EV athletes mentor kids looking for the next level | Sports

Macy McClain knows all too well how overwhelming and difficult the college recruiting process can be for high school athletes.

She went through it herself for volleyball at Valley Christian High School in Chandler, where she graduated in 2021 and was wanted by four-year universities. Her recruitment came at the height of the pandemic, which created even more hurdles that some athletes still face today.

Despite this, she navigates the process and ends up at Concordia University in Nebraska. There were tears and moments of triumph, but she weathered the grueling process and now joins a team of collegiate athletes who aim to guide high school-aged athletes through recruitment so they don’t do it alone.

“Every recruiting process is completely different,” McClain said. “Mine was very up and down. There was a point where one of my best schools told me they didn’t have an offer for me and I remember crying to my mom and wanting to give up. I did some research and found my school.

“I love that I’m able to offer advice to young athletes who want to play in college and to parents.”

Next Step Mentoring, an innovative program in its infancy, works with student-athletes ages 13 and older through high school to support collegiate athletes through the recruitment process.

In all, the program includes 30 collegiate athletes divided into divisions, many of whom play at a high level in collegiate sports in a variety of sports, including volleyball, soccer, football, basketball, track and field and wrestling.

Of the 30 collegiate athletes who have signed on as mentors, 15 attended high schools in Arizona. Seven are from the East Valley. Now they are distributed at universities across the country.

“We’re spread out all over the place,” McClain said. “Right now it’s mostly shared through word of mouth. But Mario (Diaz), the owner and founder of Next Step Mentoring, is so passionate and has kids who are athletes, so it’s personal to him.”

Along with McClain, Justin Stinson and Chandler Carter, two former Valley Christian soccer players, joined the Next Step mentoring program. Joey Lujan, a former Perry football player, also joined along with Taylor Lawson, a senior Desert Ridge alumni mentor.

Shane Van Huizen spent his high school basketball career playing for the national team at Arizona Compass Prep, a small school in Chandler that has grown into a basketball powerhouse.

It didn’t take much convincing for Andrew Mason to join the program. If anything, he was honored to be among other elite athletes.

Like McClain, the former Perry football player had a difficult path to continue his career while recruiting at Northern Arizona University. It came during the height of the pandemic, when the NCAA gave seniors another year of eligibility due to canceled seasons.

For universities like NAU, some seniors have been able to take it even further since the Lumberjacks didn’t see the field until fall 2021.

“A lot of recruiters came to Perry, and unfortunately the colleges with the extra year of eligibility didn’t have scholarships,” Mason said. “It was very difficult because it was close haul with schools that had chances for us. I feel like I have a lot of information to share with parents and athletes based on what I’ve been through.”

Next Step Mentoring connects each mentor with young athletes across the country. With their help, they gain knowledge that will help them navigate the recruitment process.

Each mentor can share their own personal stories with recruitment. Athletes’ parents often need just as much help.

In sessions lasting an hour or more, young athletes and their parents can ask the mentors questions to better understand the process. Often new hires are unfamiliar with questions to ask colleges to get more funding through scholarships.

Mentors can also emphasize the importance of grades and connect athletes to Next Step Mentoring’s tutoring service, which includes teachers in various subjects and individuals who can assist with essays that many scholarship programs require.

Overall, the program aims to put young physical education students on the right track when it comes to recruitment while addressing any concerns they may have.

“It’s really cool because it’s not someone older, it’s a real student athlete living the life that a high school athlete wants to live,” Mason said. “I hope I can share my knowledge and I hope I can change someone’s life and change their thought process when it comes to recruitment. I wish I had something like that to help steer me in the right direction.”

Although still in their early stages, both McClain and Mason already feel they are making an impact on the lives of young athletes. They’ve walked her through the process of collecting films to send to colleges, how to email coaches, and what the next steps are from there.

They recognize the impact exercise can have on a person and their future, especially when paired with a high GPA which allows them to get a college education at a discounted rate.

They feel they are making a positive impact in the lives of young athletes and they look forward to continuing to do so for years to come.

“My biggest advice is don’t give up,” McClain said. “It’s such a tough process and there’s so much to do. I remember freaking out in front of my computer not knowing what my next step would be. Just the fact that I can make an impact in someone’s life and help them find their path is so amazing.”

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