Provided by John E. Phillips
William Crawford is head of the President’s Outdoor Scholars Program at the University of Montevallo just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Started in 2015, the purpose of the program is to educate college-age students on career opportunities in the outdoor industry, while also keeping them connected to the outdoors through hunting and fishing while in college. The bass fishing team began in 2015, with eight anglers on scholarship. Today, Montevallo’s bass fishing team has 60 anglers on scholarship and is sponsored by Mossy Oak. In the 2021-2022 school year, there will be 90 students on outdoor scholarships at the University of Montevallo.
“There are more than 200 collegiate fishing teams nationally,” William Crawford explains. “To win the National Championship – School of the Year - points are accumulated from three different collegiate bass fishing organizations. Teams receive points based on how they finish in major tournaments, and the Montevallo team was able to accumulate the most points throughout the 2020-2021 season to win the National Championship on their combined point totals on all three national circuits. All collegiate bass fishing teams start out their seasons in hopes of winning the title of School of the Year, so it’s a great honor and a difficult task to win each season.
“This is collegiate bass fishing’s Super Bowl, and in recognition of this lofty achievement, the Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, met with the team and recognized them as the best of the best - the top bass fishing team in the nation. Governor Ivey also wanted to help the University of Montevallo promote its Outdoor Scholars Program and Alabama’s outdoor industry. She’s a big advocate for the outdoors and understands what outdoor sports mean to the State of Alabama. We’re also proud to say our team has been sponsored by Mossy Oak for the last three years, and we’re proud to be a representative of Mossy Oak Fishing. Mossy Oak also is a sponsor for all three of the bass fishing circuits we fish.
“Another big advantage that our bass-fishing team has is that the president of Montevallo, Dr. John Stewart, is very proud of our team because this is the first national championship the University of Montevallo ever has won. He has a heart for fishing and fishermen, and he’s the reason that the Outdoor Scholars Program was instituted at Montevallo. He’s been the biggest supporter of the Outdoor Scholars Program since day one. Even through the COVID pandemic, he encouraged our anglers to continue to practice, compete and be the best they could be.”
When Mossy Oak asked Crawford what the future of the Outdoor Scholars Program would be at the University of Montevallo, he answered, “We have something very special here at the University of Montevallo. We give young fishermen an opportunity to showcase their talents to the fishing industry, and to find jobs after graduation in the hunting and fishing industry. Most of our students want to have careers in the outdoors and participate in growing the outdoor industry well into the future.
“I think realistically we eventually may end up with 150 scholarship athletes in our Outdoor Scholars Program. Having a positive impact on these young men and women’s futures and helping them achieve their goals in life is what I really enjoy. Right now, we have roughly 10 young women in our Outdoor Scholars Program, but as of yet, none are on our fishing team. Even if we have 100 scholarships for next year’s students, I think we’ll stick with the 60 scholarships we have right now for the fishing team - a pretty good number of anglers with which to keep up. As long as there aren’t more tournaments added to our schedule, I think 60 is a good number of individuals to work with for our bass fishing team right now.
“To our knowledge, there’s not another college or university with the number of scholarship bass fishermen that Montevallo has. Most college bass fishing teams have 20 or 30 anglers on their fishing teams that are scholarship athletes. The sport of bass fishing has grown dramatically in the last five years, and collegiate bass fishing has been a part of that growth. However, our Outdoor Scholars Program is more than just a bass fishing team. Recruiting is a vital part of the growth and development of our program. The Montevallo bass fishing program has anglers from 17 different states. On the Major League Fishing (MLF) circuit, Montevallo’s team is the two-time National Champion. On the Bassmaster Collegiate Series, we’ve always had a team within the top five in the nation. Out of all the tournaments our team has fished this year, the anglers have won four tournaments and had 18, top-10 finishes of all the tournaments they’ve fished.”
The Master’s Degree Program for the UM Bass-Fishing Team - Adam Carroll
One of the newest advances that the Outdoor Scholars Program is initiating this year is a master’s degree program, allowing collegiate anglers to compete for five years instead of four. A graduate assistant program for masters’ candidates will enable anglers to stay in the program and receive a master’s degree. The first recipient of this program is Adam Carroll from Carrollton, Georgia.
