconnection with his culture.
So it has been, for the most part, a one-person journey since Ding participated in another kicking tryout camp in Tampa. A scout noticed his strong leg and mentioned him to Patrick Steenberge, president of USA Football’s international program, which places students from other nations at US schools.
“Patrick called us and we were excited because Long was the first Chinese student to take part in the USA Football program,’’ said Perfield. “We had to hold him back a little, since he liked to hit and wasn’t familiar at first that the play stops after the whistle.’’
He has come a long way since that early indoctrination, and when asked prior to a recent practice about his favorite part of the sport, Ding didn’t hesitate. He grinned, then raised both arms in the air to simulate the referee’s call of a successful conversion - something he hopes to continue to see after wrapping up his playing days at Dean.
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“We were kicking on the Franklin High field and Tom just started talking to me and showed me how he practices,’’ said Ding, who also kicks off for the Bulldogs, ranked ninth nationally last week in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll.
Malone, who plays for the New York Sentinels of the United Football League, said he was intrigued by Ding’s story after they first chatted.
“We’d shag balls for one another and we talked about kicking and I was impressed with his strong leg,’’ said Malone. “He just needed work on his mechanics, but I’ve worked with young kickers and I feel he definitely has the talent to continue in the college game. I hope he does well.’’
Ding has also impressed the coach at New York’s Alfred State College, Mick Caba, whose team hosts the Bulldogs Oct. 31.