Chico’s notable sports figures, past and present

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Chico’s notable sports figures, past and present

Notable Chico sports figures who attended Chico State: Grant Larson (top), Michael Bethea Jr., (left), Chris Wondolowski (right). 
Illustration by: Ricardo Tovar

Notable Chico sports figures who attended Chico State: Grant Larson (top), Michael Bethea Jr., (left), Chris Wondolowski (right). Illustration by: Ricardo Tovar

Notable Chico sports figures who attended Chico State: Grant Larson (top), Michael Bethea Jr., (left), Chris Wondolowski (right). Illustration by: Ricardo Tovar

Notable Chico sports figures who attended Chico State: Grant Larson (top), Michael Bethea Jr., (left), Chris Wondolowski (right). Illustration by: Ricardo Tovar

Matthew Ferreira

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Over the years student-athletes have made the choice to come to Chico State to continue their academic and athletic careers. Some of these students have even moved on to the professional level in their sport.

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The New York, New York native majored in criminal justice and played for the Wildcats as late as the 2016-17 season.
Image Credit: Sports Information

Basketball player Michael Bethea Jr. played for the Wildcats as recently as the 2016-17 season and now plays in the NBA G-League.

Bethea currently plays guard for the Grand Rapids Drive. The team is an affiliate of the Detroit Pistons organization and gives players an opportunity to prove their skills and work towards making it to the NBA.

In Bethea’s first season he was on the Reno Bighorns — the Sacramento Kings G-League affiliate. He averaged 10.7 minutes a game and they won their division.

This year, Bethea is averaging close to 23 minutes a game and Grand Rapids are in first place in their division with a 28-22 record.

The Chico State basketball program seems to have helped prepare Bethea as he is currently averaging 10.8 points a game on just over 40 percent shooting and 3.5 assists a game.

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Chico State Senior Jesse Grigg celebrates with teammates Michael Esser (10), Dustin Tong (5) and Chris Wondolowski (8) after scoring to tie the game at 1-1 during the Division 2 Men's Soccer Championship held at the Sportsplex in Virginia Beach, VA on Dec. 7, 2003. Larry French/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Another Wildcat athlete that has found success at the pro level is Chris Wondolowski.

The Danville native played soccer with Chico State in the early 2000s and even led the Wildcats to a National Championship appearance in the 2003 season.

His success at the collegiate level has carried over to both the MLS and the international field.

Wondolowski was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes in 2005, the season before the team became the Houston Dynamos the next season, and he played his first three seasons there.

Before the 2009-2010 season, the Dynamos switched back to the Earthquakes and Wondolowski found himself back in California where he has played ever since.

Wondolowski has excelled in the MLS and is currently one goal away from tying the record for career total goals. The Earthquakes play Saturday where Wondolowski will have a chance to earn his spot in the record books.

In 2014, Wondolowski joined the USA’s World Cup team. The team made it through the “group of death” with a win against Ghana and a draw against Portugal.

The team’s play in the group stage earned them a spot in the group of 16 elimination stage and would pit them against Belgium in the first round.

The team lost to Belgium but Wondolowski made history by becoming the first player from Chico State to play on a World Cup team.

Wildcat’s pitcher Grant Larson hopes to join the ranks of Wildcats turned professional athletes like Wondolowski and Bethea, and was drafted into the MLB last season but declined, hoping for a better offer next season as he finishes up his college career.

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Grant Larson delivers a pitch to a Stanislaus State Warriors batter in Sunday's game on Feb. 17, 2019. Photo credit: Olyvia Simpson

Larson had a breakout season last year as he posted a 3.39 ERA which helped him secure a 6-4 record. He also had 71 strikeouts on the season.

Larson also leads the team this season with 44.2 innings pitched with a perfect 4-0 record so far which has included 37 strikeouts while allowing only 10 walks.

Larson’s ever-improving game has gotten some notice from MLB scouts and his talent and hard work push him closer to having his name called again at the MLB draft.

Even if he is selected in this year’s draft, Larson has a year of eligibility left to play within the Chico State program if he chooses to do so.

“The thing that sets Chico apart from all of my other past teams is the community, everyone cares for each other and just wants the best for everyone,” Larson said.

Chico State’s history of preparing students and student-athletes for the next stage in their careers or sport has been a big part of the school’s community. With more and more people choosing Chico to further their education, there is no end in sight and no limit to what Wildcats can do.

Matthew Ferreira can be reached at [email protected] or @MattFerreira__ on Twitter.

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