Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 | 7 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 | 9:36 p.m.
The library at Canyon Springs in North Las Vegas was so packed with supporters on national signing day, officials had to bring in more chairs to accommodate the crowd.
The ceremony, during which seven football players signed their letter of intent to different levels of college football, quickly became emotional. Coach Hunkie Cooper delivered a powerful speech that left most in tears. Principal Ron Guerzon and a few teachers followed, expressing how proud they were of the players and urging them to keep working.
Isiah Carter, a linebacker and one of three to sign with Southern Oregon University, didn’t cry. Didn’t come close. He smiled.
Carter, you see, has done more than his share of crying the past two years, after his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Breonte Porter, who everyone called April, died a few weeks into last season with Isiah at her side. She’s in a better place, no longer suffering, he bravely says.
“He called me and said, ‘Coop, this is it, my mom’s (not going to make it),’” Cooper said. “I told him, ‘Reach over and tell her you’ll be OK. You love her.’ Parents always want to make sure their kids are going to be OK. This kid is going to be fine.”
Today, Carter received a scholarship valued at $28,000 annually, knowing the next phase of his life is secure. Finally, something is certain. It was a trying two years — two years that helped define him and make him stronger, but two years no teenager should endure.
He won’t forget the trials and tribulations. But it’s not what he remembers most. Rather, it’s his mother's easygoing personality and how she always was in the stands on game day. She died hours after attending a game. He was at practice the next day, never missing a team function.
“She would have cheered louder than everyone in here,” Carter said. “I know she was here today, looking down on all of us.”
Attending college with A.J. Cooper, Hunkie’s son, and Raequan Bascombe will help make things easier. Each of the seven players at Canyon Spring who signed today have a non-traditional path to college football —at least for transient Las Vegas.
They began playing in local youth leagues and are each others’ best friends. They take trips together and their families consider each other family. They’ve won together, lost together and cried together.
They attended April’s funeral together. They cried at April’s funeral together.
They cried again today, realizing the true meaning of national signing day: They’ve made it, together.
Big Noe Jr. could make noise at San Diego State
Noble Hall is Valley High’s next great athlete you’ll be hearing more about when he reaches the next level.
When it’s all said and done, he might end up being honored alongside the other legendary Valley athletes from the school’s glory years. And at Valley, the bar is pretty high thanks to this baseball hall-of-famer named Maddux.
Hall, a 6-foot-3, 240 pound defensive lineman with a frame to add more bulk, signed today with San Diego State. He’s going to be a good one, trust me.
At Valley, the good ones are never forgotten.
The gym is a shrine to the legendary Viking teams and players of yesteryear, an awesome display of championship banners and retired jerseys documenting one of the city’s first true powerhouse schools.
Valley opened in 1965. When I was a kid in the 1980s and 90s, nobody did it better. This is coming from a Chap grad — we hated those kids from Valley.
I’ve always said Valley has one of the best home court advantages in basketball because of those banners, or maybe it’s the original exposed brick walls that give a feel that it’s still the 1970s. If those walls could talk, right?
Hall is a physical specimen. Quick, strong, big and athletic. More important, he’s a hard worker, willing to roll up his sleeves to be great.
Greatness won’t happen overnight, though.
He won’t turn 18 until the summer and it would be best if he red-shirted next season. And because Valley struggled to find bodies to fill its roster, Hall won’t arrive in San Diego with much experience. He hasn’t faced great competition in practice and hasn’t been pushed to get better.
Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe Noble Hall’s college career will be nothing to remember. But I could be right — Big Noe Jr., as friends chanted loudly today when he signed, could be Valley’s next great star.
The Southern Oregon pipeline
Southern Oregon University coaches sure liked what they found when recruiting in the Las Vegas area.
Actually, it was initially just one coach — linebacker coach Josh Winfield, a Las Vegas High graduate and a member of the Wildcats’ 2005 state championship team.
In total, seven from Southern Nevada signed today with the NAIA school in Ashland, Ore., finding a home thanks to a coach who faced similar odds when he was a high school senior. Winfield played at the University of Mary in North Dakota, thriving in the lower-classification school when Division I programs passed.
He helped sell the current group of locals they can have a similar memorable experience at Southern Oregon.
