They've burnt the midnight oil studying, awakened early to run and lift weights, and volunteered free time to various causes. The hard work is done. Now comes the waiting game.
Last month, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, nominated 19 young people from Colorado's 3rd Congressional District for admission to U.S. Service Academies. Three were from Montezuma County: two from Cortez and one out of Mancos - Zane Willburn.
Spokesman Josh Green said Tipton looks for "well-rounded individuals" whose skills are suited to a military academy setting - academic rigor, leadership among peers and community service are assets. Deciding on finalists was a difficult task, he added.
It's a fitting conclusion - an appropriate bookend - that Willburn completes his senior year at Mancos High School waiting to hear from the academies. The appointment could come any time between now and April.
His military ambitions were kindled shortly after he entered as a freshman.
Wilburn says he didn't necessarily draw inspiration from family roots. Though both grandfathers were drafted into the Army, they "didn't make lifelong careers out of it." In his mind, service just sounded like a compatible fit.
"Ever since I learned about the academies, I've been working toward that goal," he said.
Achieving the goal is no easy feat; the stepping stones needed to be a credible candidate for cadet demand time and gumption. As a student, it means solid scores on the ACT, a consistently high grade point average and the ability to craft a good essay.
"You can't just sit around and get Cs in your classes," Willburn said.
It means staying physically healthy enough to pass the fitness assessment. Tests include timed sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups; a distance run, sprints and a basketball throw akin to a shotput heave. There's also a medical exam that gauges vision and hearing.
Willburn runs high school cross-country and track, and volunteers for the Mancos Fire Protection District. This year he is serving as senior class representative on student council and National Honor Society president. If that weren't enough, Willburn is taking calculus and composition courses at Fort Lewis College.
"It's been more work than I thought when I started out. It taught me time management," he said.
Willburn is applying to two academies: Air Force in Colorado Springs and Navy in Annapolis, Md. He went to the Air Force Academy summer seminar last summer, having completed an application to attend. Only 900 applicants were accepted out of 4,000. Willburn also got invited to go to Annapolis on Jan. 31 to visit and shadow a cadet there.
A prerequisite for Air Force is Civil Air Patrol. After classroom training and 11 hours of supervised flight time, Willburn flew solo at the National Flight Academy in Shawnee, Okla. last year.
His parents are Joe and Tara Willburn.