Mike Felton lifts his black and red Nike Zoom Vapors into his fingertips as clots of grass hang onto the soles.

He looks at the shoes closely. He holds them tight. They're light and fast, just how football shoes are supposed to be.

He needs them to be fast.

He needs to be fast.

"These are my trademark shoes," he says.

He continues walking past the South Western High football field on a foggy and cold Saturday morning. He's spent the last 30 minutes working out with a teammate, running routes and catching passes.

He needs to be as fast as he's ever been.

* * *

His first offer came on May 24.

Temple University's football program laid out a full scholarship offer for the South Western High soon-to-be senior.

The Owls are an up-and-coming program, a Football Bowl Subdivison team that won eight games a season ago in the Mid-American Conference.

But a new coach has arrived -- the former one, Al Golden, was picked off by Miami after his success with the Owls.

Despite this, Felton has no problem. He feels the Owls' new coach, Steve Addazio, has made him feel welcome if he decides to attend the Philadelphia school.

"He's told me the place is basically a home for me if I want to come here," Felton said.

South Western head coach Don Seidenstricker said Felton, six feet and about 200 pounds, likely will project to be a strong safety at the next level. With his combination of size and speed (4.47 40-yard dash), he's an interesting prospect.

Temple doesn't play in a major conference, though, and that may be one reason why the Mustang is playing the waiting game. It's not that the Owls are out of the picture. Felton just wants to wait to see how everything falls into to place.

"Until you actually are on the campus and see the place and get to meet the staffs, it's good to wait unless you are flat-out, dead-on certain that that first request is what you want to do," Seidenstricker said.

South Western’s Mike Felton looks back for the ball while running passing routes recently at the South Western High School football field.
South Western's Mike Felton looks back for the ball while running passing routes recently at the South Western High School football field. (THE EVENING SUN - BRETT BERWAGER)

In the best scenario, Felton says, he will have committed by the end of the summer, but it could come sooner. Over the next three weeks, he'll be in front of three NCAA Division I head coaches.

He visited Maryland on Saturday.

The Terrapins, who play in the ACC, also have a new coach. Randy Edsall is a Susquehannock graduate.

Plus there's South Western graduate Aaron Brady, who coaches a Washington, D.C., high school football team.

He's a former Big 33 player and a former Division I recruit, too. He played at Rutgers, where he started at linebacker in the early 2000s. He knows Edsall and has been around the College Park campus a few times since the changeover.

He's also been in touch with Felton, talking about what he needs to do to stand out at these visits.

"I've told him there are a lot of kids out there that do what you do," Brady said. "In York County, you're probably the fastest guy and best guy, but there are a lot of guys who can run like that. You have to separate yourself by technique and what kind of person you are."

Two more visits are on Felton's docket. He has one on June 18 at West Virginia and another on June 25 at Penn State. A few other schools, like Rutgers and Villanova, are interested as well.

Felton will be busy in July, too.

His good fortune began in April during a football camp.

* * *

For three days in Downingtown, Felton soaked up football goodness.

He was at Football University, an invitation-only camp that put the 17-year-old in front of coaches and talent evaluators.

His mother, Jacki Ernst, spent nearly $600 on her son to attend the camp, which charged $32 per hour to give advice from experts young and old within the prep football community.

Only a selected group of high school players was invited, Felton says.

This was his first chance this summer to prove to people that he's a top-end football talent, but there will be other venues where he can continue to put himself in front of the right people.

This isn't a new experience, either.

South Western’s Mike Felton hoists 250 pounds while lifting with his teammates after school during a recent workout.
South Western's Mike Felton hoists 250 pounds while lifting with his teammates after school during a recent workout. (THE EVENING SUN - BRETT BERWAGER)
 As a sophomore, Felton arrived at Schuman's National Underclassmen Combine, one of the biggest and most respected camps in the country. It's sponsored by Rivals.com and it's where Felton first put his name out there with fast 40s, long broad jumps and high vertical leaps.

He's also been to a Nike SPARQ training camp in Annapolis, Md., and the invitation-only Ultimate 100 camp that pits some of the best recruits of the country against each other.

Nowadays, this is what it takes to make it. There are camps, there are combines and there are 7-on-7s. There are people you need to talk to, people you need to watch you and people you need to recruit you.

"If you know you have someone who has the ability to compete and be noticed, it's not a waste of time," Felton's uncle, Mark Ernst said. "It's not a waste of money. That's the only way you'll get the kid out there and get him noticed."

It's a year-round game now. College football is a multi-million dollar business in which every statistic counts, every second of video tape matters.

Sometimes you have to spend some money to put yourself in the right position. Sometimes you have to get lucky.

"It's very costly, but if it pays off in the end and it benefits him and what he wants to do, I'll support him," Jacki Ernst said.

Seidenstricker thinks Felton could get several Division I offers by the end of July. And that would be rare because South Western hasn't had a Division I football recruit in more than a decade.

Felton's numbers are attractive. In addition to his 40-yard dash time clocked at Temple, he owns a 31.5-inch vertical leap. And his broad jump is at 10 feet.

"That's just a gut feeling," Seidenstricker said. "He's got some solid film out there and he's done some great things for us."

The last year South Western had a Division I recruit was 2000, when offensive lineman Josh Redding went to Virginia Tech. A year before that, Brady committed to Rutgers.

* * *

Football has always been in Felton's life. He's good at it.

He's probably the best all-around player at his school.

He plays two positions on offense and two on defense, returns kicks and punts, punts, sometimes kicks off and even kicks extra points. Felton says what coaches like most about him is his versatility.

But there's more than just football.

His family, his life's story, it's all deeply layered.

