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Colleges seek out HHS, WFHS student-athletes

 Noah Nelson, Brisa Zapata-Reaves and Jason Harris

Higley Unified School District graduates earn millions of dollars each year in college scholarships, and a select few are fortunate to receive those in the area of athletics.

The coaching staffs at both Higley High and Williams Field build connections with higher education coaches, who then make dozens of visits to the schools. More than 100 colleges from across the nation visited Higley and Williams Field High Schools in the past few years, including Arizona’s colleges and universities, the University of Oklahoma, Notre Dame, the University of Michigan and many more.

Not everyone continues playing sports competitively past high school. In fact, less than 10 percent of high school student-athletes go on to play a varsity sport in college. Those who do receive tremendous opportunities to pursue their passion in sports and possibly see part or all their college tuition covered.

“It’s a way for these kids to help their families out and help themselves out for their future by getting their college paid for,” said Eddy Zubey, Higley High head football coach. “College degrees are what is needed these days, so getting that education is huge.”

For a lot of students, scholarships provide a path for students to attend big universities and receive a four-year education.

School leaders said Higley and Williams Field have become a must-stop high school for college recruiters searching for talent.

With a lot of sports, and especially with football, the same recruiters visit year after year. Over time, head coaches build relationships with them, so it becomes easier to highlight student-athletes. Both Higley High and Williams Field coaches try to work with recruiters and emphasize the skill sets of their students when recruiters visit.

“In the spring, we try to work around to highlight the kids that they want to see in different ways because that’s their main evaluation time,” said Steve Campbell, Williams Field High School head football coach.

“We’re blessed here at Higley,” Higley High Athletic Director Aaron Dille said. “We have kids in almost every single one of our sports being recruited.”

Students must show talent and a great work ethic if they want to stand out to recruiters, coaches said.

These are both areas Higley High senior defensive end Jason Harris possesses. Harris said he understands just how fortunate he is to be as gifted as he is. He received several athletic offers this year, choosing to attend the University of Colorado. He made the announcement in early January during the Under Armour All-America Game.

“Not everybody gets these opportunities, so I’m thankful to be in the position I’m in and just being able to pick where I want to go,” Harris said prior to the game. “That’s an option that not everybody has, so I’m just embracing it and enjoying it and seeing what place fits me best.”

Higley High junior and volleyball star Brisa Zapata-Reaves is another dedicated player that recruiters are eyeing to play for their colleges.

“Just knowing that people are looking at me and knowing I have a future in college … Knowing I have somewhere to go” is huge, Zapata-Reaves said.

In addition to athletic skills, colleges want students who will represent their programs in a positive manner, on and off the field and in and out of the classroom. When recruiters want to learn about students’ personalities and schooling, they talk to administrators such as the athletic director.

“Normally with me, it’s more about character and academics, those types of things,” Williams Field Athletic Director Darrell Stangle said.

Williams Field offensive tackle Noah Nelson appreciated the opportunities that playing at with premier high school sports team afforded him. He said understands that it is a privilege to have recruiters come and want to talk to him.

“I just think it was a really cool experience that a lot of people don’t get to go through, so I'm incredibly grateful that I was able to go through it,” Nelson said. “I think Williams Field being one of the top schools really got my name out there, plus Coach Campbell does an incredible job of getting your name out there.”

Nelson graduated from Williams Field in December and committed to University of Oklahoma.

Dille said student-athletes need to be active in the recruitment process in order to make the right decision about where they will thrive. But sometimes, especially with highly recruited student-athletes, the process can be very overwhelming. Dille suggests student-athletes and their parents make sure they are well versed in the rules of recruiting and know what recruiters are and are not allowed to do. It is important for student-athletes and their parents to set firm boundaries.