MPS athletes set sights on college

16 seniors signed letters of intent Feb. 1

Sixteen Minneapolis Public Schools seniors signed to continue their athletic careers in college during a ceremony Feb. 1. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Sixteen Minneapolis Public Schools athletes signed national letters of intent on Feb. 1, committing to colleges as part of national signing day.

The students signed to play six different sports, including basketball, football and soccer. Five will compete at the Division I level.

Minneapolis has produced several high-profile athletes in recent years, from NFL defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman, a Washburn grad, to South high grad and WNBA guard Tayler Hill. The district’s teams have seen collective success, too, from North winning recent state basketball and football titles to Washburn making the state soccer tournament.

Minneapolis’ athletes have also seen success in the classroom in recent years. Nearly 99 percent of seniors who participated in athletics last year graduated high school, combining to average a 3.15 GPA.

“If we can continue to come together as a community and provide the opportunities and resources, this is what it produces,” MPS Athletic Director Trent Tucker said at the Feb. 1 ceremony.

Here are the stories of three student-athletes who committed to colleges this month.

Jada Lewis

Jada Lewis, Edison, track and field

Jada Lewis said a highlight of her track and field career at Edison was winning the state Class 1A team title as a freshman.

That certainly hasn’t been her only highlight.

Lewis helped Edison to a second-place finish at state in 2015 and another state title last year. She won the state 200-meter dash title as a sophomore and has helped her 4×100-meter relay team to back-to-back state titles.

Lewis, a sprinter and long jumper, has signed to join the track team at Northern Iowa, a Division-I school in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She said sports has meant a way for her to become more outgoing, build character and learn to communicate.

“I wasn’t really much of a people person until I started playing sports,” she said, “so it’s really helped me to open up myself and get out of my shell and try new things.”

Lewis began with the Edison track team as an eighth-grader and has earned four all-state nods and five all-conference honors. She also plays on the Edison varsity basketball team, which is having its best season in years, in addition to managing the football team.

At school, Lewis participates in AVID, Black Student Leadership and National Honor Society and is also a student ambassador. She said she wants to study African-American studies at Northern Iowa and eventually become a history teacher.

She added that she wants to help young people realize their potential, no matter their background.

“They don’t have to sit around and be a statistic . . . just cause you come from a certain place,” she said.

Juan Louis

Juan Louis, Washburn, soccer

Juan Louis came to the U.S. in 2013 to play soccer with the Haitian Initiative, a program led by the St. Paul-based Sanneh Foundation.

That eventually led to him moving to Minnesota for high school, where he has found success both on and off the field.

Louis, a Haiti native, has spent the past three-plus years in Minnesota, thanks to the Sanneh Foundation, including the past three school years at Washburn. He’s been a three-time all-state soccer player and this past fall earned the state’s highest soccer award, Mr. Soccer.

Louis has committed to Drake and said he wants to study international relations. He said he hopes to become a pro soccer player someday, something his father accomplished back in Haiti.

“I just have the passion for the game,” Louis said.

Louis said he knew only basic English words when he came the Minnesota in January 2014. He spent a portion of his first year in Wellstone High School’s newcomer program, joining the Washburn soccer team that fall.

Louis made an immediate impact, helping Washburn to a second-place finish in the conference in fall 2014. The team made a surprise run to the state tournament in 2015, upsetting top-seeded Wayzata in the section semifinals and then defeating Southwest in the section finals.

Louis called the run one of the highlights of his high school career. He said he’s really enjoyed playing for the Washburn soccer team, adding that it’s been like family to him.

Javien Versey

Javien Versey, Patrick Henry, football

From linebacker to outfielder and sprinter, Javien Versey has quite the athletic resume.

Versey has been a two-year starter for the Patrick Henry football team, playing defensive back, wide receiver, running back and linebacker. He has also lettered in baseball and twice placed in the top five in the state track and field meet.

Also the basketball team manager, Versey will continue his athletic career next fall at Minnesota-Duluth, where he will run track and play football.

Versey said he likes the team aspect of athletics, noting that playing sports taught him patience, the value of hard work and the importance of teamwork.

“There’s been games where I tried to do it on my own and failed,” he said, “but when I relied on my teammates and had trust in my teammates, things always turned out for the better.”

That’s not to say he hasn’t had individual success.

Versey served as a team captain of the football team this past year and led the Patriots in scoring. This past year, he finished second in the 200-meter dash at state.

In college, Versey said he wants to study mechanical engineering, something he has studied since freshman year.

“It’s one of the things I go to school looking forward to every day, being in engineering class, learning about engineering, building, working on my own project designs,” he said.

Minneapolis Public Schools athlete signings

Jada Lewis, Edison, Track and Field, Northern Iowa

Lena Oliver, Edison, Soccer, North Iowa Area Community College

Olga Oliver, Edison, Soccer, North Iowa Area Community College

Isaac Johnson, North, Basketball, Western Illinois

La’ryountae Taylor, Patrick Henry, Football, Minnesota-Crookston

Javien Versey, Patrick Henry, Football/Track, Minnesota-Duluth

De’Maya Nichols, South, Danceline, Jamestown (North Dakota)

April Houston, Southwest, Volleyball, Eastern Michigan

Fola Wilson, Southwest, Volleyball, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Juan Louis, Washburn, Soccer, Drake

Taylor Cottew, Washburn, Soccer, Minnesota State Mankato

Kaitlyn Villars, Washburn, Soccer, Wisconsin-Lacrosse

Austyn Kimbrell, Washburn, Soccer, Simmons College (Boston)

Savion Johnson, Washburn, Football, Ellsworth Community College

D’Angelo Moore, Washburn, Football, Ellsworth Community College

William Sanders, Washburn, Football, Augsburg