Making a choice: Choosing where to go for college athletics is a personal decision

Grand Junction High School’s Aaron Berk isn’t afraid to talk about his goals when it comes to his career path.

Berk wants to play professional baseball, and doesn’t care how he gets there.

With that in my mind, the talented catcher and right-handed power hitter has made a verbal commitment to Salt Lake Community College, with plans to sign in January.

“I was comfortable there, and I get to play at a pretty decent school,” Berk said. “Then hopefully move on to the next level.”

Berk is in the same situation as a lot of high school athletes — not only around the country, but here in the Grand Valley. Berk is trying to figure out where he will continue his athletic career. Every athlete has a different list of priorities, which can range from academic standards to amount of projected early playing time.

“For me it’s what school could get me to the next level,” Berk said. “But I also want a team that will be competitive, and give me a chance to get better.”

Berk chose Salt Lake over junior college powers Iowa Western and San Jacinto (Texas) College-North and Division I school Brigham Young University. Berk said he is also waiting to see what happens in June’s professional draft, but has been leaning toward a junior college all along.

“I wanted to play at a junior college because I could get drafted after my freshman year,” Berk said. “But I’m not going to sit around for two years at a four-year school, then possibly play my junior year.”

But it’s not only about playing time for Berk. Although he might have his sights set on professional baseball, he said he realizes things don’t always go as planned. Berk said he will focus on getting all his general education classes completed at Salt Lake.

“I know I want to be a teacher when I get older,” Berk said. “Juco isn’t where you get your major, but it gets you started.”

For Berk, and any high school athlete, deciding on where to play athletics in college is one of the biggest decisions they will make in their young life. But why athletes choose a certain program over another is specific to them. Although playing time was most important to Berk, it varies from athlete to athlete.

Here’s a look at other District 51 athlete’s opinions about what’s important to them at the next level.

Haleigh Higgins, Central Volleyball

Higgins knew she always wanted to play in college, but it didn’t come to the forefront until after her senior season.

In early December, the 5-foot-10 Higgins found herself trying to decide between Division II schools Mesa State College, Adams State College and Fort Lewis College.

“It’s really scary to think about getting to choose what I’m going to do the rest of my life,” Higgins said. “I don’t feel that old yet.”

When it comes to finally signing to a school, Higgins has her priorities.

Family: “I’m looking only at instate schools. I want to be closer to home, and it’s important for my family to be a part of it.”

Size of school: “I used to want to play at Texas, but then I stopped growing. Plus the smaller schools are a better fit for me anyway. It’s important to me to be at a smaller school that’s close to home.”

Playing time: “It would be great to play at a big school and I think it’s a big dream for everyone. Amy (Kame) is getting to do that, which is really awesome, but I started to watch games and realized how tall D1 players are. I knew I would be able to compete better at a smaller school.”

Academics: “Academics is very important, they are all very good business schools and that’s what I’m looking to go into.”

Program feel: “I’m going into it with an open mind. I want to get a feel of the coach and players and program because I haven’t made any decisions yet.”

Jayke Brock, Grand Junction baseball

Brock’s accomplishments on the football field for Grand Junction High School are nothing to complain about. In two years as a starting tailback, Brock rushed for 1,862 yards and 10 touchdowns. But as strong as Brock is with pads on, he prefers a ball cap and glove. Brock was a starting infielder for the Tigers last season, and should continue in that role again this season. When it comes to playing a sport in college, Brock isn’t thinking touchdowns, but home runs. Brock has been in contact with Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Eastern Arizona College.

When it comes to signing with a school, here’s what Brock thinks is important.

Personal improvement: “I’m looking to go to a (junior college) to play a couple of years to get my skills better. Then hopefully be able to go onto a four-year college and play for two more years.”

Playing time: “In baseball, whenever you are sitting that is a step backward. Practice isn’t the same as having game experience. There is no substitute for playing time.”

Academics: “Only one percent of everyone that plays will make it to the majors. You have to have a fall-back plan, and get an education for whenever you can’t play baseball anymore.”

Location: “I’m a guy who doesn’t mind the big cities, and I don’t mind small towns either. Location is a factor, but if it’s a good school that can compete, it doesn’t matter where it is.”

Coaching staff: “If you can’t get along with the coaches, you aren’t going to have a very good time playing there. But if you have coaches that respect you and want you to play, it’s a huge thing.”

Mark Stern, Grand Junction golf

For Stern, it was a matter of not he would play college golf, but he would play college golf. But things change. After a disappointing state tournament, Stern went from being sure of playing golf in college, to debating whether or not he even wanted to play at all.

“State left a bad taste in my mouth, and I started reevaluating what I really wanted to do,” Stern said. “I might try to walk on wherever I end up going.”

Stern said he’s considering Seattle University, the University of Denver, along with the University of Santa Clara in California. Regardless of where he ends up, here’s what Stern is thinking about when deciding to play in college.

School: “If the school is a nice fit, then I will go out for the golf team. Before, golf was my main focus, and it’s still a big part, but now it’s like I have to concentrate on school first.”

Time commitment: “My brother (Matt) plays at Westminster (College) in Salt Lake City, and I think he’s wondering on whether to play or not next year because it’s such a time commitment. I played with a kid from Battle Mountain, who’s trying to go Division I and it’s all he focuses on.”

Where do I fit in? “I look at the scores from the previous year, then look at the courses they play. If it’s somewhere around where I was shooting for my senior season, I think it’s an option.”

Scholarships: “Golf is limited in the amount of scholarships they can give. They can be hard to get, so walking on will be best for me.”

Is my heart in it? “After state, I had a lot of questions in my head about what I wanted to do. Once I realized that high school golf was over, it made me step back and really think about where I wanted to go from here. That was the first time that ever happened.”