Adam Carroll: I just graduated from Montevallo in May with an undergrad degree in marketing. I’ll start my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) in the 2021 college fall semester, and I’ll be serving as the graduate assistant for Montevallo’s bass fishing team. In the 2019-2020 bass fishing season, I was one of the two captains of the bass fishing teams and also was selected as the captain of the 2021 team. So, I’ll be a fifth-year collegiate bass fishing member of the team, which for me is a high honor to be the first student at the University of Montevallo to be a graduate assistant for the bass fishing team, and to be able to get a master’s degree while serving in that position.
Q: Why did you choose the University of Montevallo as the college you wanted to attend and to participate on its bass fishing team?
Carroll: I fished on the Bremen High School Fishing Team 8 years ago and tried to help our high school team grow. At that time, the high school bass fishing circuit and the collegiate fishing circuits weren’t very big. But I knew I wanted to fish in college. My original plan was to stay in Georgia and fish for one of the collegiate teams there, but during my senior year, my mother and I looked at social media at the various colleges and universities with collegiate fishing teams that offered scholarships. I also met some students attending the University of Montevallo. I came over for an official visit and met Mr. William Crawford during the spring before I graduated from high school. I really fell in love with the campus, and at that time, there was only about 10 members of the bass fishing team. To watch this team grow from 10 anglers to 60 anglers has been a really crazy and exciting experience since I’ve been here.
Q: Going to college and participating in bass fishing tournaments all over the country has to be an arduous task. As a student you have to keep your grade-point average up, and as a bass fisherman, you have to put numbers of hours in on the road traveling and practicing for tournaments. What is it about that schedule that makes you want to return for a fifth year?
Carroll: I’ve been a part of the program for the last four years, and I really have enjoyed the fishing, the fellowship and going to school at Montevallo. Also, I enjoy meeting college fishermen from all over the nation. I’ve been able to make lifelong friends with many of these anglers, and I’ve seen our team grow to include anglers from 17 different states. I’ve also been able to enjoy fishing all year long. I’m often asked, “What’s the fishing season for a collegiate athlete?” and I have to say it’s year-round. Living the schedule and the lifestyle that we live is a part of our professional development to work eventually in the outdoor industry. We really have to juggle our schedules to manage our time in class and complete our homework and projects while competing on the highest level of the collegiate bass fishing circuits. I think these last four years have helped me grow and learn how to manage my time. I always expect to work more than 40 hours a week.
Q: What kind of success have you had this year fishing on the collegiate bass fishing circuits?
Carroll: My partner, Trey Dickert from Greer, South Carolina, and I fished a number of tournaments this year, and our best finish was on Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee, near Chattanooga. We finished in 8th place out of 200 boats and qualified to fish in the National Championship. We’re looking forward to fishing that tournament next year. Sad to say, I didn’t qualify for the Bassmasters Championship this year, but I have qualified for it for the past three years.
Q: What’s your favorite technique to fish for bass?
Carroll: My favorite lures are top-water lures and baits that make bass react and strike a lure. Trey’s favorite technique is fishing a Neko rig, and he’s a lot better at that technique than I am.
Q: Most college students hardly can wait to finish up their four-year college career. What makes you want to stay at the University of Montevallo?
Carroll: I really like the campus, and I like being able to fish all year long. Seeing how much the bass fishing program has grown over the four years I’ve been here, from 10 anglers to 60, has been very exciting for me. Every year I’ve been here, our goal always has been to win the title of School of the Year, but that goal seemed pretty far-fetched when I was a freshman and a sophomore. Watching the growth of the other anglers on the team and seeing their skills in bass fishing improve, as well as my own, has been exciting and fun. I’m so proud we finally reached our goal of being School of the Year. I want to be a part of that top tier of collegiate bass fishing as long as I can.
