Bruins’ recruiting tale comes to end


John Flanegin

After three years of swimming for the lady Bruins swim team, three time state champion and 2013-14 swimmer of the year Kelley Tackett made quite the splash when she verbally committed to swim for Brown University on October 5th. For the RBHS senior this would signify the end to a long road chock-full of recruitment letters, college visits, and time spent deciding which program would be the best fit.
Tackett, however, wasn’t the only Bruin who spent the past year being courted by various division one colleges. Fellow seniors Hayden Johnson and Cole Evans joined her on the recruiting trail, with defensive end Johnson committing to Arkansas and Evans staying in Columbia to play baseball for coach Tim Jamieson at Mizzou.
The whirlwind that was the recruiting process began junior year for the three RBHS athletes, each acquiring a bevy of letters from various schools from across the country as calls and emails rang in with giddy assistant and head coaches on the other end hoping to bag themselves one of Missouri’s best athletes.
For the 6’3, 255 pound Johnson an offer from division one school Louisiana Tech is what gave him a springboard to work harder and earn more lucrative offers from the likes of Missouri, Nebraska, Purdue, Florida State, and his eventual pick, Arkansas.
“I felt that I had a good work ethic before the [Louisiana Tech] offer,” Johnson said, “but I felt that I could go to a much better division one school so I made sure to work even harder to obtain that goal.”
And once the offers started rolling in Johnson received advice on how to handle the pressures of division one talent from both Coach A.J Ofodile and his parents.
“My parents were great about letting me make my own decision and trying not to influence me too much. I give almost all of the credit to Coach Ofodile, he was the one who put my highlights together and kept me updated on my recruiting status,” Johnson said. “He also used recruiting as a big motivator for me. If I was ever not performing to my potential he would acknowledge it and tell me that what I was doing wouldn’t get me the college offers and results I was aiming for.”
This same sense of motivation existed for Tackett, but in a more academic light. While Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships, the anchor for RBHS’ 200 free relay team was looking for a school that could challenge her both in swimming as well as in the classroom, visiting prestigious institutions such as Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale before deciding to verbally commit to Brown.
Tackett said. “I did several campus visits and met with the coaches, which helped me decide what school would be the best fit. I wanted to continue improving in swimming, but I also wanted to challenge myself academically.”
This fit was found in the form of Brown University, a private university in Providence, Rhode Island which was founded in 1764, and has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country at only 8.7%. Tackett plans to study linguistics at Brown and was enthralled with what she saw when she made the trip northeast.
“I really connected with the coaches and the team,” Tackett said. “ It also has a really strong program for my major, and I love its open curriculum system.”
While Tackett will be making a 1,256 mile journey to attend her university, Cole Evans will be staying at home when the left-fielder begins his division one, SEC career with the Missouri Tigers. Evans admits that staying in his childhood home was a big factor when deciding where to play college ball.
“It [staying in Columbia] was a big part of my college decision because I love everything about Columbia. My family and friends all live here and I know where everything is at in Columbia,” Evans said. “Also I know that if I ever need anything there are people around me that are going to be there when I need them, which was another reason that made me feel very comfortable about my decision.”
This sense of familiarity also resonated with Johnson, who fell in love with the campus and facilities Arkansas had to offer when he traveled 296 miles south to Fayetteville.
“I’ve been down to Fayetteville twice and their facilities are one of a kind. I was incredibly impressed with their practices fields and stadium. They also just opened a brand new academic center that I’m excited to see next time I’m down there. Fayetteville in general is very similar to Columbia, so it gives me the same college town feeling that I love about Columbia.”
Despite his commitment to the Razorbacks, Johnson, like most highly touted recruits continued to be contacted by other Division 1 colleges, most notably receiving an offer from 2013-14 national champion, Florida State, on Aug. 1 of this year. Faced with a new set of options Johnson was forced to reconsider his allegiance to the Hogs.
“I feel that that it’s perfectly normal with any recruit with multiple offers that you would have some second thoughts,” Johnson said. “But, I made a thoughtful decision with my best interests in mind when deciding on Arkansas, and still stand behind my reasoning and commitment.”
And while Johnson’s career as a Bruin has ended after the football season ended against Jefferson City in the first round of the district tournament on Oct. 23, Tackett and Evans are entering the final furlong of what have been illustrious and fabled pilgrimages in their respective sports.
Tackett, who has three State titles to her name as well as two silver medals and Evans, a vital part of the Bruins’ state champion baseball team in 2014, will each be a focal point of their squad and a point of interest for other teams when they face the RBHS athletes. For Evans though the added expectations are the least of his worries as he puts the finishing touches on his time on the diamond.
“All I know right is that I’m going to keep working on everything I need to improve on,” Evans said. “And also being the best teammate I can possibly be.”
Although the three Bruins will be leaving RBHS’s hallowed halls after they graduate.  However, this will not mark the end of the college bound athletes that their Alma-mater will supply, each venturing on their own path to find the perfect school.
“The best advice I got was to choose a school where I would be happy even if I couldn’t swim,” Tackett said. “The college you choose is going to be more than just the sport, and injuries are a  reality that stop a lot of college athletes from competing. I would pass that on, because I think it guided me well in my recruitment process.”