Zaid Bradfield, Palisade football

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound lineman doesn’t look so much for scholarship money as the quality of education and football program.

Bradfield is considering Mesa State, Western State and Colorado State-Pueblo to continue his education and football career.

He visits with former Palisade football players and current Mavericks Zach Adair, Jake Edmiston and Matt Young about their experience.

“They work out with us sometimes,” Bradfield said. “It helps a lot to talk to them so I won’t be shocked and wide-eyed about it.”

He is willing to play on offensive or defensive line in college.

Academics: “I want a school that fits what I’m looking to do after school,” said Bradfield, who is deciding between being a teacher or a civil engineer. “Especially at Palisade, we focus on the student part of being a student-athlete and getting good grades. I want to go to a school that believes the same thing.”

Location: “I think I want to go to a school in a place like Grand Junction. It’s not too big of a city, but it’s not a small town either. There are not as many things to do to get in trouble.”

Facilities: “I want a campus that looks nice. It doesn’t have to be new, but I want a school that takes pride it what it looks like.”

Success: “I want to win. I don’t think any competitor likes to lose.”

Brooke Williams, Fruita Monument softball

Williams had a knack for coming up with the big play during her time on the softball field at Fruita Monument. Williams was selected to the Southwestern League All-Conference team for three years, and helped lead the Wildcats into the state playoffs during her senior year.

Despite her success on the field, Williams is having a hard time deciding what she wants to do. Williams has already graduated from Fruita Monument, and will be enrolled at Mesa State College for the spring semester. That makes Mesa State an obvious choice to play in college, but Williams said she’s also been in contact with Regis University and Fort Lewis College.

“People are always so amazed that I’m thinking about not even playing,” Williams said. “But it’s still up in the air and my family is supporting me.”

If Williams were to decide to play somewhere other than Mesa State, she would have to transfer academically to the new school.

Here are some things Williams values when considering playing in college.

Academics: “I’m really interested in going into nursing or teaching radiology. So looking at a school I want to make sure they have everything I want academically.”

Coaching staff: “I want a coach that has the ability to connect with the girls. Plus, I’m thinking I want a place where it’s going to be a good experience.”

Competition: “I think that with Mesa and Fort Lewis, I believe I can play with those girls.”

Location: “I’m a homebody and everything I want is at Mesa, I just have to decide if I want to play softball.”

Woody Seagren, Fruita Monument Cross Country

If someone were to look at the boys cross country results from Fruita Monument High School from the past four seasons, Seagren would be usually be near the top most of the time. Seagren has been one of the Wildcats’ top runners and has made three trips to the state tournament.

When it came to advancing onto the next level, Seagren’s body of work has given him a few options. Seagren said he was deciding between Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and Dallas Baptist University in Texas. Seagren is following in his father Tom’s footsteps, as the elder Seagren ran collegiate cross country at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Here’s some things Seagren is looking for in his college choice.

Playing time: “I think all of the schools would have me on varsity. That’s pretty important to me because I’ve trained so hard to get to this point.”

Academics: “They all have great academic programs, and I’m looking forward to studying business at all of them.”

College experience: “My dad went away for school, so I wanted to go and get the college experience.”

Competition: “I’m excited to get to that level of competition. I expect it to be a lot harder than high school.”

Nick Stephanus, Palisade football

The 6-foot-2, 218-pound defensive lineman is considering the Colorado School of Mines, Montana State and Mesa State to further his education and continue his football career.

“All three meet the criteria I’ve set,” Stephanus said. “They are all great schools. Mesa is great because I’m familiar with the area and I have a lot of friends going to Mesa. It’s a lot cheaper than out of state (tuition) and closer to home.

“At the end of the day, you have to decide if you want to see what’s out there or stay home.”

Stephanus is hoping to get some football scholarship money, but says that isn’t a major factor in his decision.

“Outside of football, I’m not too worried about finding a scholarship,” he said. “There are other ways to find it. At the end of the day, money shouldn’t be a factor. You, as a student, should have to pay for it in the end.”

Football program/Coaching staff: “In high school, we have a long tradition of winning. I think it would be a great thing to go into a program where they’ve already established that mind set of winning games. That’s one of the temptations at Mesa. (Joe Ramunno’s) built the program there much similar to Palisade.”

Field of study: “Mesa has a program through CU-Boulder. Mines, of course, is a hugely praised math and science school. Montana State is a lot like Mesa, just a bigger level, but has a wider range beyond math and science.”

Location: “I’ve been to Golden and I think it’s a great college town. I’ve talked to some teachers. Montana offers in-state tuition to kids in the Midwest, because states like Montana don’t have that many people. Other than that, Bozeman is a blue-collar town, a lot like here.”

Size of school: “I’m more of a D2 kid. I like the close student-to-teacher relationship. That helps with learning.”

Familiar faces: “It’s great to go meet new people, but it’s nice knowing somebody in the area. My brother is going to college in Nebraska and he met a lot of new friends up there, but what helped him is having somebody he knows from home up there. You go through the same things.”

Matthew Gurule, Central wrestling

Gurule considered two things more than anything else when looking at institutions of higher learning — the coaching staff and the program.

That’s why the two-time state champion has his heart set on the University of Iowa, even though he was offered 10 percent of a full-ride scholarship.

Gurule hasn’t signed with Iowa, yet, but said he will when the signing period opens again in April.

Coaches: “Iowa has five Olympians on the staff. I like their coaching style and it’s an opportunity to learn from them.”

Program: “It’s rich in tradition. The whole state loves wrestling.”

Facilities: “The facilities are awesome. This year, they’re rebuilding the wrestling room and making it bigger.”

Academics: “I’m debating between kinesiology or sports development. It’s really good. We get eight hours of study hall a week. It’s required as freshmen.”


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