That wasn’t just a signing bonanza in North Natomas on Wednesday afternoon.
It was a celebration, worthy of student-painted posters, balloons, music, a massive blow-up Tigers mascot and a throng of students crowding in to catch the action.
Five Inderkum High School student-athletes signed national letters of intent during two lunch-hour sessions, all the better to share the festivities with as many students and faculty as possible.
What’s the motto? It takes a village to raise a child? Here, it takes an entire campus and community to do so, and it was a family feel as the Tigers will send a regional-best four players to FBS schools, including two to Wyoming with linebacker Ryan Gatoloi-Faupula and defensive end Victor Jones.
Trajon Cotton is off to Oregon State to play defensive back, and Josh Falo, the nation’s No. 1-rated tight end, will head to USC. Falo was The Bee’s2016 Defensive Player of the Year for how he dominated games as a linebacker and defensive end. His versatility and what college recruiters call “upside” made him the most coveted recruit from the area this past football season.
Falo, who did not give a verbal commitment to a school during the recruiting process, waited until Wednesday to announce his decision – although he might have tipped his hand a bit by wearing a USC T-shirt to school on Monday. He had narrowed his choices down to Pac-12 Conference programs, including Colorado, Oregon and the Trojans.
It was debated Wednesday that the best athlete at the signing table was the smallest one: softball player Karmyn Rivera, who signed with Stanislaus State.
Certainly the biggest was Falo, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior who is still growing into his lanky frame. He was so stressed by the recruiting process – including official visits to Boulder, Colo., Eugene, Ore., and Los Angeles – in recent days, that he became ill.
“I am very relieved,” Falo said. “I can chill back and not take all the phone calls. I feel a lot better.”
Falo said he liked USC’s campus and football program, adding that the Trojans are, “trying to get that ‘natty,’ baby,” referring to the Trojans’ quest for a national championship.
Falo thanked his teammates, teachers, coaches and especially his family, none more instrumental in his life than mother, Elisapeta Tago Falo. She has been the rock of the family since her husband – the father of her four children – died 11 years ago. Nu’umotu Falo died to lung cancer at 49 and never saw his three sons, Nate, N.J. and Josh, play football. The lone daughter, Jamie, is serving in the Army.
“Mom means everything to me and family,” Josh Falo said. “I’m trying to have her move with me (to Los Angeles). That’s big for me.”
But Falo insists he’ll do his own laundry, adding, “that’s still me.”
Elisapeta Falo has long stressed to her children to appreciate the simple things in life. She reminds her kids that growing up on the islands of Samoa, people ate mangoes, oranges, papaya and coconuts off the trees, played games until dark and treated elders with respect.
“I tell my kids how I grew up, to understand that, and to be driven to succeed because you can do anything you want,” she said, wiping away tears. “Pride comes from the heart. Our family has a lot of that.”
Inderkum coach Terry Stark said his football program has now produced 33 scholarship players at the FBS, FCS and Division II levels in the past nine years. He said the four players who signed Wednesday represented all that is good with Inderkum.
“Those four have been amazing, good kids, good students and players since the start,” Stark said. “We pull their transcripts and check their progress with the NCAA core calculus to make sure they get to where they want to go. I’m very proud of all of them.”
Cotton played every down for perhaps Inderkum’s best team, one that reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II finals. Cotton was a duel-threat quarterback but especially impressed recruiters with his defensive ability.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed,” Cotton said. “I had 21 scholarship offers, and I know there are a lot of kids out there who didn’t get any and probably deserved some. It’s not easy.”