Lake Stevens’ Logan Bruce (right) blocks Curtis’ Isaac Pineda during a game on Nov. 9, 2018, in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ Logan Bruce (right) blocks Curtis’ Isaac Pineda during a game on Nov. 9, 2018, in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Signing Day: Number of local standouts betting on themselves

Some local athletes are turning down scholarship offers to accept preferred walk-ons at other schools.

Lake Stevens High School football standouts Logan Bruce and Kasen Kinchen never had any doubt about where they wanted to continue their football careers.

The pair always dreamed of pulling purple-and-gold University of Washington jerseys over their shoulder pads before running out of the tunnel at Husky Stadium, surrounded by a sea of 60,000-plus screaming fans on the Montlake Cut.

That dream will become a reality this fall after Bruce, a bruising 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman, and Kinchen, an athletic 5-foot-11, 165-pound defensive back, announced this past week that they will be joining the UW football program as preferred walk-ons next season.

In doing so, they each decided to pass up scholarship offers from other schools, meaning they won’t be signing national letters of intent Wednesday when the late signing period for high school football players opens.

“I’ve always wanted to be a Husky,” Bruce said. “I’ve always wanted to mostly stay here. Once I got the opportunity — the education is unbeatable, Kasen’s going there with me — I couldn’t really pass it up.”

Preferred walk-ons receive many of the same benefits and experiences as scholarship athletes — they visit schools and develop relationships with the coaching staffs through the recruiting process, they get roster spots, attend team dinners, and have access to tutors and the team’s training facilities. The only difference is that preferred walk-ons can’t receive money toward tuition.

“They said as long as I do well in school, do well on the field, put in the time and effort and prove myself, then there should be no doubt that I can get a scholarship (later on),” Bruce said.

Bruce and Kinchen are both listed as three-star prospects by 247Sports and have received a bevy of scholarship offers. Bruce received offers from Idaho, Eastern Washington, Georgetown and Air Force. Kinchen had offers from California, Oregon, Utah State and Hawaii, among others.

“It was a hard decision to make for me and my family,” Kinchen said of accepting preferred walk-on status over a scholarship, “but at the end of the day, I’ve always wanted to be a Dawg.”

Both Kinchen and Bruce said they hope to earn a scholarship with the Huskies, a feat former Marysville Getchell defensive lineman John Clark — a 2015 walk-on at UW — accomplished before the 2019 season.

“I definitely have faith in myself,” Kinchen said. “I’ve worked hard my whole life to get to here. So I’m gonna keep working hard and just keep trying to do my best.”

Having a childhood friend to share the journey with only adds to the experience.

“I’ve known Logan my whole life,” Kinchen said. “We’ve played together since Little League, so it’s definitely gonna be a cool experience to get to play with one of my best friends. Not a lot of people get to do that.”

Bruce said he’s been attending Husky games since he was a kid. His father played in the UW band and is a regular at home games.

“My first game, I don’t remember who it was against, but watching them come out of the tunnel and get ready to play,” Bruce said, “… it’s indescribable, the energy and the atmosphere at Husky Stadium. That was the moment I kind of knew. It’s always been a dream of mine.”

Bruce and his dad even traveled to Las Vegas in December to watch UW take on Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Similarly, Kinchen experienced the allure of Husky Stadium at a young age. Former UW running back Leon Neal is a family friend. Kinchen said Neal took him to watch practices when he was young. “I’ve always been around UW,” Kinchen said.

While Bruce and Kinchen’s decisions stem from the opportunity to reach a destination they’ve always dreamed of, other area football standouts have decided to accept preferred walk-on offers for other reasons.

Archbishop Murphy’s Tommy Sullivan, a long snapper who’s pursued a unique path to college football as a specialist, announced last month that he accepted a preferred walk-on offer at Montana State.

