Donnie Foster arrived at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) from Savannah, Ga. in 2013, looking for an opportunity to hone his football skills for his Division I aspirations while maintaining a strong focus on academics. Standing 6-foot-4 at 310-pounds, Foster made an instant impact on the Ascender football squad, starting 10-of-10 games his senior year and paving the way for an offense that racked up 3,554 yards (355.4 ypg) and 317 points (31.7 ppg) on its way to an 8-2 inaugural regular season record. Foster was also named IMG Academy's Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2013 for his exceptional performance in the classroom and on the field. Today, Foster is working to prepare himself for the transition to Syracuse University where he will play football. Foster chose the Orange because of the tight-knit ‘family' atmosphere he felt among the program, as well as for the University's academic reputation. SCHOOL TIES
Since the season ended, Foster has kept busy. His days begin promptly at 6:20 a.m., rising early to take in a power-packed breakfast. He goes to breakfast early so he has plenty of time before class to watch tennis, a sport he has developed an interest in since enrolling at IMG Academy:
"I've definitely become a tennis fan since I've been here. One of my close friends who plays helped that along. Plus, the history of Nick Bollettieri and IMG speaks for itself, and meeting so many great players that train here makes me like it even more."
Foster joked, "It's made me want to play a little tennis, too, even though I don't think I have the body type for it! But it's great just going out there and having fun with it."
After taking in plenty of serves and volleys, Foster heads to class. Learning and excelling in the classroom comes natural to Foster, who was inducted into the National Honor Society earlier in the spring. He takes on a full plate of AP courses.
"I love marine science, because I have a real interest in the subject, and I also love AP calculus even though it's my toughest subject, because I love the challenge," said Foster. "The teachers are great and they spend plenty of time with us whenever we need it, but I love to take on the tougher classes." FAMILY ATMOSPHERE
After class, the Syracuse commit's first stop is not to lunch, but to the training room to get taped for his afternoon training.
Following that stop, it's off to lunch where every day is a team bonding day. Foster's closest friends are his teammates, and they regularly sit together at meals:
"At other schools, you feel like a family even though you live in different places, but here, we all live in the same building and we've developed a great sense of brotherhood. It's a bond we've even developed with players in other sports, and in this environment, you get to know people and learn about them in a way you'd probably never experience anywhere else."
The inaugural football team itself featured players from 16 states and seven countries. The differences in language and culture were a big adjustment for the Deep South denizen, but an adjustment he enjoyed nonetheless:
"The more time I spent with them and learned different things about such different people, it helped us all gel as a family. I feel like having such a diverse team helped me learn new things, try new things and develop all-around as a person." GETTING READY FOR SYRACUSE
After lunch, Foster works on the fundamentals of his game. During the season, Foster worked with nine-year NFL veteran, Offensive Line Coach Mike Gruttadauria, who started at center for the St. Louis Rams during their 1999 Super Bowl season. Now, he's working with recently appointed Offensive Line Coach Spencer Hodges, who joined IMG Academy from Jacksonville University.
"I loved my in-season offensive line coach [Coach Gruttadauria]," Foster said of his former O-Line coach. "Having a coach with a Super Bowl ring who played in the NFL for nine years is truly something special as a high school player. And now I'm looking forward to working with Coach Hodges who's coached at the highest level of college football."
Foster's football practices have changed during the offseason. The emphasis is different because he is not preparing to line up against Jacksonville's Trinity Christian - he's preparing to take on Notre Dame, Louisville and the defending national champs, Florida State.
"During the season we did a lot of different things to maintain strength, and injury prevention work, but now we're focusing more on explosive exercises and mechanical things, so we can get ready to get bigger, faster and stronger so we can enter the season ready to go," Foster said of the training regimen. "Since I've gotten here I've improved across the board, but the biggest changes have been in my footwork and my mental approach to the game."
Following his practice session with Coach Hodges, Foster heads across campus to join the seniors for weight training and conditioning.
"I love that we have everything here that a college has - so many machines and the knowledge of the staff - to do the little things you need to do to get better every day," said Foster.
After more than a year in the IMG Academy strength and conditioning program, Foster has transformed his body. He has slimmed down from 325 to 310 pounds while improving his max lift numbers. Working with coaches Eric Grantham and Matt Smith, he says, have been key:
"I've always heard that with a good strength coach, you have to love them and you have to hate them, and through some of the workouts, I would agree with that [laughing]. But at the end of the day, I love getting better and I know they care about us and want us to be our best."
After several hours of intense weight training and conditioning, Foster is not content to sit still for long. After briefly returning to his dorm to change shoes and get a snack, he gathers a group of friends for a pickup game of basketball:
"Living in the dorm is unique, but I don't spend much time in my room - I'm always moving around or always visiting someone to study, or to go play X-Box or do something with my teammates." REFLECTING ON THE PAST YEAR
Foster is most appreciative of the diversity of individuals he has had the opportunity to learn from. Under the direction of former Heisman Trophy-winning Director of Football and Head Coach Chris Weinke, IMG Academy has emerged as a destination for many established professional players and top college prospects. Since enrolling, Foster has worked with a number of talented linemen, and snapped for a bevy of acclaimed quarterbacks:
"I've snapped with [New York Jets QB] Geno Smith, [Miami Dolphins QB] Ryan Tannehill and Tim Tebow while he was here last year. The first day I was here I had breakfast with all the NFL Draft trainees that were here - Matt Barkley, Manti Te'o, Barrett Jones - and it was incredible to see these famous people in their everyday lives, just talking to us."
Foster continued, "Just walking around campus, you never know who you might see around school. Since I've been here I've seen Maria Sharapova, or the basketball guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Dwayne Wade at Gatorade [Sports Science Institute], then Andrew McCutchen, Starlin Castro - you're always seeing someone famous, and that's another special aspect about going here."
The experience of being around so many high-profile athletes at all levels of the game is not something Foster takes for granted:
"You really learn to appreciate even more that all the athletes you see on television are just people, too. I mean, one day [Green Bay Packers OL] Brian Bulaga and [Indianapolis Colt OL] Anthony Castonzo joined us for our yoga session. They're just normal people going through the same things we're going through, and they don't really want special treatment."
Though it's not just the professionals that Foster is in awe of – his classmates across all the sports have made an impression on him:
"I love being around everyone in the other sports, because we all have the same goals and aspirations but we're not all gifted to play each other's particular sport, so it's cool to see everyone else perform and see the incredible skill they have," Foster exclaimed. "It pushes me even more because it puts everything into perspective about how much hard work it takes to get what you want."
See more photos of Foster's day below.