Since I was offered the opportunity to come back and fish another year as a graduate assistant, I decided to do that. I’m very grateful and have been blessed to have what I need to reach my dreams and goals from Mr. Crawford, our coach, and the school to initiate a graduate assistant program. Now I can continue living my dream. I hardly can wait for school to start, so I can get back in the groove of fishing and attending college. Also, I’m glad I have this next year to try to decide what I want to do and to identify companies that may be looking for a collegiate bass fisherman who’s participated for the School of the Year, has an undergraduate degree in marketing and will have an MBA when I graduate. I hope to be able to get a job in the outdoor industry and possibly in the fishing industry because my real passions in life are hunting and fishing.
Chandler Holt - Member of UM Bass Fishing Team
Q: We know you’re from Birmingham, Alabama, attended Briarwood Christian School and participated on its bass fishing team. Why did you decide to go to the University of Montevallo?
Chandler Holt: Really, the main reason I went to the University of Montevallo was because of its bass fishing team. I had planned to go to some other schools when I was in high school, like the University of Alabama, Auburn University and others outside the state. But then I met with William Crawford, who heads up the Outdoor Scholars Program and he told me about the fishing team and everything they’d accomplished. Because of my love for fishing and the success that Montevallo had had, I knew I wanted to fish with the best of the best while in college. I’ve enjoyed every moment of my freshman career. Being a part of the team of the year and meeting the Governor of the State of Alabama was the high point of my freshman year.
Q: How well did you fish in high school?
Holt: I didn’t really do that well. I had an older boat that always seemed to have some kind of problem. But we finally sold that boat, and I got a new one. So, my fishing became better and better, since I have better equipment now. In the 2021 season, I’ll be a sophomore, and I can hardly wait to get back to school and back to fishing. Right now, I’m in the Business Management Program, and I intend to fish as hard as I can while I’m in college. I hope after graduation that I’ll be able to fish on the professional circuits. As I’ve learned, being a professional fisherman is a business. So, if I reach my goal, I’ll have the skills I need, and can use what I’ve learned in college to be a good businessman as well as a professional fisherman. If at the end of my college career I have an opportunity to fish professionally, then that’s what I’d love to do.
Q: What was being a part of the school bass fishing team for 2020-2021 like?
Holt: That was an incredible experience and an awesome honor. Everybody on the fishing team put in a lot of hard work to accomplish that goal. We worked so hard I thought we deserved the win, but then, when we won, I felt like we were really blessed to have accomplished the goal of the team since its very beginning. Without every single member of our team fishing as hard as they could, I don’t think we would have made it. Throughout the year, I was so proud to see that one of the Montevallo teams was right up at the top of every event we fished. A couple of times my partner Aaron Cherry, from Dothan, Alabama, and I were on top, and we felt really blessed to have fished as well as we did.
Q: How well did y’all place in some of your tournaments?
Holt: In the MLF Open Tournament, we placed 7th, and we fished several of the Southern Collegiate Bass Tournaments in Alabama and did really well in those tournaments. We won the MLF Southern Open College Series on Lake Guntersville. That was an awesome tournament for us. It was a one-day tournament, and we won with 18 pounds and some change. We fished the MLS Wildcard Tournament and finished 8th in that tournament. Then we fished in the School of the Year Tournament and led the Montevallo team by finishing in the top 50. So, we helped out by getting some points in that tournament to secure the School of the Year title. If I had to sum up our year, I’d say we were consistent, even though we only won one tournament. We were really blessed.
Q: What was it like fishing 10 tournaments, being gone from school that much and having to get your homework and take tests when you returned to school?
Holt: Every member of the team holds each other accountable to get his homework done, especially when we’re on the road. When we reach our motels at night, regardless of what’s happened in the tournament or after practicing for a tournament that day, we go into business mode and start working on our homework. We take our computers with us. All the professors and the administration at the University of Montevallo work with us to help us achieve our academic goals as well as our fishing goals. We have a lady who works with us - Miss Deana - and if we need an extension to finish a project, she works between us and the professors in the courses we’re taking to make sure we have time to finish our work. Coach Crawford has told us all that education and school work comes first, and our fishing is second. So, when I joined the fishing team, I knew what was expected of me, and the other team members do too. That’s why there’s no time for play when we’re on the road - practicing and competing.
Q: What’s your plan for this upcoming season?
