Desert Vista senior Jessica Johnson visited North Dakota and enjoyed every aspect of it. The coach offered, and she accepted the soccer scholarship.

Done deal.

"I loved everything about it," Johnson said. "I considered other schools, but North Dakota just felt right. It felt like home."

Ah, if only all recruiting stories were so simple and played out like a love story. Truth is, the back story to how an athlete ends up at their final destination can provide more drama than an entire season of Friday night games or an Emmy-winning TV show.

Desert Vista senior Mike Arredondo knows a little about that.

Arredondo is a football lifer. His family's name is rich in tradition in the Southeast Valley. His dad played at McClintock, has coached for years and, consequently, Mike has been around the sport from Day 1.

Playing at the college level wasn't just a goal - Arredondo expected it. Highly-sought-after recruits get offers their junior year and major programs showed some interest, but no offers came.

The 6-foot-2, 218-pound linebacker went into his senior season knowing he was fighting for the right to play at the next level.

"I tried not to think about that, but it is hard not to," Arredondo said. "Winning games is the most important thing and that was first and foremost."

He helped lead the Thunder to the Division I state title while earning state honors like the Ron Pritchard Award for the state's best linebacker along with being a finalist for the Ed Doherty Award for Player of the Year, which will be announced on Feb. 10.

Still nothing.

Arredondo eventually received an offer from Northern Arizona. It was comforting to know he had a place to play, but it still wasn't a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision offer. His last chance was an official visit to New Mexico, a lower level program but one that might be on the upswing with the hiring of former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie.

Arredondo came home without an official offer. He was told that the Lobos only had two scholarships available for linebackers and those were filled. Thoroughly disappointed but steadfast in his belief that he can play at the next level, Arredondo verbally committed to Northern Arizona, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision program, soon after coming home.

"All along I kind of saw myself in New Mexico," Arredondo said. "I loved it. When I got back, I told my parents I would have committed on the spot if they offered on my visit. They said they were only going to offer two linebackers and didn't have any spots."

Then, about a week later and 420 miles away, a fifth-year senior linebacker walked into the coach's office at New Mexico and for whatever reason said he had enough of the game. He wasn't going to play in the fall, opening up one last scholarship in the Lobos' class of 24 players.

It wasn't long after that when Arredondo's phone rang. The offer he wanted so desperately finally came. Only one problem - when this whole process began he told himself he would not go back on his word once he gave it to a coach.

All of a sudden it became a battle of achieving a lifelong dream vs. being a man of his word.

Accepting the offer from New Mexico meant calling Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers and going back on his word. Or the consummate team player could put his personal desires before anything else for once.

Pretty heady, and emotional, stuff for an 18-year-old.

"I told myself I'd never de-commit," Arredondo said. "It was the biggest decision of my life. I try not to look at it as a business but really that is what it is. In the end I had to do what my heart told me."

He signed the dotted line on Wednesday and faxed his letter of intent to New Mexico.

Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds has seen similar scenarios play out for years.

"In the end you have to do what is best for you," said Hinds, who played at Northern Arizona after transferring from a junior college. "Michael is a stand-up guy and he felt some obligation, but really you need to find your best fit even if it means switching at the end."

The coaches know it is part of the process. Some make ultimatums - "If you visit School X we will pull our scholarship" - and others just wish them well and call the next one on their big board.

Take a look at Thunder offensive lineman JJ Dielman, who received seven offers with the last one coming from the new coaching staff at Arizona State in the final weeks of the process.

Dielman verbally committed to Utah on Dec. 13 and was content with his decision. Other schools remained in contact but there was some let up. Then the Sun Devils' new staff made a late, hard push to keep one of the state's top linemen at home.

Todd Graham and his recruiter(s) at Arizona State surely did their homework and knew that Dielman was entrenched in his choice, staying loyal to the first program to offer him in the spring.

The offer came anyway. While enticing, Dielman was already settled.

"I'm a Ute all the way," Dielman said on Wednesday, moments after signing his letter of intent at a ceremony at the school. "It was flattering, but I knew where I wanted to go."

It is rare when an offer comes without a player showing a track record long before their senior year and the family has to do their due diligence. The proactive ones contact schools themselves to start the process instead of waiting on the coaches - from the high school or the university - to initiate.

"We did a lot of leg work," said Daville Rodriguez, whose son, Hunter, chose a Utah partial baseball scholarship over an Idaho football full-ride scholarship. "I have parents say to me, ‘Wow, we didn't get a lot of help from the school.' We put the responsibility on ourselves and it paid off.

"We went on so many trips over the summer and when it came down to signing, I think what mattered most, was the fact that he always loved baseball."

It is a love story of a different kind, but nonetheless another back story that led to a final decision in the crazy world of recruiting.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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