Chowchilla High School seniors Alex Gutierrez and Gary Nieuwkoop have become so close after everything they’ve gone through on and off the football field they consider themselves brothers.
Their time as teammates will continue in college, as each signed a national letter of intent with Concordia University in Nebraska on Wednesday during a ceremony at the school.
“It’s going to help to go through the transition with somebody you know,” Nieuwkoop said. “After spending all my time with my family here, he’ll be my family when we get there. It’ll make it much easier.”
Gutierrez and Nieuwkoop were two of nine area football players to sign letters of intent on national signing day. Livingston soccer player Chris Gonzalez also signed with Cal State Stanislaus.
Nieuwkoop and Gutierrez played major roles for the Redskins in their run to a Valley Championship and CIF State Bowl Game appearance.
Nieuwkoop was the leader on the offensive line that helped the Chowchilla double-wing rushing attack rack up 4,029 yards and 54 touchdowns. Nieuwkoop felt the university and town of Seward had the same feel as Chowchilla.
“I just liked the school overall,” he said. “I like the feel, I like the size, and I like my options there. They have my major (agriculture business). It reminds me a lot of Chowchilla.”
Gutierrez rushed for 931 yards and 13 touchdowns despite missing three games because of a broken wrist. He visited the campus last weekend with Nieuwkoop.
“Gary told me about how he was going on a visit, and I told my mom about it,” Gutierrez said. “Two days later, she had purchased the plane tickets so we could go. It was amazing. The people there were very hospitable. It was cold, and there was snow while we were there, but I like the cold.”
Gutierrez and Nieuwkoop were helped in the recruiting process by a local nonprofit organization called Students With Aspiring Goals (SWAG), which is run by DeVon Hilliard and Eddie Frazier.
Hilliard and Frazier helped send out highlight videos and transcripts to colleges. They also held workouts at their training facility in Atwater, which were attended by college coaches.
“SWAG helped out a lot,” Gutierrez said. “They sent my film and transcripts to everyone. I wouldn’t be here today without them and their help.”
Hilliard said it was hard to get coaches to look at kids in the area when SWAG started 2 1/2 years ago. The organization helped seven kids earn scholarships last year and expects to have 14 or 15 kids earn scholarships this year.
“Our area has had academic issues and other difficulties,” Hilliard said. “College coaches would say why should I come to the Central Valley if I can go to (Los Angeles) and get everything I need? We’re building trust and relationships with coaches.”
Hilliard said they have about 30 to 35 kids affiliated with SWAG, including its 7-on-7 teams in the offseason.
SWAG helped Merced’s Brandon McKinney and Pacheco’s Carlos Garcia get noticed by Minot State in North Dakota. McKinney and Garcia worked out in front of Minot State coaches at the SWAG training center recently.
McKinney didn’t visit the school but developed a good relationship with the coaches after the workout.
“I just fell in love with the school,” said McKinney, who was an all-Central California Conference first-team selection at defensive back for the Bears. “The coaches were very nice, and it just felt right; it felt like the school for me.”
“I had some concerns because it’s so far away, but it’s pretty cool that I’m going with McKinney and (Kris) Bueno (Madera High),” Garcia said. “They’re two guys I know from the 7-on-7 circuit, and so we can all kind of share the experience together.
“They want me to play defensive back, and most of those guys were seniors, so there’s some opportunity there to earn a spot early on. I think the best part of today was seeing the looks on the faces of my friends, family and just everyone who has supported me when I signed.”
Concordia also received commitments from Atwater’s Noah Torres and Nathaniel Gilmore. Torres was also affiliated with SWAG.
“Our organization works to get local kids off to college,” Frazier said during the signing ceremony in Chowchilla. “They need someone to be an advocate for them. As long as they take care of their work in the classroom, it makes it easier on us.”
Other football players signing Wednesday included Merced offensive lineman Joe Moraga (Black Hills State in South Dakota) and Stone Ridge Christian linemen William Vander Woude and Robbie McKee, who signed with Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Moraga was named Lineman of the Year in the CCC.
“Everything about the school was amazing,” said Moraga, who made his visit two weeks ago. “The community was awesome. I’m extremely excited. I can’t wait to try to leave my mark there.”
Vander Woude and McKee became the first Stone Ridge Christian players to sign with a four-year college out of high school.
|Chowchilla News Day
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