SALT LAKE CITY — For high school athletes, the pursuit of state championships and the pursuit of college scholarships are 1A and 1B on the priority list, according to East football coach Brandon Matich.
Which pursuit garners 1A or 1B status can vary from kid to kid though according to Matich, because the dream of playing college athletics is one of the biggest motivating factors for the over 65,000 high school athletes in the state of Utah each year.
For 700 athletes from the 2019 graduating class, their dream has become a reality.
After contacting coaches and athletic directors from every high school in Utah, the Deseret News has compiled its annual list of the high school seniors who received either an athletic or academic scholarship to play sports at the next level, a list that includes 700 seniors this year.
It’s shy of the nearly 800 athletes who received scholarships last year, but the scholarships received by the 2019 graduating class is one of the most in the nine years the Deseret News has been tracking the data.
The payout isn’t huge for some — books might be their only compensation. For the best of the best, the bill for the college education will be picked up entirely.
American Fork soccer coach Derek Dunn said it’s satisfying to see athletes achieve their dreams, especially those who arrive as freshman driven by success.
“As freshman coming in, some say, ‘How can I get looked at coach, can you help me with this college, what do I need to do to get to that level,’” said Dunn. “They’re driven to get there for sure.”
Of the 700 athletes who received scholarships this year, 241 will be attending a major university to play while the other 459 will call a smaller school home.
Interestingly enough, for the first time in the nine years the Deseret News has tracked the data, the number of athletes leaving the state and staying was identical, with 350 each.
It’s usually around a 60-40 split of athletes staying close to home.
American Fork led the state with an impressive 30 scholarship recipients, followed by Lone Peak with 22, Bingham and East each with 20, Skyridge with 19 and Corner Canyon with 18.
A total of 104 schools had student-athletes earned scholarships, up slightly from the 101 from last season.
Football accounted for a huge chunk of the scholarships as always, with 121 of the 332 boys scholarships going to football players. The total was down from the nine-year high of 152 athletes who received football scholarships from the 2018 graduating class.
Among the elite players moving onto the next level are Orem’s Puka Nacua (Washington), East’s Siaki Ika (LSU), Skyridge’s Logan Sagapolu (Oregon), Bingham’s Simote Pepa (Utah) and Lone Peak’s Michael Daley (BYU).
In all, 5.2 percent of the estimated 2,326 seniors who played football last fall earned some form of scholarship — the most of the 10 UHSAA sanctioned boys sports. Of the 121 athletes, 36 signed at FBS programs.
Overall participation numbers for the 2018-2019 school year were provided by the Utah High School Activities Association. Senior estimates were calculated at 27 percent of the overall participation numbers.
A total of 66,404 athletes participated in high school sports this past school year in all the athletics that the UHSAA oversees.
Matich believes social media has increased the pressure for football players to earn scholarships.
“Kids see guys that they play against who they don’t feel are as good and they get an offer from a local school, or a younger kid gets an offer and an older kid doesn’t have an offer, and it affects them. They see those posts, because everyone posts as soon as they get offers, and every kid sees them and it kind of becomes a pressure cooker for these other kids,” said Matich.
That pressure is a big reason Matich tries to create a team-first mentality within the program.
“We preach all the time grades and football are going to be your vehicle to get to college and it’s something that we put a stamp on our program so every kid has a chance to go to college regardless of talent level,” said Matich.
Of the three in-state FBS programs, Utah State led the way with 14 signees, followed by BYU with eight and Utah with six.
While football produced the most scholarships with 121, baseball had the highest percentage of athletes receive a scholarships with 79 of 964 estimated seniors moving onto the next level.
Boys basketball produced 44 scholarship athletes this year, followed by soccer with 32 and track/cross country with 29.
It was a strong recruiting class for basketball this year, highlighted by Olympus’ Rylan Jones (Utah), Pleasant Grove’s Matt Van Komen (Utah), American Fork’s Isaac Johnson (Oregon) and Wasatch Academy’s Tristan Enaruna (Kansas).
Some other marquee boys talent that earned scholarships were Pleasant Grove’s Brock Watkins (BYU baseball), Olympus' Isaac Wilcox (Ohio State wrestling) and Sky View’s Jake Walters (BYU swimming).
On the girls side, soccer and softball once again produced the highest percentage of scholarship athletes
Softball had the highest percentage as 76 seniors (11.8 percent) received a scholarship, while soccer had 86 athletes earn a scholarship (8.8 percent).
Of the 86 soccer signees, 27 are heading to Division I programs. Six of the 71 softball signees were inked by Division I programs.
“Every year the talent gets better. Every year the freshmen are better than the freshmen before,” said American Fork coach Dunn about the increased competitiveness on soccer fields in Utah.
Among the top soccer signees are American Fork’s Jamie Shepherd with BYU and Brighton’s Kaitlyn Conley with Utah.
Basketball had another strong contingent of athletes earn scholarships, as 54 girls — or roughly 6.4 percent — signed. Corner Canyon’s Kemery Martin signed with Utah and headlines that strong class.Comment on this story
Volleyball had 57 athletes sign on at the next level, the third most in the past nine years. Among the top signees are Lone Peak’s Tasia Farmer (Santa Barbara) and Kennedi Boyd (Arizona State), along with Park City’s Emily Smith (Utah).
Girls track and cross country produced 54 scholarship athletes, with Provo’s Meghan Hunter highlighting that group as she signed with BYU.
Some other marquee talent for the girls are Alta’s Emilee Astle (BYU tennis), Park City’s Elise Beller (Utah swimming) and West’s Huntyr Ava (BYU softball).