Big adjustment awaits prep athletes in the college ranks

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By Steve Smith

Ask anyone who’s made the transition from high school to college, and they will tell you about the necessary adjustments.


Even though creature comforts often make the trip to a dorm, some other staples of everyday living — an alarm clock, study habits, laundry duties and where to find food — make the trip, too.

Making the move from high school to college athletics entails its own set of changes. Just ask former Frederick football and basketball player Ryan Miller, now on the football squad at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

“Things started out pretty rough. The adjustment from high school to college athletics was tough,” Miller said. “Being a leader of a team to becoming a freshman again was hard because you are at the bottom of the food chain again. All the hard work you did in high school got you to where you are at today. Now you have to start over and build your legacy again.”

There’s also an increased level of competition, increased speed of the chosen sport and an increase in the quality of athletes in college, too.

“The athletes that you play with now are just that much better than high school athletes,” Miller said. “Everybody is faster, stronger, and in football the hits are a lot harder.”

Miller noted that time management is key.

“In college you get a lot more homework assigned than you did in high school,” he said. “It is all about time management, making sure you go to class, go to practice and get all your homework done. The days go by a lot faster in college because you are a lot busier. It’s a full-time job.”

Miller said the experience was more different than he figured.

“I knew that it was going to be a big change, but it was a culture shock to me,” he said. “Being away from home was tough and adding a new atmosphere was tough as well. It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of dedication to play at the next level.


Jaron Balman

It shouldn’t be a surprise that former Frederick baseball player Jaron Balman thought his season went well. Even though his new team at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling went 22-33, Balman was the second-leading hitter on the squad (.316). He hit four home runs, drove in 26 and swiped nine bases. 

Balman noticed the adjustments to college athletics, too.

“The biggest adjustment is just that everyone is there for a reason,” he said. “Everyone plays their ‘A’ game, so it just means day in and day out, you have to work hard to keep your spot.”

Balman wasn’t too surprised at how things turned out in college this year.

“At first, it was difficult,” he said. “But now, I’ve learned to be a college student and a college athlete. And it’s a life experience — just like how I anticipated.”


Lucas Adams

The former Frederick basketball star played 26 games for his new team, Western State Colorado University, this winter. He scored less than two points a game, shot 42 percent from the floor and 30 percent from 3-point range. His season-high of 12 points came against Fort Lewis just before Christmas.

He went through his share of changes, including some issues off the court. His grandfather passed away toward the end of his college season. Brad Miller, the father of one of his high school friends, Ryan Miller, also passed away. 

Adams called the year “a roller coaster.”

“The transition from high school to college, living on my own, and extreme time management has been a big learning experience for me,” Adams said. “I have matured more this year than I could have ever imagined. College basketball is so much different than high school.”

One of the areas where it’s different is attention to detail.

“Every little second is crucial whether that is in practice, watching film, or during a game,” he said. “There is very little room for error at this level.”

Overall, he said he enjoyed the experience, despite the team’s struggles.

“But I have met 15 of my brothers that I will be close with for the rest of my life,” Adams said. “I couldn’t trade the experience for anything. It has truly been an incredible blessing.”


Jakob Vargas

Jakob Vargas’ time at Western State Colorado University and the phrase “the best intentions of mice and men” seem to fit rather well.

“I was having the time of my life. I got to go out every day and play football and I met a lot of great people,” he said. “I had a second surgery on my shoulder (one he injured during his senior year), and I now have 17 anchors in my left shoulder. I wasn’t left with much of a choice. It was still very hard for me to accept that I wouldn’t be playing any more. I’m the kind of person that would never quit on anything, and I had to realize that I’m not quitting, My body simply can’t take the punishment any more.”

Vargas fell back to Plan B — one that he started when he helped coach the Warriors’ wrestling team.

“I coached wrestling at Coal Ridge Middle School this year. That was my first real coaching job,” Vargas said. “This fall, I will be coaching football at Northglenn High School. I’m unsure of what’s next for me after that’s done in the winter, though. A few months ago, I had my whole life figured out. Now I’m adjusting on the fly.”

Vargas had to make an adjustment when he coached at the middle school.

“Coaching wrestling was tough. I was coming right out of surgery, and wrestling is so hands-on,” Vargas said. “I had to adjust and use the more experienced wrestlers to demonstrate some of the concepts. I should be fine by football season though.”

Vargas’ main adjustment to college athletics was the same as a lot of other high school athletes who make the switch — time management.

“Sports in college are a full-time job,” he said. “It’s important to make sure your are performing well on the field but also taking care of work in the classroom.”


Makenzie Urban

Makenzie Urban, who ran track and cross country at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, found out about time commitment in a big way this spring. In high school, she ran about 30 miles a week. In college, the cross country team put in close to 70 miles a week.

