|Norwich junior K Long Ding,
a native of Qing Dao, China.
By Derek Dunning,
Assistant Sports Information Director, Norwich University
NORTHFIELD, Vt. – 6,840 miles.
That's the distance between Norwich junior kicker Long Ding's hometown of Qing Dao, China and Northfield, Vt.
The 22-year-old hasn't lived the life of an average college junior since coming over to the United States in 2007.
The previous year he attended a National Football League sponsored clinic in Beijing looking to expand American football to the world stage.
Ding caught the attention of the coaches that ran the clinic and was offered
a scholarship to attend a U.S. prep school as a part of the USA Football
International Student Program.
"I was lucky to have the opportunity to go to the clinic and then have a few prep school coaches interested in having me come play for them," Ding said.
"Before I came here I didn't know much about football. I had a seen a few games on television but that was really it."
When he was younger, Ding played five years of soccer before switching over to rugby and playing that for the next five years.
"I became interested in football from playing rugby," he said. "Football is a lot like rugby, especially with kicking and I was pretty comfortable making the switch between the sports."
Ding had an offer to go to school in China as well, but after talking it over with his family he decided that coming to the United States was best.
Ding ended up at the New Hampton School in New Hampshire where he played on the football team and enjoyed success.
After that he played two seasons at Dean College, a two-year junior college in Franklin, Mass. before finally ending up in Northfield this fall.
Ding was being recruited by a couple Division I schools in Bryant University and UMass-Amherst, but since he hadn't received an offer yet he decided to go for a visit.
"Coach McIntyre called me up and asked if I had got any offers and I told him I was still waiting," Ding said. "He asked if I wanted to come and visit Norwich and see what the school was all about and I said sure."
It turned out to be a good decision.
"When I visited, I really liked the history of the school being the first private military college and Norwich had a good season last year coming off winning the conference championship," Ding said. "I just wanted to come and be a part of it."
Since coming over from China in 2007, Ding hadn't seen his family until this past summer when he had to return while his student visa was being straightened out.
"I was home for about two months because of complications with my visa," he said. "It was nice see my family, but I really wanted to come back to the U.S. to finish my education and play football here."
Everything was cleared up in time for Ding to suit up for the Cadets in August at the start of training camp.
Ding's football journey in the United States has been well documented. He's appeared in everything from small newspaper articles to the Boston Globe, as well as having a film crew follow him around for a documentary that aired on "NFL Blitz."
His story also appeared in the official Super Bowl XLII game program in February 2008, as well as the Sports Illustrated Teen edition.
"I didn't know how big that magazine was when they called me to interview for the first time," Ding said. "But, after the story came out I was shocked at how big it was."
Although Ding said the notoriety was nice, he'd much rather be just another member of the team and help the Cadets continue to work towards their goal of back-to-back Eastern Collegiate Football Conference titles.
Ding said he wasn't really sure what his plans will be once he graduates in the spring of 2012.
"I haven't really thought much about it yet. I've been enjoying my time here and playing on the team. I'd like to continue playing football for awhile too if I can."
The Cadets (5-1 overall, 2-1 ECFC) host Husson University on Saturday at Sabine Field as a part of Norwich University's "Family Weekend" festivities. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m.