Hilmar High School senior Trace Van Guilder fulfilled a childhood dream on Friday afternoon when he signed his National Letter of Intent to play football for Friends University in Kansas.
“It feels amazing,” Van Guilder said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Van Guilder’s family, coaches and friends gathered in the Hilmar gymnasium to celebrate the momentous occasion, which the defensive standout said first became a goal of his in the sixth grade. He fell in love with football while playing the sport as a child and never looked back, putting in hours of hard work both on the field and in the classroom to receive a scholarship to Friends University for athletics and academics.
Hilmar head coach Frank Marques taught Van Guilder’s ASB and leadership courses in addition to coaching him on the field, and said the linebacker has a “motor that won’t quit.” When the pandemic put football practice and games on hold, Van Guilder brought weights from campus back to his home to make sure he didn’t miss a workout.
It’s that dedication, Marques said, which earned Van Guilder multiple offers from not only Friends University, but other schools in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, to name a few.
“He’s been working super hard and has a great work ethic, so it’s really rewarding to see all of his hard work paying off,” Marques said. “He’s just that special kid that fits the mold of working hard in and out of the classroom.”
Van Guilder was recruited to play for Friends University as a fullback, though he shined on defense during his time at Hilmar High.
He led his team in tackles (37), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (2) this past season. Despite his team playing up in the highly-competitive Central California Conference this year due to the pandemic, Van Guilder held his own against schools three times the size of Hilmar and was a First Team All-League selection after leading the conference in sacks and ranking No. 2 in tackles. Section wide, Van Guilder was ranked No. 7 in sacks.
Van Guilder had nine carries in the shortened season’s five games, but plans on working over the summer with teammate and running back Cole Bailey to work on his run game. Marques predicts that no matter what the roster situation in Kansas is, Friends University will find a spot for Van Guilder.
“He’ll definitely fit somewhere on the team,” Marques said. “He’s such a good athlete that he’s going to play somewhere.”
Van Guilder went through last fall still unsure of where he would be attending college, but ultimately decided on Friends University after visiting the campus and falling in love. Despite the “stressful” time before that, it all worked out when he verbally committed to the NAIA Division II university in January.
“I’m looking forward to the new experience, just getting out of California to go have fun and play football,” Van Guilder said. “I feel like it’s going to be great. I can’t wait.”