Local notebook: Bakersfield athletes travel far and wide | Sports

Local notebook: Bakersfield athletes travel far and wide | Sports

May 2020 was an unusual time for Andre Heidari to rejoin the sports industry. A Stockdale graduate who was a four-year starter at kicker for some memorable USC teams in the mid-2010s, Heidari saw the college recruiting process he had once undergone changing dramatically due to the pandemic, as coaches transitioned to a largely digital style that persists today.

After a brief stint in arena football and a series of sales jobs, Heidari has spent two years working at Next College Student Athlete (NCSA), with which he was connected by his former kicking instructor. As a specialist for NCSA, he is charged with shepherding parents through their children’s athletic recruitment, which can now begin as early as age 13.

He puts it in perspective: “At the beginning of seventh grade today, every college coach can recruit a student-athlete.”

And he now deals with all sports, from rowing to golf, not just football. For someone who always knew he wanted to return to the sports industry, it’s a unique way of giving back to the next generation of young athletes.

Here’s more on what some local athletes have been up to lately.

The longest snappers: Liberty regularly produces college football players at plenty of positions, but the Patriots have a particularly solid track record when it comes to the least noticeable position on the field. Long snapper Cole Mazza reached the NFL level, but other Patriot snappers to take the field in college include Jason and Darren Diffee, as well as current Division I athletes Ryan Aguilar (Army) and Ryan Alvidrez (Portland State). Another may be joining their ranks soon, as last season’s senior snapper Bryce Kellams recently announced on Twitter that he has earned offers from Ohio and Old Dominion (on top of previous D-II opportunities), as teams look to fill out their rosters late in the recruiting cycle.

Hansen fights on: In one of the more improbable developments in recent Kern County sports, Emily Hansen is not only back playing volleyball on the sand, she’s doing it for the No. 2 team in the country. The Centennial High School product stayed at home for college and was a four-year contributor to both the indoor and beach teams at Cal State Bakersfield, earning multiple Big West Conference honors during her tenure. But when she spoke with The Californian last June, after she tore her Achilles in a scrimmage against UC Riverside and moved on to coaching at Garces, it seemed she had closed the book on her playing career — even if she had an extra year of eligibility remaining due to the pandemic. Fast forward to the fall, as Hansen assisted with the Rams team that won the D-IV section championship, and suddenly some of the nation’s top teams came calling. With other offers on the table, USC swooped in, and just a few months later, she was on the sand for the high-flying Trojans last Sunday, one of three transfers who were previously part of No. 1 pairings at their past schools, and paired with Shannon Scully to win an exhibition match against Tampa.

Roadrunners capped: A pair of CSUB soccer players have recently represented their home countries at the international level. After scoring two goals in a draw with Argentina in November, forward Karen Flores rejoined Ecuador for a pair of matches against Chile in February. And in January, Stephon Marcano got his first-ever call-up to the Trinidad and Tobago men’s team, after previously playing with the under-20 team but spending a long time away from the squad. Marcano, who was injured at CSUB in 2019 and didn’t play in 2020 due to the pandemic, was training with the Soca Warriors over his holiday break when he got the news from his manager, and he joined the team for a friendly against Bolivia. Though he didn’t get into the game, he tried to make an impression and learn from his much more experienced teammates. “At some points, I was kind of in awe,” he told The Californian, “and then (at) some points, you’re just trying to take points, and kind of study them in a sense, take tips from them on what they do that makes them this good.”

Not bush-league: One prominent recent athlete to come out of Kern Valley High School is Zach Bushling, who parlayed a successful stint at Sierra College into a spot on the Connecticut baseball team. In his third and final season with the Huskies, Bushling has started strong at the plate as an everyday player between shortstop and third base, batting .328 through 15 games. He had a pair of multi-hit games in a recent series at Pepperdine, which was a great time for him to do well: It was the Huskies’ first road trip to California during Bushling’s career, and so the Bronc faithful made the trip down to Malibu to support him. Connecticut took two out of three in the series, split games against USC and Long Beach State. The Huskies will continue their California jaunt in La Jolla against UC San Diego Saturday.

Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.

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