For more than 100 years, area athletics have been a big part of the Mansfield school district’s history. And simple math suggests a couple standout athletes might make it to the professional level in their field.
But in a complete dismissal of mathematical probability, it appears that more than a couple of local athletes -- many more -- have made the leap to the professional level.
“We have an extremely supportive community preparing them for the next level. There is a huge commitment in this community toward education and growth and development, and in my opinion, since I’ve been in the MISD, the people are very success driven,” said Debbie Weems, who has been the district athletic director since 1996. “We have had expectations to bring quality people into this district.
“Without question, our coaching staffs are the best,” she said.
Stepfan Taylor, a former Mansfield High Tiger, excelled in football and basketball before graduating in 2009. He went on to play football at Stanford University, where in four years he became the school’s all-time leader in rushing and touchdowns. He was drafted by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 2013, making his pro debut later that year.
“My experience has always been great playing in Mansfield. I grew up with older cousins who mostly played basketball, so I would always try and follow them around and play pick-up games with them and their friends,” said Taylor in an email. “I always knew at a young age that I was pretty good, because I was so competitive and wanted to be the best. It’s always been memorable.”
Taylor agrees with Weems, saying the Mansfield coaches pushed his game and drove him competitively.
“I really soaked it all in when I was in high school. I respected everything the coaches had to say and tried to apply it in life and on the field,” Taylor said.
Jeromey Clary had a nine-year NFL career with the San Diego Chargers before retiring due to injury in 2014. The standout offensive lineman made a name for himself at Mansfield High School before graduating in 2002 and heading to Kansas State University.
Football isn’t the only sport where area athletes have excelled. Any baseball fan that pours over minor league stats is school-girl giddy over 2010 Legacy High graduate Noah Syndergaard.
According to multiple publications, Syndergaard is one of the best young pitching prospects in baseball. His command of pitches and improvement in the minor league system will most likely lead to his major league debut in the 2015 season. The pitcher played at the New York Mets’ Triple A affiliate in Las Vegas in 2014.
Former Mansfield Tiger standout Jordan Walden is already a major league closer with an All-Star appearance to his name. Walden made the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2011 while playing with the Los Angeles Angels.
“I really think many of those players made it because of the level of commitment to their sport. Their workout habits, their routines and commitment to goals drove them,” Weems said. “From a young age, they decided to make this effort.”
And from a young age, it was clear that Erin Grant was one of the students that made the effort. The four-time state champion in women’s basketball starred for the Lady Tigers from 1998-2002, winning 5A titles every year. Grant was drafted into the WNBA in 2006 after four years at Texas Tech University. Grant has been an assistant coach at the University of Memphis since 2012.
Another Mansfield Tiger, Martin Flores, has made his run on the professional level as well. The 2000 graduate is ranked in the top 250 golfers in the world, sitting currently in 198th place for the FedEx Cup. Flores turned pro in 2005 and joined the PGA after attending the University of Oklahoma.
The Mansfield school district has produced its fair share of pro-level athletes, but that’s not to say it hasn’t sent kids off to play at the collegiate level as well.
“I think a ton of kids are playing some sport in Division I, or at another college level. You have kids that have that ability in the district,” Weems said. “You go watch our teams in the district, and you have kids playing with the Division I skills and physical traits. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone else make that level.”