Weatherford’s Ken Seals is ready to get back to work.
As a quarterback on USA’s Under-17 National Team, Seals will play alongside some of the best amateur high school football players in the country at the International Bowl, which will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington against Team British Columbia at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Sitting at a table in the DFW Airport Marriott South in Fort Worth, the Weatherford High School quarterback exudes an assured confidence that derives from having such an accomplished amateur football career. Underneath all that poise and brand-new Team USA gear, though, there’s the smallest hint of frustration paired with a noticeable yearning to get back to playing against competition that really challenges him.
A lot has happened to Seals and his family in his young career, on and off the field.
Before he even stepped foot on a high school campus, Seals had achieved major success in football. In seventh and eighth grade, he won the National Football Academies Invitational Quarterback Competition in Canton, Ohio. He also made the 2015 Nike/Dallas Cowboy High School Elite 11 competition, where he was the only non-high school quarterback at the event.
The rising junior first played in the International Bowl for the national team as a seventh grader, and he has been selected for the team in each age group ever since.
“I remember the first time I made the team he (his dad) told me in the middle of practice and everybody jumped around celebrating, which was really fun,” Seals said. “But ever since then there’s been an expectation to make it, because I set the bar really high for myself.”
When Seals finally did arrive at Class 5A Azle High School in fall 2016, his experiences with Team USA had helped prepare him for the next step. He became the rare freshman that earned his team’s starting quarterback job. That season he put up respectable numbers for his age but endured a difficult 2-8 campaign.
That experience paled in comparison to the highs and lows that transpired during the next steps of his journey.
Last April, Seals announced that he and his family were moving to Weatherford where he would attend high school. The reason for the move, according to his father, Robert, was to provide access to what he believed was a superior dual-credit program for all three of the family’s kids. Ken’s mother had also accepted a teaching position at Weatherford that month.
Under UIL rules, nonresidents can seek a waiver to participate in athletics if a parent works at the school.
Last summer, everything seemed to be going according to plan. In early June, he and his father took a dizzying road trip to some of the best college football programs in the Big 12.
Almost immediately it became obvious that the young signal caller was a hot commodity. In Stillwater, Okla., Seals had a lengthy conversation with Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. In Norman, Okla., he was given a tour of the facilities by then-offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who would replace Bob Stoops as head coach a short while later.
In Austin, Seals spent time at the University of Texas with head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
But just days after all of these head-spinning interactions, many of which Seals chronicled on social media, a difficult reality came calling. On June 6, the District 3-6A executive committee unanimously voted that Seals would be ineligible to play varsity football during his sophomore season.
On Seals’ transfer form, Azle head coach Devon Dorris indicated that he believed the move was for athletic purposes, not academic. Dorris, along with the school’s retired athletic director, Scott Anderson, told their side of the story in front of the executive committee.
The fact that Weatherford had just hired Aledo High School defensive coordinator Billy Mathis to lead the program in January 2017 didn’t help the Seals’ case. But, as Robert Seals pointed out, Weatherford was far from a regional, let alone state, powerhouse.
In the two years prior to Mathis’ arrival, the Kangaroos went 7-13. In Mathis’ first season as head coach, the team finished 0-10.
As the varsity team languished through a winless campaign in 2017, Seals had to play out his season on Weatherford’s junior varsity team.
Once the initial shock finally wore off, Seals said, he viewed the situation as an opportunity.
“It was a much slower pace, so it felt like I could get a year to kind of process the game a little bit better and see what was going on, and have things develop in front of my eyes that I might not have seen at a higher level,” Seals said. “It was a frustrating year, but in terms of actually learning the game, it was also one of my best years.”
A motivated Seals also used his “demotion” to develop arguably the most important trait for a quarterback, one the Weatherford varsity team lacked this past season.
“There were times where he’d throw the ball and it would go straight through the receivers hands and I never saw him be negative or lead in a negative way,” Mathis said. “And the kids respected him for that because he never acted any better than any of them, or high and mighty. He acted like just another guy.
“You talk about leading by example, he’s the epitome of that.”
Even though he was on JV last season, Seals was able to serve as the varsity’s scout team quarterback during practices. Week after week, he drove the older defensive players and their coaches crazy. He also provided them with excellent preparation.
No matter how frustrated he was by his situation, Seals refused to be complacent.
“He’s his hardest critic,” Mathis said. “He wants to be 15-for-15, for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns, it’s just the way he is. I had to tell him at times when he’d make a mistake, ‘It’s OK, it’s not the end of the world, come back and learn from it.’
“He wants to be perfect and he’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever been around,” he said.
For the most part, Seals has garnered strong interest from regional college football powerhouses like OU, OSU, TCU, Texas and SMU, amongst other schools. He even got his first Division I scholarship offer from Montana State this past May.
This summer, Seals said he hopes to discuss his future with coaches and schools from the Pac-12, Big Ten and even the Ivy League.
Dropping back down has altered the nature of his recruiting process. A few college coaches told him that they really needed to see film of Seals against varsity competition. Once they do, there should be a definite uptick in interest.
Locally, Seals remains a top 10 prospect in DFW for the Class of 2020. For his class nationally, 247Sports currently ranks Seals as a top 100 national prospect, the 7th ranked pro-style quarterback overall, and the 13th overall prospect in the state of Texas.
This week’s practices and games at the International Bowl should allow Seals to re-adjust to a faster pace of play. When Seals finally takes over as Weatherford’s starting quarterback for the 18 spring practices between April and May, he will seek to emulate the same strong rapport that he developed with his JV and Team USA teammates.
“Obviously, I took a step down and now I am going back up, but eighth grade to varsity (as ninth grader), that really made me nervous,” Seals said. “I feel like JV to varsity is doable, and I shouldn’t really be worried about it.”
And while many highly touted players try to ignore the hype and block out all the white noise, Seals takes it all in. Then, he focuses on how he can get better for himself, his family, his teammates and his coaches.
“I’ve always felt a lot of pressure coming from friends, from outside people, people who think I might not be good enough,” Seals said. “High expectations are nothing new to me.
“I feel like I’ve always handled them well and (they are) something I’ve always wanted,” he said. “If you don’t have high expectations, then there’s no way you can ever think to achieve them.”