Sobrato athletes achieve their dreams

Emily Harris (center), Michele Adam and Jonathan Sheets were three of the seven Sobrato High athletes who were at a ceremonial signing event at school in recognition for them to compete at the four-year college level. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Michele Adam and Emily Harris have known each other for as long as they can remember, having grown up in the same neighborhood. Now the lifelong friends will continue their journey together in college at Seattle University, where Adam will play soccer and where Harris will run track. They were two of the seven Sobrato High athletes who were part of a ceremonial letter of intent signing at the school on May 29. 

Adam, Harris, Jonathan Sheets (football), Gunnar Vereyken (football), Nathan Arnott (soccer), Max Brown (soccer) and David Sweeney (soccer) were all smiles during the event, as they all realized their dreams to play and compete at the four-year level. 

“It’s been a dream of mine to play Division I soccer,” said Sweeney, who will do just that at San Jose State. 

Sweeney actually never played for Sobrato since he played for Development Academy. A goalkeeper, Sweeney received a call on a December night at 11 p.m. from one of the SJSU assistant coaches who detailed the scholarship offer. It was a moment he’ll never forget. 

“I ran outside of my house because I don’t have good reception inside,” he said. “The coach said, ‘Would you like to join the team and talk about your scholarship?’ I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ My mom came out and I ran into her arms and we started crying. It was one of the greatest days of my life.”

Sweeney has the ability to play the ball with his feet out of the back area, which the modern game requires. He also is adept at passing and possesses tremendous ability in reading and stopping shots. Arnott, who will play at Sonoma State, had been talking to the school for a while when it offered him in February. 

“I can’t imagine anything better,” he said. “I’ve always had this goal as kid to play in college and hopefully go on and play after college as well.”

A central attacking midfielder, Arnott has an attacking-style game that features controlled aggression and the ability to take players in one-on-one situations. Arnott started playing soccer when he was 3 and was noticed playing for the De Anza Force club team. Brown is projected to play left wing at Willamette University in Oregon, and the story in how he got there speaks to the power of social media. 

Brown had been perusing through Instagram and one day an athlete from the Willamette University track and field team came up as a suggested friend. Since Brown had heard of Willamette through recruiting websites, he messaged the athlete for some information about the school. Satisfied with what he had heard, Brown emailed the men’s soccer coach to introduce himself along with stating his goals of playing college soccer. 

“Coach got back to me, we kept exchanging emails and that eventually led me to a visit on campus, where he offered me a spot on the team,” he said. 

Brown’s story is all the more improbable because he missed the majority of his senior season at Sobrato after suffering a broken ankle on Dec. 18. However, the Willamette coach must have liked what he had seen from Brown’s video highlights to offer him a spot on the team. 

Brown, who possesses tremendous field awareness, vision and speed, was in the coach’s office during a visit to the school when he was secured of a spot on the team. 

“It was definitely super emotional with my mom in the office with me,” he said. “I had to keep myself contained and keep my composure. Once I got out, the coach told us to think about it, but on the drive back to the airport I called him and told him this is something I’ve wanted for a long time. I accepted and told him thanks for believing in me.”

Sheets will play football at Chapman University, and he credits former Bulldogs coach Tony Holmes as being instrumental in jump-starting the process to get him to play college football. Holmes has always spoken highly of Sheets, and he reached out to Chapman and told them Sheets would be a good fit for their program. Chapman made an offer before Sheets came to visit the school in February. 

Sheets only recently committed—he waited until the event to sign his official letter of intent while also putting his cap on in what has become a signature moment for athletes at signings—as he was deciding between Chapman and Fort Lewis College in Colorado. It was a win-win situation for Sheets, who had a good problem in that he had to decide between two solid schools and programs. 

“It (ultimately) came down to location and how far I wanted to be away from family,” said Sheets, who is projected to play inside linebacker. “I’m extremely grateful to have coach Holmes as my former coach. He’s done so much for me in the recruiting process, helping me to understand and pick where I want to play and what position.”

Once Sheets made it a goal to play college football near the end of his freshman year at Sobrato, he was a man on a mission. 

“I had complete tunnel vision,” he said. “I shut everything else out, focused on school and football and busting my butt everyday trying to make sure I made the most of every practice and rep to become the best player I could be.”

Like Sheets, Vereyken made an impact on the gridiron as a linebacker and defensive end. Vereyken, who will play at Norwich University in Vermont and visited the campus last summer on an academic tour, was told to contact one of the Norwich football coaches since they had heard he played football. But it was Holmes who contacted the Norwich coach first to kick-start the process. 

“It’s a good school and seems like they have really good values that I appreciate,” said Vereyken, who has family in Vermont. “They see me in a hybrid role, so hopefully I’ll be blitzing a lot and fitting into their scheme well.”

Out of the seven athletes at the ceremony, Harris had the most impressive resume of accomplishments at the prep level. A cross country standout, Harris advanced to the CIF State Cross Country Championships in her sophomore and senior seasons and took third in the CCS Championships in her division last season. interestingly enough, Harris earned recruited walk-on status for Seattle University’s track and field team, with the possibility she might try out for the cross country team as well.

“It’s been my dream to run for a D1 program out of state for a while,” she said. “I’m ecstatic that I’m going to be a part of a team in a cool city and growing program.”

Harris was in the coach’s office on a visit to the school when she was offered a spot on the team. 

“My dad was in the room with me, and that was shocking to hear,” she said. “I was dumbstruck and very excited I would have an opportunity to walk onto a great team.”

Adam will be playing soccer at Seattle University, which offered Adam a scholarship during her sophomore year. Adam, who never played high school soccer and instead focused her time with the De Anza Force and California Thorns Development Academies, is projected to play center back and impressed the Seattle coaching staff with her high soccer IQ. 

Adam has two older siblings who attended Live Oak High, including Robert, who played for a pro soccer team in Scotland. Both of Adam’s siblings are several years older than her, making for a unique sibling relationship. Adam looked up to her siblings as a second set of parents, and they in turn treated her well, especially when it came to athletics. 

“I grew up watching them and loved watching them play sports,” Michele said. 

Robert spent hundreds of hours with Michele helping develop her skill set and mental toughness. 

“We went out on the street in front of the house and kicked the ball on the curb,” she said. “We worked on a lot of soccer stuff, and he pushed me a lot. There were definitely a lot of tears over the years, but good tears. He made it tough on me, but that made me a better player. He played physical and never took it easy on me.”

Adam was actually at Seattle-Tacoma Airport with her mom when her dad called from the Seattle soccer coaches’ office, letting her know they had made a scholarship offer. 

“I was beyond excited and had no idea it was coming,” she said. “I was sitting in the airport with my mom and eating some sushi.”

Turns out Adam was at the airport because she needed to get back to school, while her dad was staying in the Seattle area a little longer to see Adam’s older sister, who lived in Vancouver at the time. Adam has big goals ahead, from excelling at the college level and perhaps even professionally. 

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