Sullivan, who received a five-star ranking and is the state’s top-rated long snapper according Rubio Long Snapping, made his decision based on academics, a chance to play early and the lasting impression the Bozeman, Montana, campus left on him.

“The vibe I get from Montana State, it’s just … the people there are nice, the football facilities are really cool, but the main thing is I’d have the opportunity to be starting next year and then I could earn scholarship money after that season,” said Sullivan, who’s interested in pursuing engineering in college. “… Montana State is a huge engineering school, so it’s kind of like a good win-win situation.”

It’s common for long snappers to enter programs as preferred walk-ons. Not every school offers scholarships to the position out of high school, but Sullivan did receive a half-tuition offer from NCAA Division II Central Washington.

Many student-athletes with non-Division-I scholarship offers choose to walk-on at D-I schools for the higher level of play and increased exposure those schools offer. But that wasn’t the deciding factor for Sullivan.

“I don’t really care whether I’m gonna play at a D-II, D-III or a D-I,” he said. “I really made this choice based solely on how much I liked it there. If Montana State would have been D-III, I would have still gone there.”

Sullivan’s high school teammate Victor Gabalis also is among the local athletes set to enter a college program as a preferred walk-on.

Gabalis, a three-star prospect with scholarship offers from Hawaii, Air Force, Army and Navy, is heading to Washington State. He also had offers from Ivy League schools Columbia and Harvard, which can not offer athletic scholarships but can award financial aid to students once they are admitted.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior was a three-year starter at quarterback for the Wildcats, but is listed as an athlete by 247Sports. The current plan is for Gabalis to continue his role as a signal-caller.

Gabalis chose to attend WSU because of the close relationship he developed with the Cougars’ new head coach, Nick Rolovich, and his staff while they were at Hawaii. Rolovich and company offered Gabalis the opportunity to greyshirt — which is when a recruit enrolls at an institution after the fall term.

Gabalis was ready to announce he was going to attend Hawaii, but Rolovich and his staff informed him of their imminent move to Pullman and extended an invitation to join them as a preferred walk-on.

“They committed to me and showed that they wanted me to be with them no matter where they were, and they stayed committed to me throughout the whole process,” Gabalis said. “They let me know what was going on, what was about to happen. It showed that they were committed to me and wanted me on their football team.”

Rolovich and his staff moving from Hawaii to WSU gives Gabalis a chance to play closer to home but also be far enough away to experience a new area.

“It’s close enough where I can get to home, you know five hours,” Gabalis said. “But it’s far enough where I’m still away from home. I think it’s the best of both worlds in that sense. Hawaii would have been a great place to be, but it’s a six-hour (flight).”

Joining Gabalis as a preferred walk-on in the Pac-12 is former Cascade Conference foe Colin Hamilton, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound offensive lineman from King’s who committed to California on Monday.

The Knights’ two-way standout had offers from San Diego, Central Washington and Southwest Minnesota State, but he was attracted to Cal’s business program.

“I think that Cal was kind of the best fit for me,” Hamilton said. “ I’ve had a pretty good, long relationship with their program and their coaches, so after a while I think it just felt like the right fit.”

Hamilton said turning down scholarship offers to walk on at Cal was a tough decision.

“I think I’ve always known since middle school that I’ve wanted to go to a high-academic school before I even thought about football recruitment as an option,” Hamilton said. “So I think when I got into recruitment, that was one of my big priorities, being able to use recruiting in football to give myself the best advantages 20, 30, 40 years (from now). Football is not gonna last forever for everyone, so I just wanted the best opportunity for myself in the long term.”

These local standouts will have plenty of competition as they pursue the path to earning a scholarship. A 2018 report from USA Today said the average Division I FBS program has 118 players on its roster. Those schools are allotted 85 scholarships. So the average squad has around 30 student-athletes trying to earn scholarships.

“I feel like I’m a competitor and that’s kind of in my nature,” Bruce said. “I love to compete. I love to fight for my spot. I don’t want anything to come easy.”

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