Desert Vista linebacker Zack McGinnis never doubted his ability to continue playing football at the collegiate level, he was just waiting for the right opportunity.
The senior racked up a team-high 86 tackles, four of which for a loss this past season for the Thunder, who made it to the 6A semifinals before losing to eventual champion Liberty. McGinnis was always known as one of the spark plugs for Desert Vista, bringing energy to the defensive side of the ball and at times, on offense at running back.
But despite his speed, strength and run-stopping ability, one of McGinnis’ best traits during his four-year career at Desert Vista was his willingness to do whatever it took for the Thunder brotherhood.
“If I’m being honest, I’ll probably never find a brotherhood like there was here,” McGinnis said. “I made a family, a home away from home. There’s so many countless memories and I’m so grateful for these guys having this much love for me.”
McGinnis navigated through his senior season without an offer to play at the next level. But even if an opportunity didn’t present itself, he remained content with attempting to walk-on at one of the in-state universities.
But nearly a month after his senior season ended, the offers started to come in. First it was Luther College, followed by McPherson College. More followed, including a late offer from the University of Mary on Jan. 27.
On Feb. 3, however, McGinnis announced his commitment to Lake Forest College in Illinois.
“When I got there, the facilities for a D3 school were amazing,” McGinnis said of Lake Forest. “Coach (Jim Catanzaro) coming down here, being the head coach and being our recruiting coordinator, it made me feel like I knew the school better than if a secondary coach had come here.
“Coach Cat gives it all to you, he’s straightforward and that’s what I like about him.”
McGinnis signed to Lake Forest on Wednesday, Feb. 5, National Signing Day. Five of his teammates also signed — defensive lineman Miles LeBlanc (NAU), running back Tyson Grubbs (NAU) athlete Colby Humphrey (NAU), quarterback Parker Navarro (UCF) and offensive lineman Aaydon Dodd (Lake Forest).
He was also joined by six other athletes from various sports at Desert Vista signing their National Letter of Intent to continue their athletic careers at the next level.
Among those were Cammi and Cassi Bych, twins and leaders of the Desert Vista girls soccer program.
Both signed with the Air Force Academy.
“We discovered the Air Force Academy because our dad went there, and we went to multiple soccer camps and we both just really loved it,” Cassi said. “It’s the whole experience of academics, athletics and military. It’s perfect for us.”
The two didn’t necessarily plan to attend the same school. That’s just how things played out.
The twins have played together their entire lives from club soccer through high school at Desert Vista. And it just so happens a visit to the Air Force Academy’s campus in Colorado Springs won them both over.
“We aren’t really going for each other, it just happens we both love it there,” Cammi said. “We were just drawn there. It’s an added bonus we get to go there together.”
For Cassi and Cammi, the decision to play at Air Force was about more than just soccer. They’ve both found an interest in serving the country. Ultimately, soccer is just one of the added benefits that came with preparing themselves for life after athletics.
Unlike McGinnis and the 10 others that signed on National Signing Day, the twins did so while still in-season. The Desert Vista girls soccer program wrapped up the regular season last Friday with a win over Queen Creek to finish 9-2-1 in the regular season and 11-3-3 overall when counting tournament games.
The win clinched the Thunder’s spot as an automatic qualifier for the 6A Conference tournament and will likely result in them receiving a top-four seed when tournament play begins Saturday.
Desert Vista was knocked out of the tournament in the semifinals last year. Just two years prior, it lost to Xavier in the championship game. This year, the Thunder are determined to win their first title since 2016.
“I don’t remember a year where our team has been this tight-knit,” Cassi said. “I really believe we are going to make it far this year. I don’t think there is anyone that can stop us.”
“Our mindset is to just win one game at a time,” Cammi added. “We just need to take things one step at a time.”
Desert Vista athletes who signed on Feb. 5
Jasmine Caballero, Tennis, Bryant University
Austreberto Carlon, Tennis, Mesa Community College
Cassi Bych, Soccer, Air Force
Cammi Bych, Soccer, Air Force
Katy Clausen, Triathlon, Arizona State
Kevin Lamb, Baseball, Coe College
Miles LeBlanc, Football, Northern Arizona
Tyson Grubbs, Football, Northern Arizona
Colby Humphrey, Football, Northern Arizona
Parker Navarro, Football, Central Florida
Zack McGinnis, Football, Lake Forest
Aaydon Dodd, Football, Lake Forest