Desert Vista girls volleyball coach Molly West might have summed up the day the best.
“Everyone up here (on the stage in DV’s auditorium) has put themselves in position to be successful,” West said. “This doesn’t happen by accident.”
The wide-ranging list of area athletes — 25 at Desert Vista and six at Mountain Pointe — who put pen to paper on Wednesday’s National Letter of Intent all found different paths to the same destination.
“You work so hard to make sure you are part of this day and when it comes it is pretty special,” said Mountain Pointe offensive tackle Kenny Lacy, who signed with UCLA. “When I sat out my sophomore year (after transferring from Cesar Chavez) I wasn’t sure this was possible, but here I am.”
Joining Lacy from Mountain Pointe were teammates Landry Payne (Mesa Community College), Garette Craig (MCC), Jimmy Holtrop (Adams State) and Thomas Warren (New Mexico St.), while Connor Arendts, also a football player, will be playing lacrosse in for Adams State.
Payne, a linebacker, has the talent, but not the size nor grades to play at Division I level. He says he has learned his lesson.
“I’m grateful to have the chance to keep playing,” he said. “I am going to get to a four-year by working just as hard in the classroom.”
Craig, the team’s leading rusher, was offered by Fort Hays State in Kansas, but he wasn’t comfortable with heading out of state to a rural school so he will take his chance with MCC.
Arendts is one of the few Arizona lacrosse players to find a place at the next level. It is becoming more common as the sport migrates more and more to the West, but he still got his best exposure when he traveled back East.
“It is not easy to get a scholarship,” said Arendts, who is getting about 50 percent of his education paid for. “I know how lucky I am.”
Running down Desert Vista’s list of 25 signees is impossible in this space so it might be better to single out a handful of athletes who were on the dais who have different back stories.
Thunder long snapper Chandler Dowell (Southern Utah St.) and running back Jarek Hilgers (Arizona State) were undecided late Tuesday evening but both found a home.
Hilgers turned down full-ride opportunities to San Diego State, UC Davis, New Mexico State and Air Force for the chance with the Sun Devils as a preferred walk-on, which means a scholarship could be in the offing down the line if things go well.
“It’s a risk, but I never got that big offer that I wanted,” Hilgers said. “In talking to the coaches they like what I can offer (as a short-yardage back), but they want to get me in the program first and see how it goes.”
The most humble of all the Thunder athletes was the one who deserved the most recognition.
Stephen Binning was born with spina bifida, a birth defect which affected his spinal development and caused him to lose the use of his legs. He uses a conventional wheelchair around campus, but competes in a light-weight racing chair.
He has worked out and been part of the Desert Vista track team and competed in some of the meets, but most of his competition came against Arizona Disabled Sports.
Binning won’t be under scholarship at Arizona, but he will be part of the track and road racing team for the Wildcats.
“I’ve been competing for 12 years and I am truly blessed to be able to do it in college while I concentrate on making the (2016) Paralympics,” he said. “I am sad to be leaving DV because they accepted me from Day 1 and treated me like everyone else, but this is the next step.”
Thunder track coach Cassandra Cline said Binning’s rise to one of the nation’s best Paralympic track athletes has been a pleasure to watch.
“His attitude and approach is second to none,” she said. “I’ll never forget what he has done for our program, showing everyone the way you should approach every day.”
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