Each of the 674 high school athletes from the 2017 graduating class who earned a scholarship to move on and play college athletics has a unique story to tell about their journey.
For some, like Bingham football player Jay Tufele, his entire high school career and the resulting recruiting process was well-documented throughout. It culminated with throngs of media members showing up at Bingham High School on National Letter of Intent Day to document the announcement of his final decision — which was ultimately USC.
For over 400 other athletes heading to small colleges throughout the country, their final choice was met with virtually zero fanfare outside of their own families — but it doesn’t make the achievement any less noteworthy.
Regardless of the interest behind their college choices, the countless hours those 674 athletes put in the past decade has paid off as they get to continue their athletic pursuits for another two to four years, if not longer.
Of those 674 athletes, 244 signed with major universities. Of the bunch, 409 are staying in-state, while 265 are heading out of state. Last year, 710 seniors received some type of athletic scholarship, the most in the seven years the Deseret News has been tracking the data.
The annual list is compiled 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 payout isn’t huge for some — books might be their only compensation. For blue chippers though like Tufele and Brighton’s Sione Lund (Stanford), their educations will be paid in full.
American Fork led the state with an impressive 29 scholarship recipients, followed by Lone Peak with 24, Bingham with 22, Maple Mountain with 19 and Springville and East with 17.
A total of 100 schools had student-athletes earn scholarships, up from 92 last year.
Football accounted for the most scholarships as always with participation numbers that dwarf all other sports. Of the 331 boys’ total scholarships, 131 were for football. The total was down from the seven-year high of 147 scholarship recipients in 2016.
In addition to Tufele and Lund, other top players moving onto the next level are Layton’s Tayler Katoa (USC), American Fork’s Michael Richardson (Utah), Provo’s Ty Jones (Washington), Timpview’s Chaz Ah You (BYU) and Bingham’s Langi Tuifua (BYU).
In all, 5.3 percent of the estimated 2,471 seniors who played football last fall earned some form of scholarship — the most of the 10 UHSAA sanctioned boys sports. Of the 131 athletes, 38 signed at FBS programs.
For the rest, the spotlight won’t be as bright, but they’ll get to continuing playing the game they love while also getting a portion of their college educations paid for.
“If you’re a pretty good football player and you want to play somewhere for two to four years, there are a lot of opportunities available to you,” said Bingham coach John Lambourne. “I think folks from out of state are starting to be aware that our second-tier kids and even our third-tier kids are good football players and good kids that can be an asset to programs.”
Of the three in-state FBS programs, BYU led the way with 12 signees, followed by Utah State with nine and Utah with three.
Overall participation numbers for the 2016-17 school year were provided by the Utah High School Activities Association. Senior estimates were calculated at 27 percent of the overall participation numbers.
Baseball had 51 athletes receive some type of athletic scholarship, down from 65 last season, but still the second-highest percentage amongst the boys sports at 5.2 percent.
The list doesn’t include Lone Peak’s Seth Corry, who elected to sign an MLB contract with San Francisco instead of signing with BYU after getting drafted in the third round of the MLB draft.
Boys soccer had 47 athletes received a scholarship, a slight increase from 39 last season.
Boys track and cross-country produced 50 scholarship athletes, including some of the top recruits nationally. BYU signed the American Fork trio of elite distance runners — Casey Clinger, Patrick Parker and McKay Johns — while Arkansas made headlines by signing Syracuse’s Hunter Woodhall, the first double-amputee to earn a Division I track scholarship.
There were only 27 boys basketball players who earned a scholarship this year, down significantly from 46 last season. Only three of the 27 signed at Division 1 programs, with Utah landing a pair of those when it signed Ridgeline’s Jaxon Brenchley and Bingham’s Branden Carlson.
On the girls side, soccer and softball once again produced the highest percentage of scholarship athletes
Softball had the highest percentage as 73 seniors (11.6 percent) received a scholarship, while soccer had 103 athletes earn a scholarship (10.5 percent).
Of the 102 soccer signees, 32 are heading to Division 1 programs. Five of the 71 softball signees were inked by Division 1 programs.
“Not only is soccer strong year after year in Utah, but I think it’s on the rise as well,” said Lone Peak soccer coach Heather Dahl. “Not only is the caliber of these girls high, but they’re smart, and they seem to be able to have a good balance in their life with family, sports and community.”
Among the top soccer signees are Davis’ Mikayla Colohan with BYU and East’s Haley Farrer with Utah.
Basketball had another strong contingent of athletes earn scholarships, as 50 girls — or roughly 5.9 percent — signed.
Volleyball had 48 athletes sign on at the next level, down 15 from the seven-year high of 62 that signed in 2015.
Pleasant Grove’s Sara Hamson will be a familiar face in both volleyball and girls basketball for the next four years as she’ll play both sports at BYU.
Other noteworthy volleyball signees were Brighton’s Dani Barton (Utah) and Bountiful’s Seyvion Waggoner (Rice).
Girls track and cross-country produced 49 scholarship athletes, and not surprisingly the distance runners highlighted that list. BYU signed four marquee distance runners in Bingham’s Whitney Rich, Provo’s Kate Hunter, Springville’s Julie Sumsion and American Fork’s Sarah Musselman. Utah signed Davis’ Aubrey Argyle.