NEW ORLEANS – In Louisiana, good football is not limited to the highest classifications. With national name-brand programs such as Calvary, Evangel and John Curtis all competing in the 2A classification in Louisiana, there is some great football being played among the smaller programs.
New Orleans Isidore Newman is another team that has to be included among the 2A powers this year, and one of the biggest reasons is class of 2010 standout Ronnie Vinson.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Vinson is the type of athlete who doesn't come around very often at any school. At a high school with an enrollment of only about 425 students, the novelty is even more extreme. As a freshman, Vinson started at strong safety before injuring his ankle midway through the year. As a sophomore he once again handled defensive duties while also making plays on offense at wide receiver. Now in his junior season, Vinson rarely leaves the field, starting at safety and running back.
It's not as if Newman hasn't had its fair share of talent walk through its doors. Peyton Manning and Eli Manning both quarterbacked the Greenies in high school. Even this year's 2009 class consists of three-star quarterback Wes Luquette (an LSU baseball commit) and a future Division I signee in wide receiver Jeffrey Hampton.
Despite all that, Vinson stands out.
"We don't get too many like him," Newman coach Nelson Stewart said. "He can do it all. He can run, he's physical, he's one of the strongest kids on the team. He can play any position for us."
His versatility has become apparent in his junior season. Vinson has been the perfect running back fit for Stewart's spread offense because of his ability to catch the ball and his shiftiness in space. What makes his effectiveness even more impressive is that this is his first year playing the position.
"On offense I'm pretty good at making people miss … and making things happen in the open field," Vinson said. "I like to catch the ball, too, because you get a little more space to move around, but it really doesn't matter to me where I get the ball."
Despite his success in the backfield at the halfway point of his junior year, Vinson is being recruited by most schools as a defensive back. He feels right at home on that side of the ball, not only with the technique but also with the mind-set.
I would like to get out of the state and see what else is there. Honestly, it's hard to say no to (LSU's) Tiger Stadium and all those people, but I'm going to take my visits and see what else is out there.
- Ronnie Vinson
"I'm probably a little more comfortable on defense just because I've been playing that for so long," he said. "I kind of get excited. I'm real excited on offense so I bring kind of that excited energy from defense over to offense."
Athletes of Vinson's caliber are rare to find in most places, but one of those places is not at his family reunions.
"Most of my family on my mom's side played sports," he said. "My uncle (James Wagner) actually played at LSU in the early '90s. One of my cousins on my dad's side, he played at LSU. He transferred from Purdue to LSU. My brother (Charles Vinson) actually played in college, too (Tennessee State)."
It looks as though Vinson will be following in the footsteps of several of his close relatives. He already holds one written scholarship offer from Ole Miss, and his coach has seen a parade of coaches come through the Newman halls with Ronnie Vinson inquiries. For his part, Vinson claims to be open to the process.
"I've spoken to coaches at South Carolina and I've spoken to the running backs coach at Purdue," he said. "I'm getting lots of mail from coaches at UCLA, Georgia and just schools all around the South. I didn't think it was going to be like this."
Though he will likely receive interest from all over the Southeast, LSU will likely be high on Vinson's list as it often is with local products.
"Any school that's willing to talk to me, I'm going to talk to them, but growing up in Louisiana you're born an LSU fan," he said. "I would like to get out of the state and see what else is there. Honestly, it's hard to say no to Tiger Stadium and all those people, but I'm going to take my visits and see what else is out there."
As Vinson's junior film continues to circulate, more offers should roll in, but Vinson wasted no time proving himself over the summer by competing in the camp circuit. He was a standout at camps such as the Baton Rouge Nike Camp, Southern Miss Camp, LSU Camp and Ole Miss Camp, where he was the defensive back MVP. His time in Oxford and the early offer both have made Ole Miss a school of interest.
"It's a great campus and a great family over there," he said of Ole Miss. "Education is a big factor. A lot of people say stuff about staying close to home, but that's not a big factor for me. Basically, education and feeling at home are important to me because you have to stay there about four or five years."
A student at Isidore Newman since the second grade, Vinson knows what home feels like, and he will likely take his pick of schools trying to convey that same feeling.