Eighteen years ago when most kids in the 2011 high school graduating class were born, the cost of gas was just over a buck and college tuition was relatively affordable.

Both costs have tripled over the past 18 years, an alarming reality for parents and their kids.

For about 600 lucky few though, their accomplishments in athletics will go a long way toward easing the dent to the bank accounts over the next four years.

After contacting coaches, athletic directors and principals from every high school in Utah, the Deseret News put together a list of the estimated 608 seniors from the 2011 graduating class who received an athletic scholarship. Of that number, 167 have signed with Division 1 programs and 228 are heading out of state.

The list does not include students who received academic scholarships or those who will walk-on. The list is meant to be a reflection of the number of kids from Utah who received a scholarship based on their athletic ability.

For some, the payout isn't huge. Books might be their only compensation. For others — mostly football players — they'll be getting a full ride.

Regardless of the dollar amount, with rising tuition costs and a struggling economy, 596 seniors have made their parents very proud.

Of the scholarship recipients 307 are boys and 289 are girls.

With participation numbers that dwarf other sports, over a third of the total boys scholarships went to football players.

Highlighted by U.S. Army All-Americans Harvey Langi and Ryker Mathews, 131 seniors earned college football scholarships — roughly 5.8 percent of the estimated 2,253 seniors who played high school football last fall. Last year 101 athletes received football scholarships

Only 32 of the 131 are heading to Division I programs, up by four from last year.

Highland coach Brody Benson said it's not surprising to see so many kids getting scholarships.

"I think overall as a whole Utah has pretty darn good athletes, and I think the coaches do a real good job getting their kids exposed," said Benson.

Highland had five kids sign at Division II programs. Benson said it's great to see kids looking outside the box when it comes to getting financial assistance for college.

"It doesn't matter Saturday night under the lights whether you're at the University of Utah, or down at BYU or if you're at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc. You're playing football, you're doing something you love and you've got someone helping you get your education paid for, that's the most important thing," said Benson.

Of the 131 who received football scholarships, 12 are heading to BYU while nine signed with Utah and eight with Utah State.

Dixie State College signed the most in-state kids with 21, while Southern Utah followed with 18.

Overall participation numbers for the 2010-2011 school year were provided by the Utah High School Activities Association. Senior estimates were calculated at 27 percent of the overall participation numbers.

Of the 10 sanctioned UHSAA boys sports, football had the highest percentage of seniors earn scholarships. Baseball was second with 49 athletes (5.8 percent) continuing on to play in college. Soccer was third with 4.5 percent, followed by golf (3.9 percent), basketball (2.9) and cross country/track (2.6).

Only six of the 26 boys basketball scholarship recipients are heading to Division I programs, which confirms the notion that the 2011 graduating class wasn't necessarily strong.

There was a huge spike in the number of boys soccer players who received scholarships this year. A year ago it was only 20, but this year that number nearly doubled to 38 — including seven who signed at Division I programs.

It's even more impressive when you consider there isn't a single Division I soccer program in Utah. Part of the increase has to be attributed to the long-term impact of Real Salt Lake, which joined Major League Soccer in 2005.

"I think Real has done amazing things for the sport of soccer in the Utah area. People are starting to get into it. They're starting to recognize that it's a great sport that's fun, it's engaging and they can be a true fan," said Timpanogos High girls soccer coach Natalyn Lewis, who played collegiately at BYU.

Despite a banner year for boys soccer players, the numbers pale compared to the girls.

Of the estimated 783 high school seniors who played girls soccer last fall, 86 (11 percent) received an athletic scholarship. With eight schools fielding women's soccer teams in Utah, there's always going to be plenty of opportunities for talented girls to play college soccer and that was evident again this year.

As Mountain View soccer coach Mark Graham said last year, "Almost 100 percent of the girls that have some ability, some commitment and are well coached can get some type of scholarship."

Forty-four of the 86 scholarships for girls soccer are to Division 1 programs, the highest percentage of any sport in Utah.

Softball wasn't far behind soccer with 61 girls (10.1 percent) earning scholarships. Only 13 of those are to Division 1 schools, which confirms what Highland's football coach said about the recruiting process for all athletes.

"If you want to play and you have the vision there's a place for you to play," said Benson.

With weather preventing Utah athletes in many sports from practicing year round, local kids need to be proactive with the recruiting process because their peers in warm-weather states are at an advantage. Many college coaches are more inclined to spend their recruiting budgets on trips to California, Arizona and Florida.

8 comments on this story

Soccer and softball weren't the only girls sports churning out collegiate athletes. Fifty-two volleyball players signed to play at the next level (6.4 percent) up from 34 last year. Forty girls basketball players (4.2 percent) received a scholarship as well.

Nearly 2,300 seniors participated in boys and girls track/cross country this past school year, with a combined 59 receiving scholarships. That's up from 49 last year.

Contributing: Morgan Wilkins and Jessica Wilde

email: jedward@desnews.com