Tonka Hemingway has played enough games with opposing offensive linemen.
He’s not going to do it with his college recruitment.
On Sunday, the Conway football standout stayed true to his long-term plan by announcing the five schools he’ll consider for the next step of his academic and athletic career. The list includes five power-conference programs: South Carolina, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt.
Hemingway, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive lineman, selected those from a crop of offers that spanned the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten.
“Besides the sport, all of these offered [strong] academics” Hemingway said. “They showed concern in my future after football. I built a relationship with them, with the coaches who were recruiting me.”
He plans to visit each of those schools in the coming two months before declaring his final choice just prior to the Tigers’ 2019 season opener at North Myrtle Beach on Aug. 23. Assuming that holds to plan, it will effectively end a recruiting cycle that started during his freshman season with the Tigers. After just seven varsity games in 2016, he had done enough to warrant in-state offers from South Carolina and Clemson.
Georgia and Alabama followed suit not long after, and every so often, another major program would enter into the equation. Hemingway is considered a four-star prospect by 247sports.com and ESPN, and he’s ranked as high as the fourth-best player in South Carolina for the class of 2020 by the various recruiting sites.
His size, athleticism and production have all contributed to the high recruiting status. Over the last two seasons, he’s accumulated 109 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and nine sacks despite frequent double teams or plays being drawn up to run away from him entirely.
“He was relying more on the technique instead of getting his eyes on the backfield and getting there because of his ability,” Conway coach Carlton Terry said. “Plays came to him instead of him just making contact and reacting and going to the ball. That lets you know that he’s accepted coaching instead of being a cowboy and doing his own thing.”
Terry said college coaches have taken notice of that.
What’s they’ve also come to understand is that Hemingway isn’t just a football player. He has a 4.3 grade-point average and has already been inducted into the National Honor Society.
“It’s a teachable moment for the other kids in the program. We have some kids who are academically talented. But they don’t think it’s cool to be smart,” Terry said. “Tonka leads by example. He’s popular, and he’s respected by the student body.”
Said Hemingway: “It’s important to show that I work hard on my studies to keep everything straight.”
Hemingway’s concentration on grades was reinforced by his final five schools, each of whom has a national reputation in various academic departments, if not throughout the university. Between that and the connections he made with the coaches each school assigned to Hemingway, it was enough to spurn the lofty offers from Clemson and Alabama, the teams who have split the last four national championships.
As for Hemingway’s original recruitment timeline, it wasn’t drawn up out of thin air. It was a similar strategy the family used with older brother Junior, who verbally committed to Michigan in August of 2006. The following year, he started his Wolverine career that eventually totaled 88 receptions, 1,636 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior Hemingway was later a seventh-round NFL draft pick and played three seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs.
However, that’s only part of the Hemingway bloodline that has played sports collegiately. Oldest sister Shamae graduated from Coker College with the basketball program’s third-most career points and second-most career rebounds. Janecia Hemingway, who graduated from Conway last year, started 19 softball games for Francis Marion as a freshman this spring.
After one high school season, the “little” brother will be joining them at the next level.
As for where that will be, the choices are becoming much clearer.