Senior cross-country runner Lindsey Rayborn describes her hometown of Pocatello as a small farming community located in the “not really pretty part of Idaho.”
“Very rural. Very flat,” she said. “Very yellow. Not a lot going on.” More than a decade ago, the motion picture Napoleon Dynamite was filmed 30 miles from Pocatello. Rayborn said it perfectly portrayed life in that part of Idaho. “That’s exactly what my hometown was like.”
Rayborn was looking to put some distance between herself and her hometown — population 54,746 — when considering colleges. Just maybe not the 1,357 miles it takes to get to the UT Dallas campus from her front porch.
“At first, I thought there was no way I was going to move all the way to Texas. But then I realized UTD offered me the best scholarship options, and I figured it would be an adventure,” she said.
Like a smattering of other UTD student-athletes who have made the long-distance decision, Rayborn is happy with her choice. In the last four years, she has led the Comets to two American Southwest Conference team championships, won two individual conference titles and qualified last fall for the NCAA Division III National Championship Meet, a personal goal.
And, after a scholastic career filled with various academic honors, she graduated this spring with a degree in geophysics.
Scholarship opportunities, academic reputation and cost factors seem to be the biggest attraction for the more than 40 out-of-state student-athletes on UTD athletic rosters. Coach Kanute Drugan’s women’s soccer team leads the way with 16 players on its 2017 roster who have crossed state lines.
“In Texas, we’re competing with a lot of top-quality academic institutions for students, as well as several schools that have had a lot of success athletically, especially at the Division III level,” explained Drugan, now in his fourth year of fine-tuning the recruiting process.
“By looking out of state, we can find the same quality student and the same quality athlete who’s never heard of, or considered, some of those other schools. It gives us an opportunity to be a unique choice.”
– Kanute Drugan, head women’s soccer coach
A shining example is sophomore Stephanie White, a neuroscience major from San Diego, who was selected for the University’s prestigious McDermott Scholars program.
“I honestly had never heard of UTD before,” she said. “But I was hoping I could find a place where I could pursue my academic goals and still get a chance to keep playing my sport. I love soccer and hoped to be able to incorporate the sport into my college experience.”
Financial reasons led teammate Jessica Rusk, another California resident, to UT Dallas. “Colleges in California are very expensive, the cost of living is high and it’s hard to get scholarship money,” she explained. “But Coach Drugan saw me play at a showcase in Nevada and told me he thought, with my test scores, I could probably qualify for a scholarship at UTD. I applied, got an amazing scholarship, and I’ve been able to turn my dreams of playing college athletics into reality.”
Very often, the University’s science and engineering programs play a role in attracting out-of-state student-athletes.
Senior Danny Meyer, a three-time ASC All-Conference member of the men’s soccer team, found his way to UTD from Phoenix. “My high school coach helped me find a list of schools across the country with a strong neuroscience program. I checked out the soccer program [at UTD], saw they were winning championships, and I knew this was where I needed to be.”
Senior John Will, one of the Comets’ top male cross-country runners, traveled all the way from Virginia Beach, Virginia, because of the University’s highly rated biomedical engineering program. “It’s a growing field, but not every school offers it,” he said. “And I was able to continue running, which is something I really enjoy.”
Tennis player Kathy Joseph, a sophomore from Williston, Vermont, was looking for “a strong engineering school with opportunities for research” when she chose UTD. “And it was important to me that I be in an area that offered a lot of post-graduation job opportunities. UTD fit the bill.”