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High school sports: Nearly 650 athletes taking talents to college on scholarship

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 6:25 a.m. MDT

East High's Ula Tolutau stiff arms Olympus' Conner Haller as East High School defeats Olympus High School 47-21in the 4A State High School football semi-final Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) East High's Ula Tolutau stiff arms Olympus' Conner Haller as East High School defeats Olympus High School 47-21in the 4A State High School football semi-final Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

College coaches are never going to mistake Utah for the recruiting hotbed of places like California, Texas and Florida, but the Beehive State has carved out a respectable niche nationally.

Whether it’s football, soccer, volleyball or basketball, college coaches around the country have learned through the years that the best in Utah can play with the best anywhere.

Some choose to pursue that athletic dream at major programs across the country, while others prefer staying close to home. Regardless of where their career trajectory takes them, this year’s athletic scholarship recipients are among the lucky few who get to chase their dreams at the next level.

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 644 seniors from the 2014 graduating class who have received athletic and/or academic scholarships to play college athletics.

Matt Findlay, of Alta, celebrates winning his fourth consecutive state title winning the 138lb 5A title during the state wrestling tournament at the Maverik Center in West Valley on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Matt Findlay, of Alta, celebrates winning his fourth consecutive state title winning the 138lb 5A title during the state wrestling tournament at the Maverik Center in West Valley on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Of those 644 athletes, 267 signed with major universities. Of the bunch, 361 are staying in state, while 283 are heading out of state.

The payout isn’t huge for some — books might be their only compensation. For blue chippers like Lone Peak’s T.J. Haws, they’re getting a full ride.

Of the 644 recipients, 316 are boys while 328 are girls. A year ago, the boys received 18 more scholarships, but this year the girls are on top.

Bingham High led the way with 27 scholarship recipients, followed closely by Brighton with 26. Alta and Viewmont tied for third with 19. A total of 89 schools had student-athletes earn scholarships.

With participation numbers that dwarf all other sports, 118 of the boys’ 316 scholarships went to football players. Highlighting the crop of football players moving onto the next level are Bingham’s Dalton Schultz (Stanford), Brighton’s Jackson Barton (Utah) and East’s Ula Tolutau (Wisconsin).

Juan Diego's Brandon Kempin swings the ball during the 3A High School Tennis Championship Singles Finals at Liberty Park Saturday, May 10, 2014 in Salt Lake City. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News) Juan Diego's Brandon Kempin swings the ball during the 3A High School Tennis Championship Singles Finals at Liberty Park Saturday, May 10, 2014 in Salt Lake City. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

“I think Dalton has as much upside as any kid that I’ve ever coached,” Bingham coach Dave Peck said. “I know that Stanford in particular feels like Dalton has a chance to come in and play right off.”

In all, roughly 5 percent of the estimated 2,332 seniors who played football last fall earned some form of scholarship, and 33 of the 118 are heading to FBS programs.

Of the three in-state FBS programs, Utah State led the way with nine signees — even though it was down from its 14 signees a year ago. Utah signed seven in-state seniors, with BYU inking four.

Weber State, led by new coach Jay Hill, signed the most in-state football recruits this year with 21.

“Getting players out of Utah is also a priority for us. We felt there was a really good class from Utah this year, and we were able to get a lot of them. We are very excited,” said Hill at his Signing Day press conference last February.

Jordan pitcher Colton Shaver celebrates hitting a three run walk off home run Wednesday, May 14, 2014 giving his team a 4-1 win over Fremont in the second round of the 5A baseball at Jordan. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Jordan pitcher Colton Shaver celebrates hitting a three run walk off home run Wednesday, May 14, 2014 giving his team a 4-1 win over Fremont in the second round of the 5A baseball at Jordan. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Overall participation numbers for the 2013-14 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 (6.8 percent).

Among the elite baseball players who received scholarships were Jordan’s Colton Shaver (BYU) and Cedar’s Kayden Lunt (BYU).

Boys soccer had the next highest percentage of scholarships with 5.6 percent, the second straight year 50-plus soccer players are moving onto the next level after only 28 did so in 2012. It’s an upward trend that won’t be going away anytime soon.

UVU and USU Eastern in Price are both starting men’s soccer programs this fall, welcome additions for the soccer community in Utah where college soccer opportunities have been very difficult to come by over the past decade.

Ogden's Sarah Feeny won the 4A 1600m final with a state record during the state high school track meet in Provo Friday, May 16, 2014. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Ogden's Sarah Feeny won the 4A 1600m final with a state record during the state high school track meet in Provo Friday, May 16, 2014. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Ammon Bennett, a native Utahn who’s coached college soccer in Iowa the past 15 years, will be coaching the men’s and women’s programs at USU Eastern in Price this fall, and he said the interest has been through the roof.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to get kids to leave Utah to go and play, so it’s been almost overwhelming the number of kids who want to come and play. Probably every day I get one or two emails from some kid at some high school on the men’s side who wants to come play,” said Bennett.

On the hard court, the 2014 graduating class was highlighted by BYU’s signing of Haws and Orem’s Dalton Nixon. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was thrilled to land Roy recruit Brekkott Chapman, who was heavily sought by numerous big-time programs.

On the girls side, a year after softball produced the highest percentage of scholarship recipients, girls soccer is back on top.

Desert Hills' Haley Bodnar goes for a shot against Morgan's Lisa VanCampen during the girls 3A state basketball championship at the Centrum Arena on Saturday, March 1, 2014. (Trevor Christensen, The Spectrum & Daily News) Desert Hills' Haley Bodnar goes for a shot against Morgan's Lisa VanCampen during the girls 3A state basketball championship at the Centrum Arena on Saturday, March 1, 2014. (Trevor Christensen, The Spectrum & Daily News)

Of the estimated 822 high school seniors who played girls soccer last fall, 105 (12.7 percent) earned scholarships.

As for softball, even though the percentage of athletes who received scholarships was down slightly from 11.6 in 2013 to 9.7 in 2014, there are still 60 girls receiving softball scholarships.

Headlining that group is Viewmont’s Caitlyn Larsen (BYU), one of just nine getting Division I scholarships.

Plenty of other girls’ sports churned out scholarship athletes. Forty-eight volleyball players signed to play at the next level (5.8 percent), while 42 basketball players signed (5.3 percent).

An estimated 2,600 seniors participated in boys and girls track and cross-country during the 2013-14 school year, with 74 earning scholarships. That list includes Ogden superstar Sarah Feeny. The Ute commit wowed everyone by winning the prestigious Dream Mile race in New York two weeks ago.

Lone Peak's TJ Haws puts in one of his eight three point shots over Make Sheffield as Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove play Saturday, March 8, 2014 for the 5A championship in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah. Lone Peak won 84-66. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Lone Peak's TJ Haws puts in one of his eight three point shots over Make Sheffield as Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove play Saturday, March 8, 2014 for the 5A championship in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah. Lone Peak won 84-66. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

This fall she’ll be running against the elite athletes in the Pac-12.

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