Nick Farina called it the hardest decision of his life and yet it paled in comparison to the buildup of having to tell Desert Vista baseball coach Stan Luketich about the conclusion of his career on the diamond.
Luketich is stoic, demands discipline, and has a quiet edge about him.
Disappointing him is about as fun as sticking your hand into a running garbage disposal.
“He is so respected on campus and someone you don’t want to disappoint,” Farina said. “I’ve come to a point where I know where I want to be next year and to get there I had to quit baseball.”
Farina isn’t alone when it comes to some faces around Desert Vista’s first couple of weeks of spring football. There are other players attending practice who could have been elsewhere.
And the Thunder’s hardly the only football program to have players quit other sports to concentrate on the gridiron. It’s just a little more magnified this spring after Desert Vista won the state title in December.
It’s been happening for years as kids become more specialized in their athletic attentions. The Thunder had Sean Coffinger play three sports last school year, but that is a rarity anymore.
Two sports athletes happen often but mostly when one sport can help out the other (wrestling for an offensive lineman or track for skills position player) and there are plenty of examples of it, like Mountain Pointe’s Jalen Brown or Desert Vista’s Hunter Rodriguez.
But the reality is more and more high school kids like Farina are making the decision to concentrate on one sport.
“In my mind there are more cons than there are pros,” Desert Vista football coach Dan Hinds said. “You should experience as much of high school as you can. That might mean playing another sport or another extra-curricular activity. Other coaches in the Valley might look at it differently, but that’s the philosophy we have at Desert Vista.”
Maybe so, but it doesn’t keep players from making the opposite decision on their own.
Desert Vista junior Lorenzo Melvin won the freshman state wrestling tournament for Maricopa and hoped to resume his career on the mat as a junior (he had to sit out his sophomore year after transferring) but did so well in football that he wanted to keep that momentum going.
“Wrestling was always a Plan B for me,” said Melvin, who had seven sacks last year. “I miss it, but I needed to concentrate on football in order to get where I want to go.”
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end was offered by South Dakota State and has received interest from bigger schools like Purdue and Washington.
Junior running back Jarek Hilgers made a similar decision in the midst of this track season. If he had kept progressing in the sprints and long jump, he could have competed in the state track meet this week.
Instead, he is fully committed to the football team as the Thunder participate in 10 practices over three weeks.
“I was doing track to get faster and football is more of my future,” said Hilgers, who was third on the team in rushing (657 yards, 8 touchdowns) last season. “It’s what I want to concentrate on. I’m sure (last year’s success) played into it.
“It was hard because I was really enjoying track. I really like the coaching and the coaching staff. I like the way they treat the athletes.”
Like Farina, he had to tell his other coach — in the case Chris Hanson — about his decision.
“I don’t think he was too happy with me at first, but he understood where I was coming from,” Hilgers said. “This is where I really want to be.”
Farina, who had four interceptions and averaged 7.4 tackles a game at safety, figured if he was going to get to the next level he had to make more of an impression physically when college coaches come calling this spring and beyond.
His recruiting tape can be extremely impressive, but at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds — as he was last season — he was far from a prototypical safety. He has one offer — South Dakota State — with some interest from Oregon, Stanford, Princeton and Cornell.
So the hard work is starting to pay off as he enters this spring at 5-11 and 185. As hard as it was to miss the Thunder’s playoff run in baseball, Farina is on his way to doing what he set out to do when he stepped away from the baseball.
“I went to the first tournament and it was hard to watch, and when they beat Mountain Pointe I was happy for them but I regretted it a little bit,” said Farina, who hit .250 as a sophomore in 60 at-bats. “I know it was hard and I talked to a lot of people before making the decision. It is the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my life, but right now I am seeing the results I was hoping for.”
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