Holt: Aaron and I have talked about it, and since we were highly successful this year, we plan to fish the next three years together. Our personal goals are to try to win as many tournaments as we can to help the team to win the School of the Year title in the 2021-2022 season. We’re also going to try to win Boat of the Year on the B.A.S.S. circuit. Now, I know these are lofty goals, but those are the goals we’ve set for ourselves for this next season.
Q: What’s yours and Aaron’s favorite bassing technique?
Holt: I grew up fishing the Coosa River in Alabama, and I like to fish topwater lures in grass. My partner Aaron grew up fishing Alabama’s Lake Eufaula, and even though he can fish topwater really well, he likes to be able to read his electronics and fish offshore. So, we have two different strengths that serve us both well.
Chance Schwartz and UM Bass Fishing Team
Q: Chance, we know you’re from Ball Ground, Georgia, and are a rising junior this year in the 2021-2022 season with a major in Business Management. We understand you’ve been bass fishing as far back as you can remember. Why did you choose the University of Montevallo for your college experience?
Chance Schwartz: My senior year in high school I was searching for what I believed to be the right school for me. I started looking at the standings of colleges and universities with good collegiate bass fishing teams, and I kept up with how each was doing on all three of the major collegiate bass fishing circuits. Montevallo stood out as being one of the better schools, so I called up Mr. Crawford, the coach of the team, and set up a date to meet with him. After talking with him, I really felt like Montevallo was the best place for me, because I wanted to continue my bass fishing career after high school.
Q: What’s fishing 5-12 tournaments a year and keeping up with your school work to graduate like?
Schwartz: It’s a pretty tough schedule. We’re traveling all the time and going to school, but we get accustomed to it, and we learn how to keep up with our school work and how to fish hard every day. Last year I had a 3.5 grade-point average.
Q: What’s your team’s favorite fishing technique?
Schwartz: James Willoughby from Gulfport, Mississippi, is my partner. We were randomly paired together, but our relationship, our fishing and our studying has worked out perfectly for both of us.
My home lake is Georgia’s Lake Lanier, a deep, clear lake just outside of Atlanta. So, my strength is fishing offshore and finding bass on deep-water structure. James’ strength is fishing shallow water. So, by combining our two strengths, we’re able to work together really well in the tournaments we fish.
Q: What does it mean to you for your team to have won School of the Year this past season?
Schwartz: Our team has really worked hard for several years to try to accomplish this goal, and we finally reached the top of the collegiate bass fishing mountain.
Q: About how many tournaments do you fish during the school year?
Schwartz: At least 10 tournaments, and maybe a few more. That’s the reason we have 60 anglers on our fishing team. Then we can have several teams competing on all three circuits every year. We usually have about six or seven teams competing in each tournament we attend.
Q: What’s yours and James’ best finish?
Schwartz: We just won the Pickwick Slam three months ago that was put on by the Collegiate Bass Fishing Circuit. In that tournament we also got double points for our win.
Q: What technique did y’all use to win that tournament?
Schwartz: We went to the tailrace and started catching smallmouths by drifting swimbaits. Our best fish was a smallmouth that weighed 6.5 pounds. The first day that we fished, our best five bass weighed 25 pounds. For two days of fishing, we caught about 45 pounds and won by 5 pounds.
Q: Were there many other competitors fishing the tailrace like y’all were?
Schwartz: On the first day of the tournament, there were only a few boats there, but when we came in the lead after the first day, on the second day the tailrace was loaded with competitors. On day one, we caught 20-plus pounds, and on day two, we had the exact same weight for five bass.
Q: What was the secret to your success?
Schwartz: We won the tournament because we learned where the big smallmouth would be holding on underwater rock piles, and what time of day the smallmouth would be on each of those rock piles. I also think that our ability to read and understand our electronics allowed us to find those rockpiles, see the fish on them and know what time of day we needed to fish each rock pile.
Q: What do you plan to do after college?
Schwartz: I’m going to get a job, try to save up enough money to fish some Bass Open tournaments on the weekends and see how I do on the professional bass fishing circuit.
Q: Why would you suggest that other high school bass fishermen consider the University of Montevallo for college and join its fishing team?
