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Legging It Out

Making the transition from the pitch to the gridiron, Holland Hall’s Alex Felkins not only got a leg up on college recruiting, but found his way into a 40-year decision ... not just a four-year one.

John Tranchina
Marc Rains
March 28, 2019

After playing soccer all his life, Alex Felkins could never have guessed that now, as a senior at Holland Hall high school, he’d have earned a football scholarship to one of the nation’s most exclusive academic colleges, Columbia University in New York City.

Felkins made the transition from the pitch to the gridiron about four years ago and subsequently began, which has opened up doors he couldn’t have imagined.

“Like a lot of kickers, I started playing soccer when I was around 4 years old, probably,” Felkins says. “I got introduced to it because my mom grew up in the Soviet Union and my uncle was a professional soccer player and it was really my first love athletically. And then in the middle of eighth grade, I had a plastic football, and I had no idea what I was doing and no holder, and I went out to the football field at Holland Hall and I just kicked around with my dad a little bit, and said, ‘Hey, this is kind of fun, maybe you could do it, you have a strong leg.’”

A resourceful young man, Felkins sought out people who could help him learn this new skill and it wasn’t long before he became a serious weapon for the Holland Hall Dutch.

“I had absolutely zero technique at the time, no training whatsoever and then I got hooked up with the senior at my school at the time. Drew Klinghagen ended up walking on at the University of Tulsa,” Felkins recounts. “He was friends with my sister, so that’s how I got introduced to him, and he just kind of gave me the rudimentary basics of kicking and referred me to a couple of camps, and that’s really where I started getting private training. So that’s how it took off for me.”

Felkins put in a lot of hard work to become a strong kicker, somewhat of a rarity in high school football. His effort did not go unnoticed.

“He’s gotten there because he works really hard. That’s the biggest compliment I can give him,” says Steve Heldebrand, Holland Hall’s athletic director. “He’s obviously blessed with physical gifts. Alex is 6-foot-4, 195 pounds. He looks like a specimen if he was to play on the field. But he works at it, so he’s earned every bit that he’s gotten the opportunity.”

Heldebrand estimates that Felkins put about 80 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, and he regularly connected on field goals that many other high school teams won’t attempt because they don’t have kickers they trust. Felkins had several games this past 2018 season with multiple field goals, but none were bigger than the one he kicked this season late in the Dutchmen’s 15-14 victory over Vian Oct. 18, his third of the game from 36 yards out. That helped Holland Hall clinch the District 2A-5 championship, as they went on to a 9-3 season, advancing to the second round of the state playoffs.

And as much as he worked at kicking, both in perfecting his technique as well as lifting in the weight room to improve his leg strength, Felkins also toiled just as diligently in the classroom. Getting a chance to go to Columbia required a few schedule changes and a strong commitment to his schoolwork.

“He really wanted to go to an academic school,” Heldebrand says. “I believe the start of his junior year, he met with our upper school head, talking about, ‘Hey, I want the chance to try to go to the Ivy League or Stanford or someplace like that.’ To put himself in position, he even changed his workload and the classes he was taking, and did extremely well. Then, obviously, he did well on the ACT to where it all balanced out. To get the opportunity to go to Columbia was really a dream for him and he just kind of shut down the rest of the recruiting.”

“My parents, they raised me with a huge focus on my academics before anything else, even sports, so grades have always been my No. 1 priority,” Felkins adds. “I never really thought I could get to an Ivy League school until this summer probably, but it was always kind of up there in my goals if I could do it, and I achieved it, so I’m really proud of it.”

Felkins was being recruited by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, as well as Colorado, and turned down an official scholarship offer from the Air Force, even though all those schools have much higher football visibility. Ultimately, the academic reputation of Columbia overwhelmed every other factor.

“I just decided to go to Columbia for the academic opportunity,” says Felkins, whose academic study will likely focus on finance. “That’s a 40-year decision, not just a four-year one, plus the big-city feel of New York and all that, but really just the academics and internship connections and alumni and all that — no one could match that.”

Despite going to a lower-profile football school, Felkins did get a glimpse of the big time when he participated in the All-American Bowl, a national high school all-star game in San Antonio featuring many elite-level football recruits.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” says Felkins, who played for the victorious East squad in the game. “I competed at a camp over the summer and I beat out a few other Power Five commits head-to-head and I got an invite. Adidas put on a really good show. We got a lot of really cool gear. Playing in the Ivy League, it’s not the biggest football stage, you could say, so it was really awesome to get my one taste of big time football, probably, until maybe after college. It was awesome.”

Now, as he completes the last few months of his high school days, Felkins is going full circle by playing one final season of soccer while he still can. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be lining up as a defender or a striker this spring, but it seemed a fitting way to end his high school athletic career.

“Football’s really been my main thing probably since sophomore year,” Felkins says. “I just decided to play soccer one more time this year, just one more last ride, I guess.”

April 2020 Cover