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A lesson for the kids: 8 BYU student-athletes who exemplified to high school seniors what it takes to succeed

BYU guard Jaxson Robinson (2) hits a 3 against Texas Tech during the Big 12 conference championship in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday, March 14, 2024. Texas Tech won 81-67.
BYU guard Jaxson Robinson (2) hits a 3 against Texas Tech during the Big 12 conference championship in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday, March 14, 2024. Texas Tech won 81-67. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Crossing the finish line at the end of a 13-year marathon is cause for celebration, and thousands of Utah’s graduating high school seniors are doing just that this week. Congratulations is in order! You did it (including my daughter Lauren)!

As dinners, dances and Dr. Peppers escort parties deep into the night, a magical metamorphosis takes place. That same finish line that brought an end to state-mandated education turns into a starting point for the next marathon — life. For many, that includes higher learning.

A significant separator from a high school and college mentality is no one makes you seek additional education. It’s a choice that requires a commitment — emotionally, physically and, in many cases, financially. This run isn’t easy, especially for student-athletes, but it boasts another finish line that can make high school graduations feel like the warm-up band to the main event.

Here are eight of the outstanding BYU student-athletes who reached the second finish line this spring and paved a path for high school graduates to follow.

Huntyr Ava: Family life

The Rose Park, Utah, native earned her degree while hitting 63 career home runs for Gordon Eakin’s softball team. Ava delivered 233 hits and drove in 233 runs while earning first team All-Big 12 honors during BYU’s debut season in their new conference.

Bryce Robison: Exercise and wellness

Only seven pitchers in BYU baseball history finished with more wins than Robison’s 24. The Las Vegan struck out 212 batters in 42 starts (fifth most in program history).

Whitney Bower: Exercise and wellness

Reliable and relentless, Bower played in 136 matches during her BYU career. The Nampa, Idaho, product produced 451 kills, 4,583 assists and 1,230 digs for the nationally ranked women’s volleyball team.

Jaxson Robinson: Communications

The 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Ada, Oklahoma, led BYU men’s basketball back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021 while earning the Big 12′s Sixth Man of the Year award. Robinson made 142 3-point shots and scored 750 points over his two seasons in Provo while completing his degree.

Kaylee Smiler: Biology (master’s degree)

Utah Utes guard Ines Vieira (2) and BYU Cougars guard Kaylee Smiler (11) collide as they battle for the ball as Utah and BYU women play at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utah Utes guard Ines Vieira (2) and BYU Cougars guard Kaylee Smiler (11) collide as they battle for the ball as Utah and BYU women play at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Smiler played in 137 games and finished with 633 points, 250 assists and 102 steals. The Hamilton, New Zealand, guard also made 128 3-point shots while playing for two women’s basketball head coaches — Jeff Judkins and Amber Whiting.

Olivia Katoa: Psychology

Starting 97 games for BYU’s heralded soccer program, the Kaysville, Utah, native scored 25 goals and had 20 assists. Her Cougar run included two appearances in the College Cup, including the national championship game in 2021.

Aubrey Frentheway: Mathematics education

The BYU runner is from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and is a four-time All-American and a four-time All-West Coast Conference honoree. Frentheway was part of BYU’s 2021 NCAA cross-country national championship team. Last fall, she was named All-Big 12 and helped cross-country win BYU’s first Big 12 championship in all sports.

Keanu Hill: Exercise and wellness

The son of Texas Tech Hall of Fame receiver Lloyd Hill has 73 career receptions for 1,212 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he’s not finished. With his degree in hand, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Bedford, Texas, product moved from receiver to tight end for his final year of eligibility this fall.

These eight BYU graduates, and all the rest of us, have a message for Utah’s high school graduates — congratulations! Be smart in your celebrations. Enjoy this time with your family and remember to thank your parents (you too, Lauren).

Finishing high school is great, but it’s not the end. In fact, it’s just the beginning. A new starting line will be waiting for you in the morning with the best times of your life still to come. If that journey includes higher education, there are plenty of good examples to follow, on and off the field.

BYU wide receiver Keanu Hill (1) catches a pass during a game against Cincinnati on Sept. 29, 2023, in Provo.
BYU wide receiver Keanu Hill (1) catches a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football against Cincinnati, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Provo, Utah. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.