A little less than 20 years ago, Mike's father, Michael Allen Felton, was a talent just like him.

Michael went to Gettysburg High and played under Sam Leedy.

Felton wasn't nearly as big as his son, standing just 5-foot-9 and 130 pounds. But in Allen Felton's eyes, size didn't quite matter.

He was fast, too.

Delone Catholic head basketball coach Jim Dooley, who was coaching basketball at Gettysburg in the early 90s, remembers one poignant story about him.

Felton was at the track. He had no shoes. He was joking like he always did. He said he could beat anyone in a footrace. Two hundred meters. Barefoot.

"He beat them all. Barefoot," Dooley remembers. "It was a riot."

Allen Felton didn't take to football until his junior year, even though he had played it all of his life. He was instantly good.

He joined a very good Gettysburg team. He said he was a defensive back, the kind of player who stuck on you like glue.

"It was about beating that man in front of you," said Allen Felton, whose Warriors finished 9-2 his junior year. "That man had nothing. If he came up against me, I shut him down."

As a senior in 1991, he played fullback. He remembers having to block Cumberland Valley's Jon Ritchie, who eventually committed to Stanford and later reached the NFL.

Felton's senior year was his best statistically, he said. He recalled being No. 1 in central Pennsylvania with an average of 16.5 yards per carry. He took a visit to West Virginia University.

He said scouts liked what they saw. He really liked it there.

If he had decided on going to school, he said, he likely would have gone there.

"Different things came up as a senior and unfortunately I wasn't able to go to school," said Allen Felton, who fathered a girl named Chelsie in his junior year.

After the birth, he said, he knew he had to take care of her, so he opted to forego school.

"The best thing was to stay and take care of her instead of leaving," Allen Felton said.

The relationship he had with his daughter's mother didn't work out, but he didn't let go. At that time, he said, it was important to be responsible.

"There were certain things you didn't do," Allen Felton said. "It was about taking care of what's yours."

Then, before he graduated from Gettysburg in 1992, he met Jacki Ernst through a friend. The pair sparked a relationship that got serious in the ensuing year by having their first child together.

Michael James Felton was born on Dec. 3, 1993.

* * *

Mike Felton remembers watching his dad play flag football games when he was younger in Gettysburg. That's where he first learned how to carry a football.

"He would teach me which arm to put it in and how to catch it with my hands," Felton said. "In midget, fourth-and-up, he wanted me to kick. So he showed me how to kick."

And even though his dad and mother were never married -- they were together for 10 years and broke up in 2002 -- his parents were together through Mike's adolescence and had a second boy, Maeson, in 2001.

The family dynamic with his mom and dad is, like many families, a happy and encouraging one. It's just a little untraditional.

"I was still there every day for him," said Allen Felton of his parenting after he split up with Mike's mother. "It was a normal father and son relationship. That's what we will always have."

And that's why Mike Felton has grown up to become like his father in several ways. He's charming and respectful. He's funny and engaging. He's a gifted athlete.

Allen Felton doesn't regret what happened in high school, but he knows his son now has an opportunity that he didn't have. And that's something he wants his son to see through.

"He has something," Allen Felton said. "He has God-given talent. And a lot of people don't have that."

Felton's relationship with his father has always been a good one, he says, even though there were moments of frustration. Football has always been one way they could connect.

"My dad always has been hard on me since I've been little," Felton says, "to do good in school and play football and lift weights. He doesn't want me to mess up. He's always been hard on me because he wants me to pursue what I want to do."

Family has been a huge influence, too. They've kept him close and taught him that good decisions -- like avoiding the party scene -- can lead to a good future.

Felton lives with his mother and brother. His uncle sees him almost every day. He has a strong relationship with his father and sees him regularly. His grandparents are heavily invested in his life and have helped raise him.

And Seidenstricker has been a strong influence, too, helping Felton weave through the crazy recruiting scene.

"As an individual, I can't say enough about him," Mark Ernst said. "He's a great young man and his passion for the game has basically pushed him and has driven him to kind of overachieve in areas that aren't that easy for him."

* * *

Being fast is easy.

And for Felton, that's what's going to matter in the long run. College football is built for speed. It's a sport of greyhounds.

Felton has the natural ability, those genes. He's lucky.

"Speed is something you work on," South Western head track coach Bruce Lee said. "To a large extent, it is God-given. But it's something you can work on."

Felton, who competed in track and field since his freshman year, has made vast improvement in just three seasons.

He recorded a 12.3-second 100-meter dash as a freshman. This season, though, he recorded a 10.6 hand-timed 100 at Dallastown.

Not only do prospective football coaches see this, Seidenstricker says, but they are encouraged about where it may lead.

"That is huge," Seidenstricker said. "The 40-yard burst is great. The 40-yard burst is a concrete measure for most kids. But if you have a 100-meter time that reflects that high level, now we're talking breakaway speed and, when you have breakaway speed, that's a whole other level of marketability."

And so Felton's athletic career path continues to grow with each step. With each new eye that gets a look at him, there seems to be new fascination with his talent.

Four years ago, that may not have been the case. But now, there aren't many doubters left.

"I told him he'd hear that hundreds of times, that he couldn't do it, but I told him not to listen to it and not to believe it," Mark Ernst said. "If he wanted it, he could achieve it and do it. I knew he could do it."

"There have always been people, ever since I've been in school, that have said 'You can't do it, The odds are against you," Felton said of getting a Division I scholarship. "And now, when the coaches came in and talked to me and now I have the offer, some of their eyes are all big. That makes me want to say, 'I told you.'"

cmull@eveningsun.com, 637-3736, ext. 139