Whiting Fieldhouse flags


Giant Steps

Fallen friend motivating Ballentine in journey to make NFL roster

Corey Ballentine with the Giants

Photo by Evan Pinkus/NY Giants

From The Ichabod - Fall 2019

Corey Ballentine spent the first 23 years of his life overcoming hurdles on his path to the NFL. Hours after his dream was realized with a selection by the New York Giants, the day that was supposed to be his happiest was marred by a shooting that killed Dwane Simmons, his best friend and Washburn teammate.

Ballentine’s plans to celebrate with friends and family were replaced with a draft-night trip to the hospital. Thoughts of football suddenly got put on the backburner as Ballentine, als ’19, processed the life-changing implications of a tragedy. His bullet wound delayed the departure to New York and introduction to the NFL for a sixth-round pick who already faced a tall task coming from an NCAA Division II university.

But beating long odds is something Ballentine’s grown accustomed to, and those around him said he’s handled the circumstances with poise.

“I’m just so proud of him,” said Craig Schurig, Washburn’s head football coach. “When you look back, he goes from a day you only dreamed about, and he achieved a goal and he’s sharing it with his friends, to a nightmare and a tragedy that is hard to comprehend. He’s really dealt with it about as well as you can.”

Speaking to New York media this summer for the first time, Ballentine said he’s doing his best to carry on the light-hearted spirit that made Simmons a favorite among many in the Ichabod athletic department.

“He helped me get here every step of the way,” Ballentine said. “When I was on the field by myself, he would come out there and join me. And I feel like I’m kind of doing it for both of us. I know if he was here now, he would love to see where I’m at, how I’m doing and want to visit.”

Ballentine said he’s physically healed, and now he’s taking strides toward healing mentally as well.

“I think personally, it’s time for me to be strong,” he said. “I can’t keep dwelling on it. I have to move forward. If I’m going to make this team, I’ve got to learn the plays. I’ve got to execute.”

That’s exactly what Ballentine’s done in extended preseason playing time, most notably when he snagged an acrobatic interception against the Jets and drew praise from New York TV announcer Carl Banks.

“This is a continuation of what folks have been talking about and those who have been at camp have been seeing,” said the former NFL all-pro linebacker during the broadcast. “This kid competes, he’s fundamentally sound. He comes from a small college, but you’d never guess it because he’s well-coached.”

Two years of high school football at Shawnee Heights in Topeka and a redshirt freshman season aren’t the typical foundation for stardom, but the Jamaican-born speedster never doubted he’d eventually play at the highest level.

“It’s always something I wanted to do since I was young,” Ballentine said in the days leading up to the draft. “The day I got recruited at Washburn, I told them that’s something I wanted to do, is be in the NFL. I said that when the coaches visited my family in my house. Now that it’s the real thing, it’s kind of surreal.”

Corey Ballentine with defensive player of the year trophyThree all-MIAA selections and a senior season that included 50 tackles, three blocked kicks and three interceptions turned NFL scouts and coaches into believers. Ballentine was named the small-college national defensive player of the year and earned first-team all-conference and second-team AFCA All-America honors as a senior.

The former Washburn track sprinter was also recognized off the field as a six-time MIAA academic honor roll member and graduated with an associate’s degree in the spring despite a whirlwind pre-draft travel circuit.

Ballentine was one of three Division II players invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and held private workouts with the Saints, Lions, Bills and Jets. In the end, it was the Giants who chose Ballentine 180th overall, making him the first Ichabod drafted since Trey Lewis and Cary Williams in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and the highest selection since Troy Stedman went No. 170 in 1988.

“You knew he was very talented,” Schurig said of Ballentine. “But anticipating how far he’s come, it’s hard to see that. We’ve seen that with a few other players, but we knew skill-wise and speed-wise he definitely had the ability to do it.”

Ballentine’s combination of character, intelligence and abilities won over fans in Topeka. Millions around the country began pulling for the small-college star upon hearing about the devastating circumstances. But for all the newfound support Ballentine has, he’s playing for one person more than any other: A best friend who was beside him every step of the way.

The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions


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