CINCINNATI -- From a World Series champion to a potential Rookie of the Year, from potential Pro Bowlers to a No. 1 draft pick, there is an abundance of Cincinnati-area athletes making a splash on the national pro sports scene.
With National Signing Day having just happened Wednesday, our area’s high school sports scene celebrates some of the most talented football and soccer players who will play in college and possibly into the pros. Basketball, baseball and other sports had their signing date in November.
It’s inevitable you will be watching or reading about these athletes in the years to follow. Their impact traces back to the Cincinnati area.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at nine area athletes you should know who are under the age of 25 and the impact they are having in their respective sports:
Team: Boston Red Sox
The Insider: The outfielder/designated hitter burst onto the major league scene with strong significance in October. The former Madeira High School standout hit his first postseason home run in his first postseason at-bat for Boston in an American League Divisional Series game at Cleveland. He had 11 doubles, two home runs and 14 RBI in 34 games for the Red Sox in 2016. As the seventh pick in the 2015 draft, Benintendi delivered key hits for the Red Sox by August 2016. A favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2017, Benintendi has added almost 20 pounds to his frame since the end of the season.
Team: Kalamazoo Wings
The Insider: Biggs was a first-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011. The former Miami University player, who once lived in Loveland, signed an East Coast Hockey League contract with the Wings in October. He had six goals and 11 assists this season as of last week. Kalamazoo is an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before turning pro, the 6-foot-2 forward played the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. He has been a member of four gold medal teams, including the 2010 U17 World Hockey Challenge, the 2010 and 2011 U18 World Junior Championships and the 2013 U20 World Junior Championship.
Team: Buffalo Bills
The Insider: The former University of Louisville standout is a potential Pro Bowler in the very near future. He had 139 tackles (79 solo) in his third season with the Bills. The former Northwest High School standout has proven he belongs in the NFL and his future will continue to trend upward. Brown, a 2010 Northwest graduate, was Division II first-team all-state as a senior when he collected 4 ½ sacks, 36 tackles and rushed for 975 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
The Insider: Hicks was a promising national football prospect at Lakota West and has lived up to those expectations. Hicks, a 2010 Lakota West graduate, was once so sought after by recruiting analysts and the media that Lakota West hosted a weekly teleconference for Hicks to discuss his latest recruiting visits and scholarship offers. The former University of Texas standout linebacker played 16 games for the Eagles this season. He had 85 tackles (58 solo), five interceptions and one sack. A rising star in the NFL, Hicks is viewed as a very important part of the Eagles’ defense. A teammate even mentioned Hicks could have a bust in Canton one day. It may be early to discuss that, but rest assured Hicks has an excellent opportunity at his first Pro Bowl next season.
Team: Indianapolis Colts
The Insider: The 2011 Lakota West graduate just completed his rookie season as a center with the Colts. The first-round draft pick was listed among the top rookies this season on NFL.com. “He is very smart and stout in the middle and should pair up well with Andrew Luck for the next decade,” wrote NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah. Kelly won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center as a senior and has earned accolades from Alabama coach Nick Saban for his performance. Kelly’s stock will continue to rise.
The Insider: The 2015 Franklin High School graduate is a projected first-round NBA Draft selection in June, but Kennard may decide to stay in school for his junior season in 2017-18. Kennard, a 6-foot-6 guard, recently told WCPO’s Keenan Singleton the NBA isn’t on his mind. Through 20 games, he’s averaged 19.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in a team-leading 34.7 minutes per game. He’s arguably Duke’s most valuable player and ESPN.com says he is a Wooden Award candidate.
Team: Boston Breakers
The Insider: The former University of Wisconsin and Mount Notre Dame High School standout was the first overall pick in January’s National Women’s Soccer League Draft. The Kenwood native is one of Cincinnati’s top soccer stars the past decade. She led the Badgers to two Big Ten titles during her career. She was named the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year in 2016 for a second straight season. She was Wisconsin’s first three-tie All-American. She recorded a team-leading 16 points, six goals, 74 shots, 31 shots on goal and two game-winning goals in her senior season. She has also trained with the U.S. soccer team at its training camp.
School: Ohio State
The Insider: One of the most dynamic high school basketball players in the past decade in Cincinnati, Mitchell became the fastest women’s basketball player in NCAA history to reach 2,000 career points as she reached the mark in 79 games. The junior guard has scored 2,262 career points and is fourth all-time in Ohio State history. She is also the school’s all-time 3-point leader with 324 career 3-pointers. She leads the Big Ten and was sixth nationally in scoring at 22.7 points per game as of Jan. 25. Mitchell could be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft in 2018 unless she decides to enter early for this April’s draft. A 2014 McDonald’s All-American and Ohio Ms. Basketball winner, Mitchell led Princeton to a state title her senior season.
Team: Chicago Cubs
The Insider: The Middletown native won a World Series with the Cubs in 2016 – breaking the longtime franchise curse. He returned in dramatic fashion to the team after suffering a major knee injury that kept him out most of the season. Schwarber hit .412 with seven hits, two RBI and a stolen base in the 2016 postseason. Schwarber, a former Indiana University catcher, wants the opportunity to catch for the Cubs again, according to the Chicago Tribune. Schwarber set a franchise record with five postseason home runs in nine games in 2015 including a moonshot that landed atop the Wrigley Field scoreboard.
Nine others to know:
- Toronto Blue Jays minor-league pitcher and 2016 first-round pick TJ Zeuch (Mason).
- Former Stanford and Princeton High School standout runner Claudia Saunders. (Competing professionally in New York)
- Toronto FC defender and former Xavier University soccer player Nick Hagglund (Lakota West).
- Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Adolphus Washington (Ohio State/Taft High School)
- Houston Texans defensive lineman Joel Heath (Michigan State/Mount Healthy)
- New York Jets wide receiver Jalin Marshall (Ohio State/Middletown)
- Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Marcus Rush (Michigan State/Moeller)
- Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard (Moeller)
- Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales (Colerain)