The fertile recruiting grounds of Glenville High School in Cleveland lie almost 300 miles from Ball State University.
A dozen Football Bowl Subdivision teams are closer to the inner-city school than the Cardinals, yet in the past three years, coach Stan Parrish has developed a pipeline between Glenville and Muncie. Last season four Glenville graduates played for Ball State, and safety Aaron Morris will join his former teammates Wednesday when he signs his letter of intent on National Signing Day.
The connection was boosted when Stan Parrish became head coach at Ball State last year. The Cleveland native has been friends with Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. for more than a decade, which helped foster a sense of security with the Tarblooders.
"I know his philosophy fits what we have here at Glenville," Ginn said. "They're a nurturing program that's designed to put them in position to reach their full potential. That's huge, there are a lot of programs just for football, but Ball State has done a great job with my kids."
Parrish developed his friendship with Ginn while he was at the University of Michigan in the 1990s and Ginn was just starting at Glenville. When Parrish was hired by former Ball State coach Brady Hoke as quarterbacks coach, he took over recruiting in the Cleveland area.
"I came here and started recruiting Northeast Ohio, which is home for me," Parrish said. "Coach Ginn is a close personal friend of mine. I've known him for a long time."
Parrish's hard work first paid off with the 2008 recruiting class, when wide receiver Tori Gibson signed with the Cardinals. Following him the next year were linebackers Travis Freeman and Theon Dixon, and corner back Jason Pinkston.
Freeman said knowing that Gibson was already succeeding in Muncie made it easier for him to pick Ball State.
"When you got a guy at a college and he's going to be completely honest with you as far as what goes on here [it helps]," the freshman said. "Tori told me Ball State's a great school, they take care of you, we're winning, you've got great coaches, people who care about you. Tori did influence me a lot to come here."
After Gibson helped convince him to come to Ball State, Freeman repaid the favor with Morris.
"I've influenced him a lot," Freeman said in November. "I'm just doing the same thing Tori did for me."
Freeman was first introduced to Ball State as a sophomore in high school. He participated in Glenville's summer tour of football camps, the only sophomore Ginn took that year.
He said his maturity allowed him to take part.
"Knowing how important the Ginn tour is and how much exposure it does," Freeman said. "Knowing how it can make you, how it can break you."
Ginn has made Ball State a regular stop on his tours, which ensure the Tarblooders get seen by plenty of college coaches. Ginn has seen Ball State grow over the years, but his goal remains the same.
"I can remember when we first started, Ball State had probably 50-60 kids in camp and I was bringing 50-60 of my own," Ginn said. "Now they have 400-500 kids. We go there because we want scholarships."
The culture of Ball State's program is most important to Ginn and his players. Even as the Cardinals went 2-10 this fall, he never considered shying away.
"My players don't look at wins and losses," Ginn said. "We look at the structure and purpose of the program. We realize someone is offering us a chance to further our education. Wins and losses don't matter to them or me."
Ginn likes the values Parrish emphasizes at Ball State.
"They understand how to nurture my kids and put in a post to be successful academically, socially and athletically," Ginn said. "They're almost like Glenville coaches. They care but they're very demanding, That's what they're used to."
Parrish is thrilled with the Tarblooders he has on the roster, and wants to make sure he gets more of Ginn's players.
"I'm elated with those kids," he said. "All four of them started at one time or another. All those guys really have a chance to be outstanding players. I want to continue that pipeline, that's the lifeline of a football program."
Freeman, however, is just happy to still be playing with his high school teammates.
"At most [high] schools around the country you're lucky to have three guys going Division I," he said. "Then you've got just three guys going to one school. That's pretty much a blessing to look over and see Jason at corner and Theon at linebacker. It's kind of like old times, right back in high school."