High school sports: More than 600 athletes taking talents to college on scholarship
The ultimate goal for any high school athlete is winning a state championship, a reality roughly 1,000 kids experienced during the 2012-2013 school year as the UHSAA handed out 86 state championships.
Kealia Ohai took the dream one step further last December when the former Alta High star led North Carolina’s women’s soccer team to an NCAA championship. Ohai scored in both the semifinals and final to spearhead the championship.
It was certainly a rare moment for an athlete from Utah to win an NCAA championship, an opportunity more than 600 graduates from the 2013 graduating class will try and duplicate in the coming years.
After contacting coaches and athletic directors from every high school in Utah, in addition to sports information departments at each of the in-state colleges, the Deseret News has compiled a list of the estimated 634 seniors from the 2013 graduating class who have received athletic and/or academic scholarships to play college athletics.
Of those 634 athletes, 264 signed with major universities. Of the bunch, 357 are staying in state, while 277 are heading out of state.
The payout isn’t huge for some — books might be their only compensation. For blue chippers like Cottonwood quarterback Cooper Bateman, they’re getting a full ride.
Of the 634 recipients, 326 are boys while 308 are girls. The 326 scholarships for the boys is a noteworthy bump up from the 289 last year.
Davis High led the way with 27 scholarship recipients, followed closely by Bingham with 26. Riverton was third with 23 scholarships, followed by Brighton with 22.
With participation numbers that dwarf all other sports, 120 of the boys’ 326 scholarships went to football players.
Highlighting the crop of football players moving onto the next level is Cottonwood’s Cooper Bateman, who signed with BCS National Champion Alabama.
“There might be people who think I can’t play because I’m from Utah, but what I’d like to do is come out and prove them wrong,” said Bateman at the time of his commitment.
In all, roughly 5 percent of the estimated 2,371 seniors who played football last fall earned some form of scholarship, and 43 of the 120 are heading to Division 1 programs.
Of the three in-state Division 1 programs, Utah State led the way with 14 signees — up from five a year ago. BYU signed 12 in-state seniors, up from only four last year, while Utah inked six local players, down two from last year’s signing class.
Southern Utah, which is making the jump to the Big Sky Conference this fall, signed the most in-state kids with 21, followed by Dixie State with 17.
Overall participation numbers for the 2012-2013 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, baseball had the highest percentage of seniors receive scholarships with 61 (6.9 percent).
Among the elite baseball players who received scholarships were American Fork’s Riley Ottesen (Utah), Riverton’s Tanner Draper (Oregon State), Arik Mack (BYU) and Brennon Lund (BYU).
“Utah baseball is just getting better and better ‘cause there’s opportunities for them to go out against better competition to prove themselves,” said American Fork coach Jared Ingersoll. “I think more and more colleges are looking into Utah to recruit.”
Soccer is starting to fall into that same category. Only 28 seniors from the 2012 graduating class received some form of athletic or academic scholarship, but this year that number ballooned to 59. Among the standouts are Brighton’s Matthew Coffey and Lehi’s Aaron Caprio who both signed with traditional powerhouse University of Portland.
“I think soccer is getting bigger in Utah and the exposure is increasing, and the club programs are participating in more and more out-of-state tournaments and showcasing the kids,” said Brighton coach Russ Boyer, who said the overall talent in Utah has increased dramatically in the past decade.
On the hard court, the 2013 graduating class was a particularly strong one and Utah and BYU benefitted from that. The Cougars landed both Nick Emery and Erik Mika from Lone Peak High School, while Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak signed a strong class that included East’s Parker Van Dyke and Brighton’s Brandon Miller.
Utah State’s lone signee was 4A state tourney hero Jalen Moore from Sky View, while South Sevier’s Race Parsons signed with SUU.
In the previous three years the Deseret News tracked scholarship recipients, girls soccer featured the highest-percentage of college-bound athletes. Not this year, though. Softball is the scholarship breadwinner for the class of 2013.
Of the estimated 596 high school seniors who played softball this spring, 69 (11.6 percent) earned scholarships.
Only eight of those are heading to Division 1 programs, which Bingham coach Mikki Jackson said is just fine.
“What we try to convey early with our kids is that there are some D2 programs that are better than D1 programs and some NAIA programs that are better than D1 programs,” Jackson said. “I think a lot more of them are opening their mind to play JC before moving on. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing for them.
“It’s getting them to think what do they want out of their academics, and getting the most money out of their athletic talent.”
As for girls’ soccer, even though the percentage of athletes who received scholarships was down slightly from 10.6 in 2012 to 9.9 in 2013, there are still 82 girls who received soccer scholarships.
Headlining that group is Juan Diego’s Emily Bruder who signed with 2012 National Champion North Carolina, where she’ll team up with Ohai this season.
Plenty of other girls’ sports churned out scholarship athletes. Fifty-one volleyball players signed to play at the next level (6.4 percent), while 46 basketball players signed (5.6 percent).
An estimated 2,600 seniors participated in boys and girls track and cross-country during the 2012-2013 school year, with 73 earning scholarships. That list includes Park City’s Ben Saarel, Davis’ Shea Martinez and Sky View’s Brenna Porter and Park City’s Megan Glassman — who combined to set six new state records this year.
“It’s gotten more competitive over the past few years, especially distance running. But really, most events are strong in Utah now,” said Davis coach Corbin Talley.
BYU remains one of the marquee track programs in the country, but programs like UVU, Weber state and Utah State are also great options for boys and girls track athletes to compete at the next level.