Schwartz: The fishing team is unreal. We all get along really well together, and we all work hard, but we always have a good time. We’re always going on trips together, and we all caravan together to different tournament sites. I think if I rolled it all into three words, I’d say, “It’s just fun.”
Aaron Cherry Bass Fishing at UM
Q: We know you’re from Dothan, Alabama, Aaron. Why did you decide to go to Montevallo?
Aaron Cherry: When I toured the campus, I saw that it was a relatively small campus, and when I met members of the fishing team, I could tell that they were a close-knit group and very family-oriented. I came from Headland High School, and our high school bass team was really close-knit. So, Montevallo felt like home when I visited and got to know some of the fishermen.
Q: What was your first year of fishing for the University of Montevallo like?
Cherry: This year was fun, but it was totally different from my high school fishing team. We often would be gone for a week at a time, and when we’d get to a lake, we might have several days of practice to break down the lake, find the fish and develop a plan for the competition days. In high school tournaments, we only had one day of competition, and if we did any pre-practicing, we had to do it on our own. I also liked that we didn’t have to have a boat captain like we did in high school. We were able to captain our own boat and make our own decisions about where we were going to fish, and why we were going to fish there. Even though we were under a lot of COVID restrictions, I enjoyed having the opportunity to fish as much as we did. This past year was really fun. I hardly can wait for school to start to be able to get with my teammates and begin fishing again.
Q: You mention that you’re often gone from school for a week. How do you deal with school responsibilities when you’re away from school for a week at a time?
Cherry: Our professors are really cool. They give us our school work ahead of time and extend some of the dates for when our course work is due to get our work done and competed. The professors at Montevallo make our lives much easier than they probably would at other schools - especially when we’re out of town for a week to go fishing in tournaments across the country.
Q: What causes you and Chandler to fish well together?
Cherry: Chandler Holt, from Birmingham, Alabama, is my partner. I like to fish deep water, and Chandler’s more of a shallow-water fisherman. I think because each of our strengths in fishing is different from our partner’s that we have the best of both worlds. And, we learn twice as much from each other than we will if both of us have the same strengths in fishing. When we go to a tournament, we each have two different mindsets as to how to win the tournament. So, we try both strategies, and usually one of those strategies - either deep or shallow - will pay off for us.
Q: What was your best finish in a tournament?
Cherry: We won the Lake Guntersville MLF (Major League Fishing) tournament.
We caught most of our bass fishing rubber frogs in the grass. We caught bass all day long out of one little pocket that we found in practice. The key to our win was that this pocket we located was loaded with bait fish. Even though we caught a lot of bass, we also missed a number of them. If you’ve ever fished with a rubber frog, you know that missing bass is as much as part of fishing frogs as catching bass is. Even though I feel my strength is fishing offshore, I love to fish with a rubber frog in the grass. That type of fishing is just fun for me.
Q: How many pounds of bass did y’all catch and weigh in?
Cherry: This Lake Guntersville was a one-day tournament, and we weighed in at 18.14 pounds of bass. We had two bass that weighed about 7 pounds each. I caught one of those bass early that morning, and in the last five minutes of the tournament, I looked at Chandler and said, “We need one more big bass if we’re going to win this tournament.” And within that last five minutes, I caught the other big bass that we had for the day.
Q: Why would you suggest that other high school tournament bass anglers consider going to the University of Montevallo and fish on the bass fishing team?
Cherry: I think that Montevallo has a great program for anyone who wants to make a living in the outdoors, whether it’s fishing or hunting or any other outdoor sport in which they’re interested. If they’re really passionate about bass fishing, I think they’ll enjoy fishing with our team. The team has a depth chart, so you see what place you’re in every day and each time you go into our coach Mr. Crawford’s office. You know where you place on the team, which causes you to strive to excel to move up the depth chart and do better at every tournament you fish. Also, as a part of the Outdoor Scholars Program, you not only get to fish, but you get to travel around the country and go on some awesome hunting trips, too. I think this Outdoor Scholars Program is a great opportunity, and it’s the kind of program that any person interested in the outdoors will love. I’m a Business Marketing major, and when I graduate, I hope to be able to fish professionally.