For four years, Clay Cunningham has been starting and playing a key role for the Hannibal boys’ soccer teams defense. But now, Cunningham is nearing the end of his high school career and his time on the soccer field with the Pirates is over. However, Cunningham will not be forced to give up the game he loves as Thursday afternoon in the Hannibal High School library, he signed a letter of intent to play soccer for East Central College.
“I love playing the sport,” Cunningham said. “Hopefully after I am done with those two years I can go to a four-year school and play some more.”
Cunningham’s coach, Eric Hill, at Hannibal, had nothing but praise for his now former player.
“He has been a four-year starter in the back for us,” Hill said. “He first year he played some outside back and then starting with his sophomore year through his senior year, he played sweeper which is the leader of the back. He was in charge of organizing everything and keeping guys where they need to be. He has done a great job.”
East Central College is a junior college based in Union, Missouri. The Falcons play in the Midwest Community College Athletic Conference along with nine other community colleges.
East Central wasn’t the only school to court Cunningham. Culver-Stockton College out of Canton and Clark University both showed interest.
“I was going to go to another college, but that kind of fell through,” Cunningham said. “So I gave them (East Central) a chance and went and looked at them. I liked the coach and what he is building down there. So I went ahead and went for it.”
Hill did what he could to help Cunningham as he went through the recruiting process.
“I just kind of kept tabs on him and gave him advice when I could,” Hill said. “I offered whatever help I could. I contacted a few different coaches and then let him kind of play it out as it went. He went on a few different visits and for a while he was leaning pretty heavily towards Culver(-Stockon College), but they had a coaching change and I think that changed a lot of it. That opened things up for East Central and he went down to visit them and he really liked what he heard and saw.”
With a couple of trips to Union to meet the coaches and the team under his belt, Cunningham was pleased with what he saw.
“I just liked the school and the environment the coaches had down there,” Cunningham said. “It is kind of small, like the size of Hannibal, so I kind of fit in.”
One of the biggest selling factors though was that Cunningham was heading to a school where he would know other players.
“Two guys from Quincy are going down there with me and one from Hannibal,” Cunningham said. “So, I already know some guys and that is pretty good. I played club with the two guys from Quincy and I kind of like knowing somebody and not just going to a random place and not knowing anyone.”
At just over two hours away, Cunningham is not planning on making many trips home. Instead, he is planning on getting an apartment near the campus.
“I will probably stay down there,” Cunningham said. “I am looking forward to the freedom and getting away.”
Over the next two years, Cunningham plans to take fire fighter classes, as well as courses in education.
During his time with the Pirates, Cunningham was a three-time All-Conference player. Twice, Cunningham was All-District as well as All-Regional. This past season he was even named Second Team All State.
“He is one who just gradually improved each year,” Hill said. “A big part of it was his dedication to being in the weight room. A lot of times for soccer players, guys feel that it is not important and they don’t have to worry about getting stronger, because they don’t feel like it is a contact sport. But he is one that kind of fell in love with that too.”