Anthony “Ace” Wales has never been one to follow a predictable course.
Not on the football field, where the running back dodged and darted his way to 8,213 career yards for Central High School.
And not in his college selection process, in which Wales – perhaps the best player in the state last season – originally made a verbal commitment to Louisville, before signing with Western Kentucky two weeks later.
According to the 5-feet-9, 180-pound senior, his relationship with the Louisville coaching staff went cold after the 3A state championship game on Dec. 3, in which Wales sustained a separated shoulder that required surgery to repair.
Nevertheless, he committed to the Cardinals on Jan. 16, saying he wanted to be “the face of Louisville football.” Just hours before Wales committed, however, UofL received a commitment from running back Brandon Radcliff out of Miami.
When UofL proposed grayshirting him, meaning he would not enroll until January 2013, Wales felt he “wasn’t really wanted anymore.”
Yellowjackets coach Ty Scroggins, who played at Louisville, was miffed at how the Cards let a local talent get away. “It disappointed me a whole lot because he is a kid that wanted to go to Louisville.
“You can’t fault them … you’ve got to go out and recruit the best and right now the state of Florida is producing the best, but you’ve always got to leave room in your stable for a local kid that can play the game.”
In addition to Wales, the Hilltoppers inked Seneca defensive lineman Tyrone Pearson and offensive lineman Tyler English from Trinity. The outstanding 13-player class includes seven three-star recruits.
With his route charted, Wales stepped back to explain his reasoning and reflect on his recruitment:
What happened between the time you committed to Louisville and the time you signed with WKU that caused you to change your mind?
Before I got injured I was getting all of the love I could ask for from U of L. It was like I couldn’t stop seeing them, but once I got injured, a lot of that fell off. But as they were backing up, WKU was coming in even stronger and it just made me decide to want to go there.
Louisville had a scholarship on the table for two years. Why didn’t you commit sooner?
I really wasn’t for sure yet. I had to think about it and I didn’t want to make the wrong decision. I wanted to commit once everything was over with…the word commit means you’re only with that school. I just wanted to look at all my options and UofL wasn’t willing to wait on me.
Your mom, Cynthia Wales-Burr, is a diehard UofL fan. Did she ever weigh-in?
She wanted me to go to UofL so bad. I told her it really doesn’t matter how big the program is, it’s how big you play at that program.
She told me I’ll always love you and support you and once she said that I felt more comfortable about going to WKU. I could care less if everybody else turned their back on me, but it would have been a big disappointment if she did that.
What were the 24 hours like before you signed?
I had my phone cut off from the day before all the way until Thursday. It was so miserable. I stayed up all night just thinking. I was just wishing I could skip Wednesday and go straight to Thursday.
Once it was over with I was glad and I took a deep breath and was like, yes, I finally get to start my senior year of high school.
Have you received any blowback from UofL fans?
Yeah, a little bit, but I put my blinders on and really don’t worry about what other people say because I know at the end of the day it’s going to be me that has to wake up at five o’clock in the morning for workouts and class.
Now that you’ve signed, what advice would you give high-level young players who are just entering the world of recruiting?
You can’t make everybody happy, but you have to make you happy. So I would just tell them to go to the school that is most comfortable and that you feel like you’re going to play or have a better opportunity to do so.
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at firstname.lastname@example.org.