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June 2, 2015

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high school football:

From blue chip prospects to Division II recruits keeping the dream alive, signing day produced several memories in Las Vegas

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Special to the Sun

Liberty High School’s Jared Tuilagi (near) and P.J. Taeao signing letter of intent Feb. 1, 2012 on national signing day. Tuilagi signed with North Dakota and Taeao signed with Southern Utah.

2012 National Signing Day

Bishop Gorman High football players, from left, Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame), Shaquille Powell (Duke), coach Tony Sanchez, Ron Scoggins Jr. (UNLV), Zach Hutchins (Montana State) and Marc Philippi (UNLV) pose for a photo on national signing day. Launch slideshow »

Every high school football player has a different story to share on national signing day.

There are usually plenty of tears of joy, smiles and hugs from loved ones, and the look of relief on the faces of recruits as they officially commit to a college by signing a letter of intent.

Getting to the day, which always falls on the first Wednesday of February, is typically easier said than done for the athletes.

For some, the recruiting process is full of adversity and much second-guessing. After all, deciding where to spend the next four or five years of their lives is a difficult decision.

In Las Vegas, this year’s recruiting cycle produced more than its share of noteworthy events. Three players reneged in the final week from a verbal commitment, including Bishop Gorman High teammates Marc Phillipi and Ron Scoggins Jr. switching from New Mexico to hometown UNLV late Tuesday hours before signing.

Eight locals inked with Division I schools. Another handful of players signed with Football Championship Subdivision schools such as Southern Utah or North Dakota — where Liberty High defensive tackle P.J. Taeao and Jared Tuilagi signed, respectively.

Here are some of their stories:

The first in his family to attend college : When Las Vegas High quarterback Hasaan Henderson signed with Nevada-Reno Wednesday morning, the signal caller was doing more than committing to the Wolf Pack football program.

Henderson, the second youngest of six children, is the first in his family to attend college. If his mother, Kishombi Henderson has her way, he’ll also be the first to graduate.

“It’s a big deal for us that he’s going to college,” she said. “And he’s going there to finish.”

Las Vegas High quarterback Hasaan Henderson poses for a picture with his family (dad Alzim Henderson, mom Kishombi Henderson and sister Mykiera Henderson) after signing a national letter of intent Feb. 1, 2012, to play football at Nevada.

Las Vegas High quarterback Hasaan Henderson poses for a picture with his family (dad Alzim Henderson, mom Kishombi Henderson and sister Mykiera Henderson) after signing a national letter of intent Feb. 1, 2012, to play football at Nevada.

A dual-threat quarterback, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Henderson finished his three-year varsity career with 78 total touchdowns — 61 passing and 17 rushing. He rushed for 1,255 career yards and passed for 5,123 yards.

He likely wouldn’t have been able to afford attending college if it weren’t for the scholarship. Fittingly, when his parents and younger sister arrived at the Las Vegas campus for his signing wearing Nevada-Reno gear, you could tell it was more than Henderson signing with the Wolf Pack.

It was a family accomplishment, too.

“This is probably the best thing to happen to me in my life,” he said. “It’s just a huge relief for my family. Having them here with me makes this more special.”

The elite prospect : When Desert Pines High School offensive lineman Cedrick Poutasi left his house in northeast Las Vegas early Wednesday morning, his cellphone rang with a college recruiter on the other line. Yet again.

The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Poutasi is arguably the most sought-after recruit in Southern Nevada, being rated as a four-star prospect and ranked as the nation’s No. 10 overall offensive guard by Rivals.com. At one point in the process, he had more than 15 scholarship offers.

Despite verbally committing to Utah at the end of January, Poutasi received late interest from Oregon and visited the school last week. He was more than tempted by Oregon’s pursuit — including the early-morning phone call — but ultimately stayed true to his commitment with Utah.

He did make the decision interesting, bringing hats from both programs to his signing event. After signing his papers, the scene turned from nerve-wracking to emotional.

Desert Pines High School offensive tackle Cedrick Poutasi holds up the University of Utah 'U' after signing a national letter of intent on Feb. 1, 2012.

Desert Pines High School offensive tackle Cedrick Poutasi holds up the University of Utah 'U' after signing a national letter of intent on Feb. 1, 2012.

Family members, teammates and coaches all had tears in their eyes in sharing in his joy. It made the long nights during the recruiting process seem worthwhile.

“Oregon was actually in the mix. I was on the edge of signing with them and everything,” Poutasi said. “It was a very hard decision, but I pulled it out for Utah. ... Just the emotion of happiness. I was crying out of happiness knowing I have a fill-ride scholarship and my parents don’t have to pay for tuition. It’s a relief it was all over.”

