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Ardrey Kell’s Veal has grown into standout player

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com
0827prepfootball 1
JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
Ardrey Kell High coach Adam Hastings saw Mason Veal as a player with great promise, but their relationship had a rocky start.

Ardrey Kell High offensive lineman Mason Veal was all-state as a junior, has committed to play college football at North Carolina and ESPN ranks him a four-star (out of five) national recruit. In North Carolina, he’s the state’s No. 16 overall college prospect.

Veal has certainly evolved from an awkward seventh-grader who disliked football.

“My original sport was baseball,” said Veal, now a dominating 6-foot-6, 290-pound senior left tackle. “I thought I was the next Mark McGwire. But in seventh grade, I was so much bigger and taller than everyone else, I just kind of moved to football. And I was absolutely awful. I was a kid that was too big for his body and didn’t know how to move.”

For years, Veal and his family have been active in Indian Land’s Transformation Church, where he works with the children’s ministry . The family has grown especially close with Transformation pastor Derwin Gray, a former NFL safety who played for the Carolina Panthers in 1998. Veal’s father, Dylan, played left guard at South Carolina in the late 1980s. His mother, Angela, played softball for the Gamecocks.

Mason figured those three knew a little something about sports. So when Gray and his father told the struggling seventh-grader he could have a bright future in football if he worked hard, Mason believed them.

“I remember my dad and Derwin looked at me and said I could be great,” said Veal, who will turn 18 Thursday. “It lit a fire under me.”

Starting in the spring of his seventh-grade year, Veal awoke each day at 5 a.m. He would complete a series of wind sprints and hill runs. He jumped rope, did push-ups and sit-ups. He said he became more coordinated and agile.

“I started to come into my body,” he said.

Two years later at Ardrey Kell, he started working with coach Adam Hastings, who saw a player with great promise. Hastings told Veal he would be hard on him because he believed in his potential. But that didn’t stop Veal from suggesting to his parents places the family could move to play at another CMS school and for a coach other than Hastings.

“Our first two years were rocky, with me just trying to get him up to speed,” Hastings said. “I told him if he worked his butt off he would have the chance to be one of the best to ever play as a tackle around here, definitely at the school. It’s a chance for him to maximize his ability.”

Area coaches believe Hastings has succeeded.

“He’s a great player,” West Mecklenburg coach Jeff Caldwell said of Veal. “He’s a tenacious kid. They count on him and he comes through for them.”

“I’d love to have him,” South Mecklenburg coach Rocky White said. “He’s got a little attitude about him. He takes a lot of pride in being one of the most physical cats out there.”

At school this week, Hastings watched film of Veal from his sophomore season. The coach was amazed by his player’s progress.

“On film, you see a little puppy,” Hastings said. “It’s like seeing a deer who has just been born and is learning to walk. You see a guy unsure about himself, not being real physical or grasping technique, of not knowing where he’s going or why he’s doing it.

“Now you watch him, you see a guy who has that understanding of where he’s going but also why and what’s the best technique to use. We’ve had some good offensive linemen come through Ardrey Kell and he’s right up there with the (best) of them.”

Veal plans to pursue a degree in political science at North Carolina and eventually attend law school. He’s been a member of Ardrey Kell’s Mock Trial Club for three years and sang in the school’s Chamber Choir. Veal said he’s enjoyed his high school experience, especially football – and especially because his coach challenged him from the start.

“Before I got to school here, I would get by because I was bigger than guys I came up against,” Veal said. “I could stand up and throw them somewhere. Coach Hastings taught me being big would only take me so far.

“He said, ‘I believe in you.’ He said, ‘I believe if you work hard and do the things we ask of you, you’ll be one of the best players if not the best player to ever walk through Ardrey Kell.’ Then, it hit me that I could really do this. I knew I really could.”

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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