We try to tell our kids it’s not about where you go, it’s about giving yourself an opportunity to get a free education, and along the way you get to play football. That’s the most important thing because you’re getting set up for life. —East football coach Brandon Matich
Stanford, Notre Dame and Duke. They’re among three of the most prestigious academic and athletic universities in the country, a destination any student-athlete would be fortunate to attend.
For a couple of high school seniors from the 2016 graduating class, that dream is now a reality.
Brighton football player Simi Fehoko and East football player Tongaloa Kaufusi signed at Stanford. Juan Diego tennis player Ryan Kempin signed at Notre Dame, while Lone Peak basketball player Frank Jackson and Pleasant Grove wrestler Ben Anderson signed with Duke.
The quintet is among the 710 lucky 2016 graduates who earned an athletic and/or academic scholarship to continue their athletic pursuits at the collegiate level — both big and small.
Of those 710 athletes, 282 signed with major universities. Of the bunch, 371 are staying in state, while 339 are heading out of state.
The 710 scholarship recipients are the most in the six years the Deseret News has published its annual list. The list was compiled after contacting coaches and athletic directors from every high school in Utah, in addition to sports information departments at each of the instate colleges.
The payout isn’t huge for some — books might be their only compensation. For blue chippers like Lone Peak’s Jackson and Brighton’s Fehoko though, their entire education will be paid for.
Herriman High led the state with an impressive 27 scholarship recipients, followed by Bingham with 21, Lone Peak with 20, Juan Diego with 19 and Maple Mountain with 16.
A total of 92 schools had student-athletes earn scholarships.
With participation numbers that dwarf all other sports, football accounted for 146 of the boys’ 370 total scholarships. It’s one scholarship shy of the previous high of 147 last year, but still the second-highest over the past six years.
Along with Kaufusi and Fehoko going to Stanford, highlighting the crop of football players moving onto the next level are Bountiful’s Max Tooley (BYU), Timpview’s Kahi Neves (Arizona), Cottonwood’s Pookie Maka (Colorado), Herriman’s Leki Fotu (Utah) and Murray’s Maxs Tupai (Utah).
In all, 6.2 percent of the estimated 2,374 seniors who played football last fall earned some form of scholarship. Of the 146 athletes, 43 signed at FBS programs, up significantly from the 34 last year.
For the rest, the spotlight won’t be as bright, but they’ll get to continue playing the game they love while also getting a college education.
“We try to tell our kids it’s not about where you go, it’s about giving yourself an opportunity to get a free education, and along the way you get to play football. That’s the most important thing because you’re getting set up for life,” said East coach Brandon Matich.
“We try to preach that to our kids, places like William Penn and these other small schools that have come to our state and starting to get the kids that haven’t been recognized by Division 1-type schools, it’s been an awesome deal. They’ve found that these kids are pretty awesome to coach and pretty awesome to recruit, and the talent level here is very high and they come here every year and kind of camp out here. It’s pretty cool.”
Of the three instate FBS programs, BYU led the way with 13 signees, followed by Utah with nine and Utah State with six.
Overall participation numbers for the 2015-16 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 some form of scholarship with 65 (7.1 percent), which isn’t a surprise to those involved with the baseball community.
A year ago just seven Utah seniors signed with Division I baseball programs, but that number swelled to 16 this year with six signing at Utah Valley and four at Utah. That number could’ve been more, but after being drafted by the Brewers in the MLB draft sixth round, Pleasant Grove’s Payton Henry opted to sign a professional contract instead of signing at BYU.
Basketball had the third-highest percentage of senior boys move on to play college ball, with 46 (4.5 percent) receiving scholarships The list was highlighted by Jackson signing with Duke, Bingham’s Yoeli Childs signing with BYU and Timpview’s Gavin Baxter also signing with BYU.
Only 28 basketball players received scholarships last year.
On the girls side, for the third straight year soccer produced the most scholarship athletes with 104 (11.1 percent)
Softball had 61 scholarship signees, about 9.4 percent of the 649 senior participants. It was the second-highest percentage among girls sports. Weber State accounted for seven of those 61 signees in softball.
Basketball had 53 girls earn scholarships this year (6.3 percent), a notable increase from the 43 who received scholarships in 2015.
“Seemed like every team in the state had one or two players that were really quality players that could play on at the next level,” said Layton coach Van Price. “There were a lot of good teams this year in basketball and there was always a standout player we had to worry about, and I think it’s cool that’s it’s picked up to the level where we’re being recognized and kids can go on and play.”
Volleyball had 52 athletes sign on at the next level, down 10 from the five-year high of 62 from last year. There was still a ton of talent across the state, which will be on display across the state over the next four years.
Highlighting the volleyball signees were Bountiful’s Kennedy Redding (BYU) and Bingham’s Torre Glasker (Utah).
While the major team sports produced the bulk of the scholarship recipients, the swimmers definitely didn’t take a backseat. A year after only three girls received a scholarship and no boys, a whopping 13 girl swimmers from Utah earned some type of aid this year, while four boys did as well.
“Swimming in Utah is developing into kind of a prime-time sport. We had a young lady out of Cottonwood (sophomore Rhyan White) that was at the Olympic trials, and we had a lot of kids that were right up against the Olympic trials cut. Swimming in Utah is starting to get pretty big time, it’s not like California or Texas, but we’re starting to put some athletes in top-quality events,” said Viewmont coach Steven Doman.
He attributes part of the uptick in talent to the training the athletes are getting from club coaches who aren’t bolting for the warmer climates. Doman said the upcoming classes are loaded with talented swimmers as well, so expect the scholarship opportunities to continue for Utah’s swimmers in the coming years.
James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: [email protected]