Graduates defy the odds by earning last-minute spots on college teams

Jack Watson

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Neustaetter dribbles during a Redwood practice last year.

Growing up, countless athletes picture themselves playing their sport in high school, advancing to college and one day winning a championship for their favorite professional team. But, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), only approximately six percent of high school athletes advance to the college level. That number is even lower for schools such as Redwood which rarely attracts college scouts for the majority of sports offered due to the Marin County Athletic League being generally regarded as lower quality than others in the country. But graduates Justin Neustaetter, Sam Warren and Jacqueline Massey-Blake have provided a roadmap for future Redwood athletes by obtaining last-minute offers from both Division I and Division II schools, fulfilling their dreams of playing in college.

Getting recruited out of Redwood is an arduous process that often proves to be frustrating. Warren, who plans on red-shirting (practicing but not playing) for the Syracuse University football team this year, detailed some of those challenges.

“Because I’m not the biggest kid, and compared to other kids around the country [Redwood’s football team wasn’t] in the best league, and Redwood doesn’t have the best history of getting kids recruited for football, I never thought Division I football was really an option; but then I found out it was,” Warren said.

Photo courtesy of Syracuse University Athletics Department

Warren lines up for the snap during a Syracuse football practice.

Once each athlete decided they wanted to continue their careers and pursue their love of their respective sport, the recruitment process began. Countless emails were never returned, highlight tapes were ignored and all the while the deadline for college decisions inched closer and closer. 

Neustaetter, a walk-on to the Wisconsin soccer team, and Massey-Blake, who is entering her second year on the Chico State track team, both had frustrating recruitment experiences during their senior year at Redwood.

“I was late on [recruitment], so I just traveled with my club team, went to different showcases and tournaments, emailed coaches and reached out. I was able to get a couple of interests from bigger schools, but nothing really followed through,” Neustaetter said. 

As for Massey-Blake, she had practically given up hope on Chico State by the time they responded to her email—nearly five months after she first sent it. 

“I think they had a lot of girls they were looking at and were offering money to, but there were only three other freshman sprinter girls who ended up coming in… I think they just realized that they could use someone else in that [sprinting] area of their team,” Massey-Blake said. 

For all three athletes, the deciding factor that contributed to their success was academics. They were only able to gain the attention of the coaches after being admitted to the school, and from that point on, they earned spots on the teams through interviews, highlight tapes and stats. 

“Especially for better schools, they rely a lot on you getting into the school. When it came to Chico, it kind of just all fell together because they didn’t have to help me get into the school. I could do that by myself,” Massey-Blake said. 

Warren expressed similar sentiments. 

“The main thing that took me far was my academics. I don’t think many kids realize how far good grades in high school can take you [for sports],” Warren said. “If you’re diligent in the stuff that you do in high school, build a resume and stay focused in school, it opens doors for you. Without my academics or my test scores, there’s no way I would have been able to play on the football team.”

After receiving the baton from her teammate, Massey-Blake sprints during a Chico State relay race.

After speaking with the coaches, both Warren and Neustaetter went through long periods of time without hearing back. But eventually, less than a week before camp began, both received an exhilarating email that rewarded all of their hard work.

All three Redwood graduates are thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to play at the collegiate level, accomplishing a feat not many Redwood athletes are able to achieve. Warren had some advice for future Giants hoping to follow in their footsteps.

“Always keep an open mind to situations and never close windows before you reach out or even make an effort in making those possibilities come true,” said Warren.