Turlock High alum Jake Dirkse has had big dreams and goals from a young age, one of them was to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and compete in collegiate athletics at the NCAA Division-I level.
On Jan. 2, that goal came to fruition when Dirkse signed his National Letter of Intent after receiving a full-ride scholarship for track and field to compete in the shot-put, discus and javelin for the D-I athletic program.
Helping to make Dirkse’s collegiate dreams come true was family friend and a local Olympian thrower Suzy Powell.
Powell is a three-time Olympian who competed in the Olympics in 1996, 2000 and 2008.
“Honestly, without Suzy I wouldn't have been able to get to West Point, I wouldn't have gotten in track and field without her help,” said Dirkse.
With the help of his parents, Dirkse was able to get in touch with Powell in February of last year, and from there it all just fell in place.
Dirkse had a standout year as a linebacker for the Turlock High football team, but when he was done, there were no offers. He didn’t think much of it and moved to his spring sport, track and field.
While playing football at THS, Dirkse and the Bulldogs went 8-4 during his senior season (fall 2018), clinching a playoff berth while also winning the first ever Central California Athletic League title following a perfect 5-0 season in league play.
Dirkse earned second-team honors for the All-Journal/All-Area team while his team went undefeated in his two seasons in varsity, going 6-0 in their final season in the CCC in the fall of 2017.
The Bulldog had attended West Point’s football camp and had a goal of playing in the Army-Navy game.
“But after my senior year, I didn't really expect it to work out,” Dirkse said.
Weeks after concluding football, Dirkse who was standing at 6-foot-2, weighing around 215-pounds was in a bit of a limbo.
He went to work in track and field and found some next level help.
“That is what happens when an Olympic coach gets a hold of you, and he had a great cycle and I saw potential with Jake in many aspects,” said Powell.
Dirkse made it clear that his goal was to compete collegiately at West Point, and so Powell reached out to the academy’s coaches and built a relationship.
Since the admission time was too late for Dirkse to be admitted to West Point, his other choice was to attend Modesto Junior College as a part-time student and grey shirt. That is what he did.
A grey shirt is an incoming college freshman who postpones his enrollment in classes until the second term of his freshman year. This means they don't take classes until the winter term. The NCAA allows college athletes five years to complete four years of eligibility after initial enrollment.
From there, he has been working with Powell leading up to his departure. Powell is currently serving as the throwing coach at MJC.
“He has been a delight to coach,” said Powell. “He is an athlete that wants to understand more in all aspects and to get rewarded for his work. As a coach it is highly rewarding, and he is eager to please and he comes from a great family. So nice to see someone take the opportunity and go with it, and put themselves in a position, and showing up to practice and go beyond what is asked and actually doing it.”
As soon as Dirkse graduated, he was back in the gym, working out and doing drills and every sort of workout that Powell suggested.
“I started during the whole summer time to prepare for Junior Olympics,” said Dirkse. “So, then Army recruited me because my numbers were a lot better and they brought me out to an official visit in September.”
There was another D-I school who was aiming to land Dirkse, however, and that was the United States Air Force Academy.
The letters of recommendation by Powell, along with her reaching out to the coaches made a significant impact.
“Both were recruiting him. When you are an old retired sports star you have friends all over coaching,” said Powell. “He was a diamond in the rough, did track out of curiosity, and the world didn't really know of Jake. But when I told coaches the type of athlete he is and he is a better person… they were intrigued.”
Dirkse competed at the Junior Olympics at Sacramento State last July and qualified for the National Championships in discus after a throw of 159 feet, which put him in 11th place.
The Turlocker is set to report to boot camp in June before school starts.
“Working with Jake and helping him to compete and get to this level has been one of the most rewarding accomplishments in my career and it is really true,” Powell added. “Jake has a special place in my heart and I will miss him when he goes to West Point.”