Deer Valley seniors overcome obstacles, can enjoy final months of high school

Deer Valley High School senior Dez Melton signs a letter of intent to play football at the University of Loisville on Feb. 6 at the school in Glendale. Fellow senior Emily Stutesman, background, also signed to run cross country and track at New Mexico State University. {Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Like any elite athlete, Deer Valley seniors Dez Melton and Emily Stutesman faced obstacles on the path toward their goal.

Now, one of those roadblocks is removed. Both will have the opportunity to compete — on scholarship — at the highest level of college athletics.

During a Feb. 6 ceremony at the Glendale school, Melton signed to play football at Louisville while Stutesman signed with New Mexico State and will run on the school’s cross country and track and field teams.

“I was telling Dez, there’s no more question of if I go to this school. It’s when I go to this school,” Stutesman said. “It’s surreal and I think move-in day will hit hard. But I can just enjoy everything in the end of high school.”

Eric Bolus was not going to miss this day. He coached Melton in football and Stutesman in track for three years, before retiring as a football coach and moving to O’Connor High School to teach and coach track this school year.

He watched Stutesman recover from three months of intensive inpatient treatment for anorexia her sophomore year. And he saw Melton excel at virtually every aspect of football.

“I never questioned whether they’d get to this point. Coming in with the character they had and with their support system and goals, it was going to happen,” Bolus said. “Emily has proven her resilience as a human, making it all the way back to the level she was her freshman year is inspiring. Dez came in as a freak athlete and it was fun to see his career come to fruition. I always got questions if he could play outside linebacker, because he looks like an outside linebacker. He can play anywhere. And he’s a great kid. He’s the blueprint.”

Melton originally honed in on Iowa State University, but was not ready to make his decision early in the fall. Soon after, the Cyclones were out of scholarships to offer.

Dan Friedman, Deer Valley’s coach this year, agreed with Bolus. Melton was too good — in every respect — to fall victim to a game of musical chairs just before signing day.

“It was inevitable. We knew schools were going to come into the picture. I’m glad he had some good choices,” Friedman said. “He’s a great kid. And the reason we coach the sport we coach is to develop kids to play like Dez.”

He went back to the beginning of his search, and visited NAU. Then larger Division I programs offered a scholarship, San Diego State on Jan. 9 and Louisville Jan. 17.

“It was a really close battle and I was thinking about it for a good day and a half, either San Diego State or Louisville. I thought about what the benefits are and what the cons are. The time for a decision was coming up fast but it worked out good,” Melton said.

Louisville had a brand new coaching staff, looking at Melton for the first time. Tight ends and special teams coach Stu Holt was his primary recruiter. Melton will settle into a hybrid tight end/h back role for the Cardinals.

Melton said their talks were heavily oriented to his family and educational goals. He said he wants to study mechanical engineering.

“I really felt a connection with coach Holtz. Then I met (head) coach (Scott) Satterfield and he reminded me of coach Matt Campell at Iowa State. I really did like Iowa State and Originally wanted to go there. But everything works out. I feel like Louisville can help me reach my potential,” Melton said. “The players really made me feel like family. I could move halfway across the country and feel comfortable there.”

Stutesman is not venturing that far. But she did choose New Mexico State over a college a short drive away — Grand Canyon — as well as Biola University in California and Portland State.

Stutesman said she waited until the end of cross country season to choose her college. She decided by mid-January and signed Jan. 30.

She said she felt at home at the campus on her visit in August. I felt comfortable. One of the girls she raced against as a junior, Richelle Sandin of Tucson, now runs for the Aggies.

“It was probably the toughest decision of my life. Each school offers something unique,” Stutesman said. “Part of my decision was trying something different. And (New Mexico State) has the majors I wanted. I think they’re building a program there, and being part of building something is really cool.”

Stutesman said she wants to study kinesiology and nutrition.

Watching her sign was the latest in a series of emotional moments for Chris Zent. He is the Skyhawks cross country and track distance running coach.

No one at the school has been with Stutesman as much, through the pain and uncertainty of her treatment to the joy of her recovery and rebirth of her career.

“For such a thoughtful, contemplative young lady this was a hard decision. For her there was disappointment in saying no to them,” Zent said. “Seeing that continued growth is exciting. Reflecting on how far she’s come … there’s been a lot of road blocks and pitfalls in the process. I’m excited for her. She’s got a big smile on her face.”

Deer Valley High School senior Emily Stutesman signs a
letter of intent to run cross country and track at New Mexico State University next year. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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