Poutasi, who was sporting a suit and high-top sneakers, was genuinely thankful to everyone who helped him in his journey to the next level. That is especially true with his older brother, Desert Pines senior Tuileisu Poutasi. Like Cedrick, Tuileisu was also an all-Northeast Division selection last fall. But at just 6-foot, 150-pounds the tight end wasn’t recruited.

“He ate all of my leftovers,” Tuileisu Poutasi, who is about one year older than Cedrick, jokingly said of his brother’s larger frame.

When Cedrick was profiled by the Sun last spring, he contacted the reporter afterward to make sure his brother was included in the story. While the brothers will be separated next year when Cedrick heads to Salt Lake City, their bond surely won’t be broken.

“Everyone knew from the start he was a walking scholarship,” Tuileisu Poutasi said. “I always believed it.”

Not everyone will attend a Division I school : While Cedrick Poutasi was the center of attention Wednesday at Desert Pines, teammate Allen Vaiao also signed a letter of intent — at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

It’s a Division II school and they only offered him a partial scholarship, but you won’t hear the 6-foot, 300-pound defensive lineman complain.

Desert Pines High School's Allen Vaiao after signing with the University of Mary Feb. 1, 2012.

Desert Pines High School's Allen Vaiao after signing with the University of Mary Feb. 1, 2012.

He’s getting to play four more years of football. And, he easily qualifies for financial aid to cover what the scholarship doesn’t.

“It is a blessing to take it to the next level,” Vaiao said. “My family and I are blessed to have this opportunity so I’m going to take advantage of it.”

Getting to compete on the big stage of a Division I program is something several high school players dream about. Vaiao included. But he’s mature enough to know there is more to college than what happens on the gridiron.

He is part of the mass communications magnet program at Desert Pines and regularly serves as an anchor in the program’s news program. He’s comfortable in front of the camera and has a dynamic personality. He did plenty of research on the University of Mary and feels that’s the best place to continue his progression — on the football field, and more importantly, in front of the camera.

“Oh, I’m real good. You should see one of my broadcasts,” he said.

Bishop Gorman High School seniors, from left, Ron Scoggins Jr., Demitrius Morant and Marc Philippi on national signing day Feb. 1, 2012. Scoggins and Philippi signed with UNLV, where Morant inked in the fall 2011 to play basketball.

Bishop Gorman High School seniors, from left, Ron Scoggins Jr., Demitrius Morant and Marc Philippi on national signing day Feb. 1, 2012. Scoggins and Philippi signed with UNLV, where Morant inked in the fall 2011 to play basketball.

Rebels, Rebels : After an afternoon ceremony at Bishop Gorman High to celebrate the powerhouse program’s signees, Gaels senior basketball player Demetrius Morant came down from the bleachers to greet UNLV recruits Marc Philippi and Ron Scoggins Jr. with big hugs.

Late Tuesday, Philippi and Scoggins switched their verbal commitments from New Mexico to UNLV, both stating the desire to stay close to their support system in Las Vegas. Morant, who signed last fall with the Rebels’ basketball program, was welcoming them to the scarlet and gray family.

Just like that, playing for the hometown team — something locals, especially highly regarded prospects such as Philippi and Scoggins, often avoided — became more accepted. The three posed for a photo.

Scoggins’ dad, Ron Scoggins’ Sr., played for UNLV in the 1980s when the Rebels went from having a losing record when he joined the program to winning the California Bowl.

“I just feel like we can change it around like they did in the 1980s,” Scoggins Jr. said.

Landing the duo from Gorman was a major score for UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is his third-recruiting class. They clearly highlight the Rebels’ 20-player class and could serve as a springboard in the program’s recruitment of more locals in the coming years.

“Marc kicked around leaving town and going someplace else and getting out on his own a little bit, but we are excited that he decided to come play for his hometown university,” Hauck said.

Palo Verde High School's Jerrol Garcia-Williams signs his national letter of intent Feb. 1, 2012, to play football at the University of Hawaii.

Palo Verde High School's Jerrol Garcia-Williams signs his national letter of intent Feb. 1, 2012, to play football at the University of Hawaii.

Another strong year for Las Vegas: About 12 to 15 years ago, Las Vegas Valley athletes were hardly recruited and the area often didn’t have any participants on signing day. This year, eight went to Division I programs, highlighted by Gorman offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley signing with Notre Dame.

“Anyone who has ever played football has dreamed of (playing) for Notre Dame. At some point we’ve all thought about it,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said.

Palo Verde High linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams signed with Hawaii, giving the perennial power Panthers a Division I player in each of the past five signing classes.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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