The best day of Lamar Jackson’s life wouldn’t have happened without a humbling conversation 3 1/2 years ago, when he was a freshman at Franklin High School.
Jackson was summoned to the campus office of football coach Mike Johnson, who told the 14-year-old to take a seat. And call his mother.
“I told her we need to get Lamar to become a better student, a good student, so he can play sports here, to get a chance to go to college, and he did, and that’s the best thing about all of this,” Johnson said Wednesday, shortly after watching Jackson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound strong safety, sign a national letter of intent with Nebraska and feed the letter into the fax machine.
Jackson, who made the grades (3.5 GPA) and will take on ballcarriers for one of the college football’s storied programs, heads up a strong group of area players who signed full-athletic scholarships with Division I programs.
Jackson was considered the top safety in the country by recruiting services, and every top program sent a recruiter to Franklin’s basketball practices in recent weeks to watch the two-sport athlete. They came to see how he carried himself, his desire to compete, his body without shoulder pads, his mobility, his sportsmanship. They also double-checked his transcripts.
“So proud, so relieved, and so happy for my family and my school here,” said Jackson, sporting a red Nebraska sweatshirt and cap.
“My son Lamar worked so hard for this,” Catherine Horton said. “What a special day.”
That joy was shared by seniors across the country.
National signing day has become a big event for college football because fans can’t seem to get enough of the sport. Social media was buzzing with signing announcements, family photos and videos produced by college programs.
It’s also a big deal because of the small number of high school athletes – about 1 percent – who sign with Division I programs.
“I know how blessed and fortunate I am, and I don’t take that lightly,” Jackson said. “You have to be a good student to even have a shot at a scholarship. I’m proud to be a good example at my school. Without grades, I’m not here doing this today.”
Across the region Wednesday, there were signing parties that featured balloons, banners, proud coaches and teachers and weeping grandmothers.
At Antelope, quarterback Montel Aaron and his left-tackle pal Jaelen Lewis signed with San Jose State. At Oak Ridge, quarterback Ian Book signed with Notre Dame. Del Campo lineman Nick Brand and Placer lineman Jake Capra picked Sacramento State and Oregon, respectively. Grant’s two stellar running backs signed, Deshawn Collins with Rhode Island and Mike Green with Wyoming.
Boise State landed Rocklin defensive tackle Chase Hatada, and San Diego State nabbed Cosumnes Oaks safety Keoni Stallworth. Del Oro defensive back Trey Udoffia, perhaps the area’s fastest player, is headed to Colorado.
Jesuit running back Beau Bisharat also signed with Colorado, though it wasn’t initially in his plans.
In May, he verbally committed to Stanford and ended contact with other recruiters, certain he was headed to The Farm. He and his family recently went on an official visit to Stanford, where they met the coaches, toured the campus and spent nearly $1,000 in the campus team store for hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts and pennants.
Then he got the news – and the realization that college football really is a business. As common as it is for high school athletes to back out of verbal commitments, college programs often do the same. Until a player signs, nothing is binding. Two weeks ago, Bisharat said, he was told he was no longer in Stanford’s plans.
“They told me they found someone they wanted more at that position,” Bisharat said. “I imagined myself going to Stanford for eight months, then had to find another school. It’s been the hardest two weeks of my life. It didn’t work out with Stanford, but we wiped away the tears and got moving on other options. I’m really excited about Colorado. It’s unreal. It really fits me.”
Bisharat said his message to recruits is to keep their options open.
“Biggest advice I would give is to always have a second and third option, just in case, because what happened to me happens everywhere in the country,” Bisharat said.
Green, the Grant running back, also scrambled in recent weeks to secure offers. When he took his official visit to Wyoming, he was impressed with the college, football program, coaches and people of Laramie.
“Everything was great,” he said. “It’s perfect.”
Sacramento-area football players who signed national letters of intent with Division I programs Wednesday:
San Jose State
San Jose State
San Diego State