End of high school doesn’t mean end of sports for some
Stars and Stripes June 14, 2023
Only one position has occupied Trenton Jackson’s mind on the football field: running back.
The Stuttgart graduate played the position to perfection for the Panthers, bulldozing and sprinting his way through opponents en route to multiple DODEA European championships during his high school career.
Yet on the recruiting trail, no college committed to assigning him any position, let alone the one he craved.
Until Bryant University, that is.
“Most of the colleges that were recruiting me didn’t know what they wanted me to be,” Jackson said. “NAIA, D-III, D-II, most of them said we want you here, you know you can play multiple positions, so we’ll see what happens when you get here.
“I’ve been playing running back since I was in middle school, and that is my favorite position. So, (to hear Bryant say that’s where they want me) brought me a lot of joy.”
That declaration ultimately led to Jackson signing with Bryant, a private university in Smithfield, R.I., that competes in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
It makes the Panther star one of three recent DODEA-European graduates to ply their trades in the top division of collegiate athletics next school year. Brussels’ William Pierce is headed to the U.S. Naval Academy for track and field, and Wiesbaden track phenom Ava Stout is joining Michigan State’s track squad.
Jackson faced an uphill fight because he played his entire high school career in Europe, even though he was a powering force on a dominant Stuttgart squad.
In fact, the Bulldogs didn’t enter the picture until late in the cycle. His father, Christopher, sent the 5-foot-11 tailback’s film to a friend who had a connection at another college, only for that film to make it to Bryant. That’s when head coach Chris Merritt set up a Zoom call that changed Trenton’s trajectory.
“The initial impression is I’m overseas, I play football in Germany – I can’t be that talented, I can’t be that good,” Jackson said. “So, getting over that hump alone took a lot and all the traveling my family and I had to do, it’s excruciating. It was a very long journey to get to this point.”
Jackson will have a chance to earn playing time immediately, he said, as Merritt, a walk-on during his playing days at Indiana, values competition at positions.
The Stuttgart graduate also will be studying data science to pursue his goal of being a sports statistician or working with analytics.
Pierce, meanwhile, expected a long process to get into the Naval Academy, needing to go through the nomination process, the interviews, letters of recommendation and other necessary paperwork.
Being in Europe just added an extra layer.
“It wasn’t an easy process,” Pierce said. “Living overseas, I feel like it always makes it a touch harder, but I feel like anything worth doing is hard. I was happy I was able to do it.”
At the end of that journey is a chance to compete in track and field for the Midshipmen.
The Brussels three-sport athlete and 2023 DODEA European Athlete of the Year, who might consider trying to walk on to Navy’s football team, has a lot of opportunities on the track. Pierce mentioned how two coaches – Sheldon Hutchinson for long and triple jumps and Chris Johnson for the high jump and multiple-event contests – are recruiting him to their events.
Hutchinson sees Pierce’s performances in the long and triple jumps in high school (winning both his junior and season seasons) as a springboard for even better things at Navy. Johnson, meanwhile, is trying to convince Pierce to try out the decathlon, which Pierce said his father believes would be a great challenge for him.
“To have two college coaches fighting over you is definitely a huge compliment,” Pierce said. “I’m not sure what I want to do yet. Some part of me wants to focus on sprints and jumps, but I always love a challenge and I feel like to become a decathlete would be a fun challenge and would touch that competitive side of me.”
Here are other athletes who are moving on to the next level, based on responses from DODEA European schools:
The lone Saint set to compete in college is Gabe Fabbro. The Aviano, Italy-native has signed with Roanoke College in Salem, Va., to play men’s volleyball.
It seems like Olivet Nazarene University raided the Wildcat athletic teams.
The NAIA school out of Bourbonnais, Ill., has added the signatures of four Naples athletes – Cameron Collins and Jack Thomas for football, Jan Castro Cruz for track and Kennedy Rascoe for women’s volleyball.
This could be the start of a Wildcat-to-Tiger pipeline.
Naturally, a school with international flavor carries that over to the university level as well.
Midfielder Shawn Jakob Aquino is heading to Division III-school Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., to play men’s soccer. Also joining a Division III school is Ethan Barden, who will compete in wrestling at the University of Dubuque in Iowa.
Thomas McCabe-Hefner will play football at St. Nobert's College in De Pere, Wisc.
Two other Spartan graduates are studying outside the United States. Douglas Forbes will be a cross country and track athlete at University College Dublin, and Ben Reynolds will be a part of the cross country and combat arms teams at the Royal Military College of Canada.
Fresh off leading the Jaguars to a repeat championship in the Division III DODEA boys soccer tournament, Tim Garcia is joining Division II-school Chaminade University in Hawaii.
C.J. Davis, meanwhile, will play men’s volleyball for Division II program Dominican University in New York.
Joining the host of Naples athletes at Olivet Nazarene are the Panthers' Caiden Ray and Ian Lewis, both of whom will play football for the Tigers.
Along with Stout, a host of Warriors will ply their trades in college.
2023 DODEA Europe Athlete of the Year Lyndsey Urick will play women’s volleyball at Division II Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich. Her teammate on basketball courts this past winter, McKinley Viers, is heading to Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., to play soccer.
A dominant swimmer throughout his time in the European Forces Swim League, Mason Koeth will swim as a Shippensburg University Raider in Division II.
In Division III, Collin Koschnik comes off a season where he helped lead the Warriors to a boys soccer runners-up finish and will play the sport at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, in the fall. Also, shortstop/pitcher Jordan Reffeor is heading Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., to play baseball.
In the National Christian College Athletic Association, Nigel Rodriguez, a member of Wiesbaden’s 4x100- and 4x400-meter relay teams that qualified for the European meet, will run for Regent University out of Virginia Beach, Va.
There are others from schools that didn’t respond who are going to play in college, including Kaiserslautern’s Se’maiya Farrow. The Raider graduate will be competing in women’s volleyball at Hesston College in Hesston, Kan., a member of the National Junior College athletic Association.