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Academics important for soccer stars

Published: Monday, April 23 2012 11:39 p.m. MDT

Brighton's #2 Seth Fankhauser, front, and Copper Hills' #10 Braden Burkett battle to get at the ball as Brighton and Copper Hills play Friday, March 30, 2012. Brighton won 2-1.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Preparing for the future is daunting for many high school students. It is often a chore left procrastinated until the day of graduation — the day life-changing decisions become the sole responsibility of the student.

For the high-achieving Fankhauser brothers of Brighton, however, it has been an entirely different story. The future is the driving force behind their stellar work ethic and resulting academic excellence.

Several other student-athletes, including members of the Brighton High soccer team and others around the state, are achieving the near impossible with exceptional grades in spite of a jam-packed extracurricular schedule.

Taylor Fankhauser, a senior forward and leading scorer for the No. 1-ranked Bengals, has never fallen short of a 4.0 GPA and scored a 33 on the ACT. As a result, he'll be playing soccer this fall for Brigham Young University, where he earned a full tuition scholarship for academic achievement.

"You're a student before an athlete," Fankhauser said, explaining that his parents stressed the importance of completing his homework right after school. "Getting an education has always been important because I know it will help me in my life. I like to learn. I like to know things."

His younger brother, midfielder Seth Fankhauser, enjoys the same level of success with a 4.0 GPA and a schedule loaded with AP classes.

"I kind of have a legacy to live up to," Seth said. "I have four older siblings and they have all taken a bunch of AP classes. I can't end the chain."

Though he attributes a great deal of success to his parents and siblings, he also acknowledges the role of his soccer coach, Russ Boyer.

According to both Seth and Taylor, Boyer holds his players to a greater standard in the classroom, pushing them to reach their potential with a GPA of 3.0 or above rather than the state requirement of 2.0. Students who do not meet that expectation are put on a contract, sitting out practices and games until their grades are up to that high standard.

Teammate Mitch Johanson, another high-achieving Bengal with a 3.9 GPA and 15 AP college credits, acknowledged Boyer's philosophy about work and respect on and off the field.

"For him, it's not all about soccer," he said, noting that one of the team's mottos emphasizes having respect for your team, your family, and your friends. "We respect everything that Brighton soccer is about. He holds us responsible for our actions."

Johanson will graduate with an entire college semester completed thanks to AP classes and his diligent efforts at school. The senior has worked hard, sacrificing sleep and hang-out time with friends to keep up with the busy schedule.

Though tough at times, the work will certainly pay off as he pursues a career in medicine at the University of Utah, where he earned an academic scholarship.

Several other high school athletes have demonstrated a similar academic aptitude, including a number of players on 3A's leading team, the Wasatch Wasps. Wasatch was one of 60 teams throughout the United States to earn an Academic Award in 2011 for both the boys and girls from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Coach Dawain Wheatley attributes part of the success to athletic pursuits.

"I'm a firm believer in any extracurricular activity," he said. "It's the discipline, setting of goals, working hard and being accountable. They recognize that when they do the things they have trained for, it means personal development and improvement. All of those things transfer to the classroom."

Wheatley knows firsthand the positive impact extracurricular activities can have.

Junior Alex Espinoza, last year's 3A State MVP from Wasatch, was deemed academically ineligible his freshman year, sitting the season out when he failed to meet the state's GPA requirement.

Coach Wheatley was Espinoza's geography teacher at the time and was forced to fail the struggling athlete, despite being well aware of Espinoza's potential on the soccer field. Though he knew what an asset the boy would be to the soccer team, Wheatley refused to make an exception.

Two years after sitting out as a freshman, the junior boasts a much higher GPA — earning a 3.7 last term — and a long list of soccer accolades.

email: jessica@scoreboardsports.net

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