Former Payson High School wrestling star Larry Wilbanks, one of the finest athletes to ever don a PHS uniform, understands well the difficulties small-town Arizona student-athletes face in finding just the right college fit.
And he admits it can be intimidating to the unprepared.
For him, selecting a college after graduating from Payson High in 2004 was, “Overwhelming when you are new to the process … I had a lot of opportunities (for college scholarships) but had to figure it out mostly on my own and with my parents.”
The former Longhorn eventually accepted a scholarship offer from wrestling powerhouse Western State College of Colorado and went on to forge an illustrious career compiling a 100-35 record that included being a two-time national-qualifier and a two-time All American. He also was the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference weight class champion during back to back years.
After graduating from WSC in 2009 with a degree in exercise and sports exercise management and later garnering a master’s degree in leadership at Grand Canyon University, Wilbanks is now an assistant wrestling coach at Colorado Mesa in Grand
As a coach heavily involved in recruiting, he must connect on a personal and professional level with high school wrestlers interested in competing collegiately.
His experiences at Payson High are helping him provide the young recruits with a firsthand account of the process.
“I like to explain to young athletes how to go about looking for colleges and all the opportunities out there for student-athletes.”
To better connect with the recruits he is currently putting together a PowerPoint presentation, “To give to parents and students about the process and what I learned from being recruited out of high school to now being a recruiter.”
He says the presentation is divided into three parts and begins with an explanation of NCAA eligibility requirements, high school core credits needed and acceptable ACT or SAT scores.
The second part focuses on the recruiting process.
“It’s important to be able to identify your talent level and goals and then contact the schools that best fit those.”
Post high school possibilities include a range of colleges and universities from JCs to Division I.
“Understand that D-1 is not always the best fit for the majority of kids,” Wilbanks explains. “Putting yourself in the best financial and educational position is the No. 1 thing.”
The third part of Wilbanks’ PowerPoint is titled, “What to expect when you arrive.”
It centers on student-athlete time management, keys to success, commitment and what a red-shirt year involves.
In summing up the recruiting process, Wilbanks tells recruits and their parents that the junior year is the best time to get on a school’s radar by contacting schools and coaches they are interested in.
During that year, the recruit should also ensure NCAA eligibility requirements are met and begin first cracks at ACT or SAT tests.
While recruiting is a big part of Wilbanks’ job at Colorado Mesa, he also shoulders coaching responsibilities that include overseeing practice sessions and individual workouts.
“We have our main workout but the kids all have times during the day with certain coaches to work on specific skills,” he said.
Wilbanks teaches hand fighting and takedowns, skills he excelled in at Payson High and Western State.
As Wilbanks goes through his work day, whether it be coaching or recruiting, along with fellow coaches, he does so with one goal in mind — win a national title.
Although the program is only 10 years old, he’s sure there is plenty of backing to help the team attain their goal.
“We have a great administration that supports us,” he said. “That has allowed us to become one of the premie