“At first it was a lot to handle,” she said. “At times, I felt like I wasn’t cut out enough to handle everything happening. But, with time and support from my teammates, eventually everything fit into place. I no longer felt like it would be too much. Now, I enjoy the amount of time we run every day, and I am used to it. Also, it is a great feeling to be putting so much time and energy into the one sport that means the most to me.”

The adjustment to the commitment to her teams was harder than balancing sleep, school and sports.

“I didn’t find myself struggling too much,” she said. “I have never been a night owl, so getting to bed early and waking up early was definitely not a problem for me. But, the one thing I did find difficult — and still do — is missing class for meets. It can get stressful depending on the amount of class being missed. But we have a lot of help on campus to keep us on the right path.

“The training was so much more intense and difficult than I imagined it being,” she added. “As far as class goes, and balancing everything, it was better than I expected. I definitely prefer the way college classes are set up over high school classes. I was extremely stressed about school and meeting people coming into college. But being on a team automatically helped me make new friends. Classes went better than I could’ve asked for.

She had a bit of an advantage in her first year of college athletics, too: Her sister, Alexa.

“She has been my biggest motivator and supporter though everything. I am extremely grateful to have her in my life every day,” Makenzie Urban said. “She is the reason I can get through the rough practices and the long weeks without breaking down. I hope to make an impression at this school as much as she has some day.

“Running with my sister and teammates has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Makenzie Urban concluded. 


Christian Martinez

Christian Martinez wound up at Concordia University in Seward, Neb. His on-court minutes increased to 12 per game as the basketball season progressed. And he learned some other things about college life, too.

“The biggest adjustment was the commitment that goes into basketball. Basketball becomes your life when you’re playing in college. It’s like you’re working two jobs between school and sports,” he said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. But it makes high school basketball look like a joke.”

The adjustment to college life plus college athletics “wasn’t so easy at first.”

“But you learn pretty quickly just how important time management is,” he said. “The experience was better then I was anticipating. College basketball is a lot harder then I was expecting but I love the challenge. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a great group of guys, and I’m thankful for that. I’ve learned so much in my first year at school and I can’t wait to continue to improve my game.

“I’ve been blessed to play the game I love, and I really enjoyed the whole experience,” he added. “I was getting around 12 minutes a game during the last half of the season. I’ve improved so many areas of my game, and I’ve grown as a person.”


Nathan Harrison

Nathan Harrison played two sports while he was at Frederick. But an ACL injury took him out of a chance to continue playing at Fort Hays (Kan.) State College.

So Harrison did the next best thing. He was accepted into the school’s athletic training program, the same program that sent Denver Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos into his profession.

“I am excited to be a part of such a prestigious program,” Harrison said. “I will be doing 10 to 15 hours of hands-on clinical experience every week to get me used to handling athletes. It also comes with constant studying and class work.”

The school has a placement program, which Harrison intends to use. He’s also planning to use a national athletic trainer database in his job search.

“This is a way to stay connected to sports for me,” he said. “As hard as it was going through an ACL injury, this will be even more challenging. It is a great program and involves a lot of commitment and hard work. I always want to be around sports, at any levels.”

His adjustment to college wasn’t as hard as some.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason, so I believe I wasn’t meant to play college athletics,” Harrison said. “It was still hard. I miss baseball and basketball more than anything. To be a part of a team is a special feeling. However, I am now a part of a new team that is of equal importance in my life, if not more. I want people to know I miss sports more than anything, but I will enjoy every last minute of helping athletes keep themselves healthy. I take pride in that.”

Harrison would like to return to Frederick in the future and take care of the athletic training needs for the Warriors.

“I picked up athletic training and not coaching based simply on my interest,” he said. “Yes. I want to be a coach. But even more, I want to be an athletic trainer. I want to make sure a devastating injury is not the end of the road for my athletes. I believe I am better fit for athletic training. I can make a difference.”

Liberty Nelson

Garden City Community College in Kansas is where Libby Nelson played softball this season. Nelson was a second-team, all-Kansas Junior Collegiate Conference choice this spring.

Nelson almost couldn’t play, though, because of surgery.

“College was tough the first semester, having labrum surgery in the fall and taking care of myself, making sure I did all my workouts and stuff to get better,” she said. “I was supposed to red shirt but came back with a big boom.”

She started as a designated hitter, then moved into the starting lineup as a left fielder. 

“Going from high school sports to college sports is a big change,” Nelson said. “It came to me more like a job — softball from morning to night.  I loved meeting new people and getting out of my comfort zone.

“In college you learn what’s more important in your life,” she added. “Just sit back and enjoy every moment.”

Contact Sports Editor Steve smith at ssmith@metrowestnewspapers.com.