Pipkins is big man for Park Hill defense

Dion Clisso/PrepsKC

By Nick McCabe PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 19, 2011 - 6:32 AM

Ondre Pipkins is about as large a football player as you will ever see. Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 320 pounds, give or take, Pipkins is a mammoth presence on the Park Hill defensive line. Off the field, though, he loves his mama, heaps credit and praise on his coaches and is constantly thankful for the opportunity to play football for the Michigan Wolverines next year.
“I’m just really blessed,” Pipkins said.
Pipkins has had a rather nomadic upbringing. Before moving to the Kansas City-area in the middle of his sophomore year he lived in Michigan, so of course the talk was of him “going home” when he committed to the Wolverines. Except home had been several places in his youth. He was born in Saginaw, Michigan, moved to Atlanta at six years old, and later briefly lived in Mississippi before his second stint in “The Wolverine State” lasted less than two years.
He started playing football in eighth grade and was a starter on the varsity team in Rochester, Michigan, as a sophomore. When he moved with his mom to the Park Hill school district the following winter, he went out for the Trojans basketball team. After the basketball season ended, Pipkins began struggling to stay in shape.
“I don’t think there’s too many 300 pound kids out there that you’re not concerned about keeping them in shape,” Park Hill coach Greg Reynolds said. “He played sophomore basketball for our program. After that he got out of shape and we worked our tails off to get him back in shape.”
Pipkins points to that time and a challenge from his coach as a turning point in his football career.
“I had Coach Reynolds in advanced weight training,” Pipkins recounted. “One day he saw me slacking. He yelled at me and asked me if I knew how good I could be if I just applied myself. Some coaches don’t go out of their way to tell you what you need to hear. I looked in his eyes and I could tell he really believed in me.”
To Pipkins credit, he took the tough love in a positive way.
“He’s never lied to me or steered me down the right path,” Pipkins said of Reynolds. “He’s a great man and he played a major role in me getting a scholarship. He’s the reason why I’m a Division One player. I’ll do anything for him and he’ll do anything for me.”
Pipkins burst onto the recruiting scene that summer after his sophomore year at a University of Missouri football camp.
“He went to a combine at Missouri and wasn’t in great shape and ran a 5.1 (seconds in the) 40 (yard dash) at 325 pounds,” Reynolds said. “They were very interested before we’d even seen him play football. And in today’s internet age once your name get’s out there everyone knows about you.”
“Coach Pinkel was standing at the end line of my 40 run,” Pipkins said. “I told myself that this was my opportunity and just ran my hardest.”
The following October, Missouri became the first school to offer a scholarship to Pipkins, who was starting both ways for the Trojans by then. But by the time he committed to Michigan this August, the defensive tackle held offers from Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, USC, and more than a dozen other major conference schools.
“I was talking to schools we’d never even been mentioned with,” Reynolds said. “When you’re a big kid like that, you’re going to get some interest.”
Rivals ranks him as the seventh-best defensive tackle in the country and the 53rd-best player overall, the highest ranking of any player in the Kansas City area.
“He’s got a chance if he develops to be one of the best around,” Reynolds said. “There’s not too many 320 pound kids out there who move like he does. When he keeps his pad level down he’s the kind of guy you can build a defensive line around. He’s not just going to step out there and be the kind of player everyone wants him to be, but if he works hard he can be special.”
Pipkins recently was honored with a selection to the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio this January, a cherry on top of what has been a whirlwind recruiting process.
“It’s been a good luxury to have that finished and focus on enjoying your teammates,” he said of his college choice.