It was a bumper year for Sacramento-area high school football, which continues to maintain its regional and national reputation as a hotbed for college recruiters.
For decades the area has produced scores of high school football players who went on to star for college teams nationwide. On Wednesday, 29 local athletes hoped to continue that trend, signing letters of intent with Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision programs. It marked one of the best hauls in recent memory.
Student-athletes signed full-ride scholarship packages with programs as near as Sacramento State and as far as Miami. It was an especially strong crop for tight ends, headed by Inderkum’s Josh Falo, a four-star athlete deemed by several recruiting sites to be among the top recruits at his position. His versatility helped him earn The Sacramento Bee’s 2016 Defensive Player of the Year honor as a defensive end and linebacker.
Falo signed with USC, highlighting four Tigers who filled out their college paperwork before a swarm of giddy students at the North Natomas school during lunch hour.
Wyoming mined the region thoroughly, landing Inderkum linebacker Ryan Gatoloai-Faupula and defensive end Victor Jones, Sheldon lineman Ravontae Holt and Christian Brothers quarterback Tyler Vander Waal.
In contrast to the snow-covered prairies in Wyoming, Hawaii offered sun and sand to help land Elk Grove defensive back Damario Mclean and Folsom wide receiver Drake Stallworth.
I’m very relieved. I can chill back and not take all the phone calls. Very proud. It’s big for all of us and our schools and families.
Josh Falo, Inderkum tight end, who signed with USC
But it was area tight ends who drew the most interest from recruiters. Falo was the area’s last prospect to decide, picking the Trojans over Colorado and Oregon, though ESPN reported throughout the morning via television graphic he had committed to Miami.
The Hurricanes missed out on Falo, but Miami did secure the most heavily recruited athlete in Burbank’s 53-year history, defensive end DJ Johnson.
Besides Falo, the Pacific-12 Conference landed Davis tight end Tucker Fisk (Stanford), Roseville tight end Jimmy Jaggers (UCLA) and Elk Grove tight end Gavin Reinwald (Cal). Capital Christian’s Weston Jones, another tight end, signed with Army.
Fisk follows in the cleat steps of his father, Jason, a 1990 Davis graduate who played defensive line at Stanford and 12 years in the NFL. Jaggers was the most-heavily recruited Roseville athlete since Tedy Bruschi in the early 1990s. Bruschi played at Arizona before winning three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
The theme on signing day was pride and relief for prospects whose families also twisted and turned through much of the recruiting process.
“I’m very relieved,” Falo said, repeating a phrase used by recruits across the region and country. “I can chill back and not take all the phone calls. Very proud. It’s big for all of us and our schools and families.”
Sacramento Bee Player of the Year Mason Hurst of Del Oro signed with Big Sky Conference member Cal Poly, where he’ll suit up at safety and will likely bump into Golden Eagles teammate Stone Smartt, who will play quarterback at Northern Arizona. The region’s only other quarterback to sign was Jesuit’s Calvin Brownholtz, who is headed to UTEP.
The area’s top running back will stay in the area and play in the Big Sky Conference. Antelope’s Elijah Dotson gave a verbal commitment to Weber State but changed his mind Tuesday night and signed with Sacramento State. Running back Tariq Hollandsworth of Sacramento High, The Bee’s top-ranked team much of the regular season, signed with UNLV.
I always preach: Trust the process. Keep up the education. Be a nice guy to everybody. It really does (pay off).
Alex Cook, Sheldon wide receiver, who signed with Washington
Washington signed two local players: Sheldon wide receiver Alex Cook and Folsom linebacker Ariel Ngata. Cook said he was impressed with the school and coach Chris Petersen, saying, “He’s a great coach. When you say coach Pete’s name, you think, ‘Oh, I’m playing for that guy!’ ”
Cook will have the chance to catch passes from another area product, Jake Browning. The Folsom graduate threw for 43 touchdowns last season to help the Huskies reach the College Football Playoff.
The area’s top offensive lineman, Grant’s Orlando Umana, signed with Utah, where the offensive coordinator is former Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor.
Most athletes remained humble and thankful for the opportunity to sign scholarship letters. Less than 2 percent of prep athletes nationwide sign letters of intent.
“I always preach: Trust the process,” Sheldon’s Cook said. “Keep up the education. Be a nice guy to everybody. It really does (pay off).”
Added Inderkum’s Falo: “The main thing is it starts in the classroom. You have to be a good student and person, on and off the field.”
Cook’s coach at Sheldon, Joe Cattolico, addressed an overflow crowd at the Elk Grove Unified School District office, where 20 athletes signed scholarship letters, and put the day into perspective.
“Be prepared that at some point, your (playing time) will end,” he said, stressing the importance of a college education and life after athletics.