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Jaydon Stephens signs with NMMI

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Gateway Christian’s Jaydon Stephens throws a runner out at the plate in a game at Noon Optimist last season. (Submitted Photo)

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Gateway Christian sports fans already know what NMMI is getting in Jaydon Stephens — one of the best all-around athletes to come out of Gateway Christian. Many know that he was good enough to play for the big schools here in the area.

When Stephens played football for the Warriors, he was able to run away from the defender and take it to the house. He also had the courage to run routes over the middle and take a hit while hanging onto the ball.

On the basketball court, Stephens was the Warriors’ leading scorer. In the state game against the defending champions Quemado Eagles, Stephens was blocking shots on players bigger than him. And on offense in that game, he was able to get his shot off against the Eagles’ players when he was covered.

During the season, Stephens frustrated a lot of players that were guarding him and thought they had him stopped with a hand in his face. When it seemed like he was stopped cold, Stephens would be able to contort his body and get his shot off and hit nothing but net.

As a leader, Stephens led by example. In what would turn out to be his last game against the Eagles — the No. 1 team in the state — it was a tough game for the whole team. Stephens would end up fouling out. Instead of sulking, he was the first person off the bench to give high-fives and cheer on his team.

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Stephens shines best in his favorite sport, baseball. His performance has been elite, starting as an eighth-grader. When he’s on the hill — Stephens has 19 wins with a 2.16 ERA, with 284 strikeouts, and opponents have hit a meek .196 against him while pitching 168.2 innings. He has often been able to pitch out of jams as teams have left 86 runners on base.

One of Stephens’ top performances was when he pitched a no-hitter against Mora as a freshman. At the plate, he has a .436 batting average for his career going into his senior season. Stephens has 109 hits, 83 RBIs, 20 doubles and 11 triples, one homer with 115 runs scored. Going into his senior season, Stephens has a chance to be the school’s all-time leader in most categories.

One of the reasons Stephens chose NMMI is it gave him the best chance to continue playing the game he loves. He thinks that by concentrating on playing just baseball, it will allow him to max out to his full potential.

“I chose NMMI because it gave me the best opportunity to play the sport I love,” Jaydon Stephens said. “From the first time I started playing baseball, I fell in love with it and getting the opportunity to further my career in college is a dream come true.”

NMMI coach Chris Cook watched Stephens last summer compete against some of the best players from Goddard, Roswell, Carlsbad and Albuquerque. Cook loved that Stephens held his own and hit well against some of the best players in the state. His T-Hawks team won the state tournament in American Legion during this summer. Stephens showed his power during the summer when he went deep, hitting a homer at La Cueva Field.

“I recruited Stephens as a hitter, Cook said. “He’s got a ton of potential on the field. He had an excellent summer playing for the State Championship Legion team here in Roswell. I got to see him many times and I expect that his athleticism combined with our strength program will allow him to make huge strides after he arrives here at NMMI for the fall of 2019.”

With a season about to start for Stephens and his team, one of the best memories, so far, is when he was in eighth grade and was playing shortstop in the quarterfinals at state. The Warriors were the eighth seed and playing Magdalena, who was the No. 1 seed. He fielded a ground ball and threw to first base for the final out, to win the game and advance.

“I’m excited,” Cook said. “Once he gets in the weight room and is able to work on baseball full-time, he will jump because of his focus on baseball. I like that he bats from the left side and is a good runner that can put pressure on the defense. Because of his speed, we will give him a good look at the outfield.”

Stephens’ strength comes from his faith in God and his family. His dad, Justin Stephens; mother, Stephanie Stephens; and his sisters, Kaylee and MJ Stephens are his biggest fans and support system. More than an athlete, Jaydon Stephens is a leader in the youth group at church and has done mission work.

“It’s a blessing for Jaydon (Stephens),” his mother, Stephanie Stephens said. “For him to receive this scholarship is a dream come true, and we’re proud of him to have this opportunity.”

As Jaydon Stephens begins his last season, it will be the last time that he will be coached by his grandfather, Rick Rapp, who has won four Blue Trophies in his career and would like to experience that feeling with his grandson.

“This year will be bittersweet,” Rapp said. “Not only that, but there will be several seniors this year and expectations are high. Jaydon (Stephens) and the rest of the seniors have worked hard and they want to go out on top. Jaydon (Stephens) shows that it doesn’t matter where you go to school, if you work hard and have the talent, you’ll get noticed.”

The main thing that Rapp has tried to teach his grandson is that sports teaches a person a lot about life — how to handle success as well as adversity; to work hard and give it your all. Rapp has tried to teach Jaydon and all Gateway athletes that who you are as a person is not determined on how successful you are on the field — that does not define you as a person. But, most importantly, he wants Jaydon (Stephens) to love the Lord and serve Him wherever he goes and whatever he does in life.

Stephens’ goal for the upcoming season is to be the best leader and player possible, and for his team to win the Blue Trophy.

 

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