The 747 student-athletes who earned athletic or academic scholarships to compete at the next level is the second-most since the Deseret News began tracking the data a decade ago.
SALT LAKE CITY — For most of the 747 seniors from the 2020 graduating class who are going on to compete collegiately on scholarship, it was a very typical recruiting process.
Athletes in most fall and winter sports committed and signed well before COVID-19 changed the entire sporting landscape, while even most of the elite spring sports athletes signed on the dotted line before the March 12 UHSAA shutdown as well.
For a handful of seniors, including Westlake track athlete Matt Masias, the recruiting process was very different amid the pandemic.
Masias never had the chance to make an official recruiting visit to Weber State before committing in late March. His March 17 visit was canceled when the NCAA shut down in-person recruiting just a few days earlier. Instead of an official on-campus visit with Weber State coach Corbin Talley, student-athletes simply talked on the phone for about 90 minutes later that week.
Masias eventually went with his gut and committed to Weber State the following week, but it required taking a leap of faith having not met any of his future coaches or teammates in person. And while it’s a commitment he’s grateful for, he also can’t help but wonder what might’ve happened had his senior track season not been canceled.
He wasn’t on any college coaches’ radars after his junior season, but that quickly changed when he posted a strong 800-meter time in the opening indoor track meet of the season back in January. Assuming he continued to drop those 400 and 800 times throughout his senior season, who knows what other college opportunities might have arisen?
One of those potential opportunities did present itself earlier this month when he competed in a small track meet with his club team Gold Medal Athletics. After the meet a college coach approached him, but Masias informed him he was committed already.
“I had to tell them I had committed to another college, and I wondered if I’d committed a little too early. The more I think about it, this is where I want to be, this is where I know I’m going to get pushed. Weber is going to have one of the best mid-distance teams in the Big Sky and maybe the nation,” said Masias, one of 31 boys track/cross-country athletes who received a scholarship.
For Bingham baseball player Jordan Brown, COVID-19 certainly complicated his path to college athletics.
The right-hander worked extremely hard in the offseason to increase his velocity, and was hoping to showcase that this spring before the season was canceled. It forced him to get creative to give himself an opportunity to compete at the next level.
Before the pandemic, Brown had been in communication with coaches at USU Eastern — the school he’d already received an academic scholarship to.
Without a chance for those coaches to see him pitch in person, he proactively made a video of himself pitching in the bullpen to his friend, Cottonwood catcher Danny Mehr. The video consisted of about 30 pitches, showing a variety of his four pitches.
USU Eastern’s coaches were impressed and offered him a preferred walk-on spot, which he accepted on May 11 giving him the chance to fulfill his dream of playing college baseball.
“It was pretty devastating not to be able to play my senior year; I didn’t think I’d be able to play in college, but I decided to keep working and I stuck with it and it worked out,” said Brown.
This is the 11th year the Deseret News has published its annual list of high school athletes who received an athletic or academic scholarship to play college athletics. This year’s 747 athletes is the second-most over the past decade behind only the 800 athletes from 2018. (Preferred walk-ons aren’t reflected in the total number of athletes who’ve earned a scholarship).
The payout isn’t huge for some — books might be their only compensation. For the best of the best, a full ride is often their reward for years of dedication.
Of the 747 athletes who received scholarship this year, 230 will be attending a major university to complete while the other 517 will call a smaller school home.
For the first time since the Deseret News started tracking the data more student-athletes are leaving the state than remaining close to home, with 399 planning on competing out of state.
Herriman led the state with 27 scholarship recipients, followed by Bingham with 23, Skyridge with 22 and Fremont with 21.
A total of 109 schools reported having at least one student athlete who would be competing in college, up from 104 the year before.
Football accounted for a huge chunk of the scholarships as always, with 131 of the 393 boys scholarships going to football players. The total was 10 more than last year, but shy of the record 152 athletes from 2018 graduating.
Among the elite players moving onto the next level are Orem’s Noah Sewell (Oregon), Corner Canyon’s Van Fillinger (Utah), Juan Diego’s Xavier Carlton (Utah) and Viewmont’s Alex Harrison (Utah).
In all, 7.4% of the estimated 1,760 seniors who played football last fall earned some form of scholarship — the most of the 10 UHSAA sanctioned boys sports. Of the 131 athletes, 33 signed at FBS programs.
Overall participation numbers for the 2019-2020 school year were provided by the Utah High School Activities Association. Senior estimates were calculated at 20% of the overall participation numbers. The percent was lowered from the 27% from previous years after a closer analysis of the data.
A total of 71,852 athletes participated in high school sports this past school year in athletics the UHSAA overseas, up 5,400 from the previous year. Lacrosse accounted for a big part of that jump as 2,777 athletes participated in lacrosse before the season was canceled.
Spring sports accounted for 28,172 of those athletes, who never got a chance to see the season come to a conclusion because of COVID-19.
East football coach Brandon Matich said he always stresses to his players that academics will open up many more opportunities to compete at the next level.
“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.
While football produced the most scholarships with 131, baseball had the highest percentage of athletes who will compete at the next level with 73 of 630 estimated seniors moving onto the next level.
Boys basketball produced 49 scholarship athletes this year, followed by soccer with 39 and track/cross-country with 31.
Highlighting the basketball recruits are Sky View’s Mason Falslev (Utah) and Fremont’s Dallin Hall (BYU). Wasatch Academy, which competes independently, produced five scholarship athletes, Leonardo Colimerio (Fresno State), Mike Saunders (Cincinnati), Richie Saunders (BYU), Mady Sissoko (Michigan State) and Caleb Lohner (TBD).
Some other marquee boys talent that earned scholarships were Lone Peak’s Jordan Tiffany (Tennessee swimming), Skyline’s Thomas Boyden (Stanford track/cross-country) and Bingham’s Kyle Keyes (Oregon State baseball).
On the girls side, soccer and softball once again produced the highest percentage of scholarship athletes
Soccer led the way with 108 scholarship recipients, with 34 of those athletes heading to Division 1 programs. Softball had 61 athletes earn scholarships, with the majority getting opportunities at smaller schools as only six are heading to Division 1 programs.
Among the top soccer signees are American Fork’s Ragan Fuller (Utah) and Springville’s Tara Warner (BYU).
Basketball had another strong contingent of athletes earn scholarships, as 52 girls signed. North Summit’s Kennady McQueen signed with Utah and headlines that strong class.
Volleyball had 58 athletes sign on at the next level, the third-most over the past 10 years. Among the top signees are Mountain View’s Mia Wesley (Portland) and Pleasant Grove’s Bryton Bishop (UVU).
Girls track and cross-country produced 45 scholarship athletes, with Orem’s Taye Raymond, Lehi’s Anna Martin and Cedar City’s Mayci Torgerson highlighting the group, with all three heading to BYU.
Some other marquee talent for the girls are Cottonwood’s Emma Walker (Kansas swimming), Timpview’s Rachel Oyler (BYU swimming) and Copper Hills’ Makaiya Gomez (Utah softball).