Twelve top local football prospects signed with four-year colleges — and the big winner was Northern Arizona University.
Centennial seniors Jake Abbott and Tevin Ray will play for the Lumberjacks, as will Liberty senior Austin Hasquet. The trio are coming off productive careers and displayed their skill and smarts on and off the field. Both Centennial players liked the thought of playing close to home, and turned down offers from more prominent programs to do so.
“In Jake’s case he had offers at Division 1 schools. When he picked NAU, I had a coach call me up and ask me if he knew what he was turning down,” Centennial coach Richard Taylor said. “In Tevin’s case, he turned down Southern Illinois. Both of them chose NAU because it was closer to home, their parents could see them play and they felt comfortable there.
Two other Coyotes will play for Division 1 schools, and could develop a friendly rivalry in the next four years. Tailback Vegas Johnson (Air Force) and wide receiver Gary Ross (San Diego State) signed to play for solid Mountain West schools.
Ross still needs a qualifying test score, but has been diligent in his preparation, and has the support of the San Diego State coaches.
“Gary has been working very hard and the San Diego State coaches are confident he’ll make it. I am too,” Taylor said. “Vegas is real excited about going to the Air Force Academy. He wants to be a pilot or a doctor and what better place to go for both fields.”
The top recruit in the West Valley, Cactus offensive tackle Ryan Nowicki, signed with Penn State about a month after verbally committing to the Big Ten power. He chose to head east instead of staying in Pac-12 country with USC or Washington.
“When he went there for his visit, he felt really comfortable,” Fetkenhier said. “USC really wanted him and so did Michigan.”
Cactus’s dual-threat quarterback Deke Cisco was looking at several smaller schools, and chose Mesa State in Colorado.
“I think he’s a fascinating kid to evaluate because he’s a great athlete,” Fetkenhier said.
Liberty’s second senior class featured its first Division 1 signee, nose tackle Travis Seefeldt. He will play for Utah State. Hasquet will be the Lions first player at the 1-AA level.
“It’s a huge milestone for us. As far as getting kids to the next level,” Filleman said. “Last year’s class put us on the map and I think colleges started taking notice of what we do.”
Filleman’s ties to Northern Arizona, where he played from 1993-96, helped both Hasquet and Seefeldt. The Utah State head coach, Gary Anderson, was the defensive line coach at NAU when Filleman played.
“Austin hit off with the recruiting coordinator who is also the linebackers coach at NAu,” filleman said. “Travis was also interested in NAU but wanted to give Utah State a chance because of its plans for him at nose tackle.”
Ironwood wide receiver Gary Chambers is the only Northwest Valley talent ticketed for Tempe. He signed with Arizona State after making a verbal commitment there early in the fall.
With limited in-state opportunities for all but the most touted seniors, Arizona players are forming a pipeline to small schools in the Midwest.
Mountain Ridge linebacker Josh Skadelan signed with Division I-AA Southern Illinois.
This year, the destination was the Dakotas. Peoria senior Lavante Lewis, like Ray, will make the transition from high school linebacker to college safety. He heads to Division II Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., along with two other Valley residents.
Sunrise Mountain linebacker Tony Troftgruben will continue to be Lewis’ league rival, when he plays for Division II University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.