Two Nikiski High School football standouts have made the decision to play in the college ranks.
Senior running back Stephen Hartley signed a letter of intent over the recent spring break to play at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., an NAIA school.
Senior teammate Lincoln Johnson, primarily a linebacker, committed to Greenville College, also in Illinois, in January. Greenville is a Division III school.
Hartley, Nikiski’s all-time rushing leader with 2,056 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, said he chose Olivet over another college — Pacific Lutheren University — because of the opportunities it presented him for a degree in athletic training.
“I like Pacific Lutheran a lot, but Olivet has a real nice campus, and everyone is so open and nice, and they love to talk to you and help you around, and the coaches are great too,” Hartley said. “They have brand-new rec facilities, brand-new training rooms. It’s really nice, pretty top notch.
“And they offered me more scholarship money too.”
Johnson, a defensive threat at Nikiski with a career total of 32 sacks and nine blocked kicks, said he would like to go into Greenville’s pre-medical program.
“They’ve got a good track for all their pre-med students,” Johnson said. “They do a double major with biology and chemistry, because there’s only like two or three different classes.”
Johnson, who made a trip down to the Greenville campus last October, also mentioned that the local community there reminds him of Nikiski.
“The team is a lot of the same like-minded guys, and coaches are like the same here,” he said. “Everyone knows each other, and I got to talk to some of the professors. Every coach they’ve got there, is like an exact copy of every coach I’ve had here.”
Of course, playing college football means the two friends will have to increase their intensity level to be a contributing player. Hartley said he does not expect a lot of playing time, but will do all he can to contribute.
“Everyone’s there for that one reason,” he said. “There’s a much higher level of competition and expectations. In high school, sometimes there’s only a few guys working hard, and (in college) everyone works hard.”
For Johnson, he hopes his brute strength as a lineman can support his teammates.
“Where I’m at now, both of those positions, they’ve got good guys there now but not a lot of depth, and hopefully for my first year I can be a good sub-in and give their head guys a break when they need it,” Johnson said. “At the small-school level, there’s a lot of kids coming out for the first time, freshmen and sophomores without a lot of playing time. But at the college level, everyone’s got experience.
“You’re not going to have a kid who’s never played out there on the field, and that’s where you either rise to meet the level of competition and succeed, or if you’re just another high school player. That’s where you pan out.”
Both seniors will be working with their respective schools — less than three hours apart — to prepare for the fall season. Hartley will embark on a 12-week lifting cycle, and Johnson will continue with Nikiski’s Speed Strength Training curriculum, as well as individual training throughout the summer.