Flagstaff United Football Team Sends 5 Seniors To College Football Programs | Local
ZACH BRADSHAW Special for the Daily Sun
After attending five college signing ceremonies this spring, Chad Schlenker is parting ways with five of his most talented athletes.
Coach of the Flagstaff United Soccer team, Schlenker was part of a team that had a total of seven high school students receiving scholarships to play football at the college level, five of whom accepted.
“It just shows commitment,” Schlenker said. “Usually you get maybe one, but to get five, it shows the quality of players who have gone through the program and been through it.”
Lianna Albert, Alondra Carbajal, Mackenzie Cathey, Karina Fuhrmann and Mayrin Soto, who were integral to the club winning the 2021 state championship, will sign college offers that will take them to out-of-state colleges.
Each scholarship was awarded to players for their sporting and academic merits – so-called “stacked” scholarships. Schlenker praised the players for their dedication to excellence on and off the pitch.
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“When you’re an athlete, if all you care about is sports, sometimes success won’t last if you don’t focus on academics,” Schlenker said. “It’s about your commitment not only to sport, but also to life, work and school.”
According to Schlenker, each of the players has gone to great lengths to be talented on the pitch and in class. The combination has helped players stand out from colleges – as schools often look for well-rounded people.
Schlenker has coached the girls since they were part of the Flagstaff United Youth football program many years ago, so he got to watch them grow and develop as a player and as a person.
“I’ve known most of the club team players since they were 6 and 7 years old,” Schlenker said. “Now I get pictures of them where the ball was about twice their size. It’s crazy.”
The players have had immeasurable dedication to the program – which has helped him to be able to work on drills and teach the sport. Players understood what was needed to beat an opposing team’s defensive scheme or stop a team’s main scorer.
“Commitment to the team is one thing, but alongside that is knowledge of the sport,” Schlenker said. “I think that’s what signaled these players, because they’ve worked hard and now they’re getting a scholarship, so it’s paying off for them.”
Schlenker said he spoke with many college scouts who had their eye on all five players. One scout in particular praised Schlenker for the knowledge his players showed during games.
“He told me they were really smart. He didn’t just say that to be nice; he said they really know the game,” Schlenker said. “He said even the juniors and the current seniors in college didn’t get it, so these players are just ahead of the curve.
Albert, a goalie, is signing with Adams State University in Colorado, while Cathey, a forward, is signing with the College of Southern Nevada. Fuhrmann, a midfielder, signs with Bluefield State College in West Virginia.
Carbajal, goaltender and defenseman, signs with the University of Ottawa in Kansas. As a versatile player, Carbajal said the Flagstaff United Soccer program gave her the skills to improve her abilities which helped her in her recruitment process.
“Coaches always pushed me to be better as a student and as a person. I could always go to them and ask for advice and they were ready to give it to me,” Carbajal wrote in a text message. “They gave me the opportunity and support to grow and play competitively. I believe they pushed me to where I am today.
Soto, a forward, signs with Webster University in Missouri. Soto suffered a torn ACL that kept her benched for most of the 2022 season, and there were times when Soto was so frustrated that she considered quitting football.
“She wanted to quit and I wouldn’t let her,” Schlenker said. “I would call him and tell him that his goals could still be achieved. You can’t give up because you feel depressed. I told her she just had to find a way to make it work.
“I wanted to quit because of my injury. It took a lot away from me,” Soto wrote in a text message. “I didn’t quit because I love the sport so much, and I knew I couldn’t let my injury keep me away from football.”
Soto said her coaches helped her persist after the injury and continue playing in college. The coaches believed in her enough to help her overcome her injury and make her realize that she wanted to reach the next level of football.
Schlenker’s coaching philosophy is that players don’t have to be perfect and there is always room for mistakes and growth.
“Perfection is a very hard thing to achieve and everyone wants to be perfect, but let’s not put too much pressure on someone,” Schlenker said. “We are all going to make mistakes. So it’s those who rise to the challenge and have an abiding passion and love for the game that I hope to implement.
The coaching style has proven successful for Flagstaff United, as the team is widely regarded as one of the best football programs in the state for player development. Schlenker said the team is sitting at an average winning percentage of around 70% for the games they’ve played this season and the season before.
But Schlenker had a tough decision to make this season. Because there were seven seniors in the squad, many often went on scouting trips and were unable to make it to practice or a game. Add to that two key injuries suffered by starters, and the team often didn’t have enough players to get into games.
“We chose not to try and defend the 2021 title because my goal was to make sure players were healthy when they went to college showcases,” Schlenker said. “It doesn’t take away from the fact that the team has really succeeded. They have won their fair share of games.
The team’s success speaks volumes about Flagstaff United’s culture of excellence.
“Flagstaff United try to turn players into whole kids in a fun way. Our philosophy is that you have to earn it,” Schlenker said. college scholarships through football, and that’s why we say this is the first development of football.”
The five players are a prime example of the impact Flagstaff United has on its players. Although Schlenker says goodbye to them, he is proud of their accomplishments and eager to see what the future holds.
“As a coach, I have so much love and admiration,” he said.