The group is highlighted by wide receiver and running back Lantz Worthington of Centennial. Worthington had 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns in 2013.
Others include defensive lineman Terry Dodd IV from Cheyenne, defensive back Malik Davis from Desert Pines and LB Justin Taitague from Las Vegas High. At 5-foot-7, the dynamic Davis would have been a sure-thing Division I recruit if he was taller — he briefly entertained an offer to walk-on at UNR.
The three from Canyon Springs — Raequan Bascombe, A.J. Cooper, Isiah Carter and also signed with Southern Oregon.
Desert Pines continues to send kids to next level
This isn’t Paul Bennett’s first national signing day.
The veteran Las Vegas educator knows what it takes to play college football. It’s more than being an elite athlete. It’s about being a quality student.
Bennett, a longtime area coach and an administrator at Desert Pines High, delivered that message today to student-athletes at the Northeast Las Vegas school.
Bennett and Jaguars coach Tico Rodriguez know what they are talking about. Besides five-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman, Desert Pines has sent more athletes to Division I football over the past six years than any other school in Las Vegas.
Today, defensive back Tim Hough signed with UNLV, becoming ninth Jaguar in the past six years to reach the next level.
After Hough signed his letter of intent in the school’s television production studio, Bennett turned to about 20 teammates attending the ceremony. They were mostly underclassmen, athletes still developing physically but full of potential.
“This is a tradition we started at Desert Pines a few years ago. You’re next,” Bennett told the players. “But it takes two components. Don’t forget about the educational component. You need the grades or this won’t be you.”
Bennett’s words weren’t scripted. He didn’t plan on speaking, retiring last year as the Desert Pines coach and being a close adviser to Rodriguez as Desert Pines won its league last fall.
But he’s seen it too many times over his more than two decades in education: instead of athletes receiving a free college education and getting a leg up on bettering themselves, they’re stuck on the outside looking in because their hard work on the athletic field didn’t carry over to the classroom.
When a player qualifies, Rodriguez has proven he’ll take care of the rest. After Jeremiah Poutasi signed with Utah two years ago, quickly becoming one of the Pac-12 Conference’s best lineman, Desert Pines has become a must-stop on the recruiting trail.
And when coaches arrives, players take care of the rest.
“When we get in the game, we perform big,” Hough said. “We take care to each other (when recruiters come). If you want to go someone, we tell (recruiters) take a look at my teammate, too . We are big supporters of each other like that. We want to see each other succeed.”
Also today, Desert Pines running back and defensive back Malik Davis signed with Southern Oregon University, and Ryan Noki inked with the University of Mary.
I’ll have more stories from signing day the rest of the day. Talk with you soon.
Table setter: Local players realize their dreams on national signing day
High school football players from the Las Vegas area will sign today with colleges in places as far as Oregon and Nebraska.
They’ll spend the next four or five years in small towns in South Dakota or Ohio chasing their gridiron dreams.
Today, on national signing day, when more than 20 Southern Nevada players will sign with colleges, those dreams will be partially realized. They’ll continue playing football. Most will get a free education.
Some will go to schools competing for a national championship and will play games Saturday mornings on national television. Others will play at schools such as Colorado-Mesa, University of Mary in North Dakota or Graceland University in Iowa.
That’s why signing day is so special. It’s not all about the Tyrell Crosbys of the world. Crosby, one of the best offensive lineman in the region, could have picked to play anywhere but is signing with Oregon.
It’s for the other kids, such as Durango’s Levar Colbert, who is signing with Dakota State University, or Foothill’s Dylan Weasa signing with Black Hills State. Both are lower-division schools in South Dakota.
One of these days, there won’t be a game to play, no film to watch or weights to lift, or postgame dinner with family and friends. These kids realize that. They’ve decided to keep playing until someone tells them to hang up the pads, realizing only a select few get the opportunity to play after high school.
Here’s the awesome thing: All will proudly represent Southern Nevada's brand of high school football. It doesn’t matter what level they are playing, they’ll do so raising the Nevada flag. They’ll follow each others’ careers on social media and frequently give words of encouragement. They realize their performance in college could help open doors for others from Las Vegas — it’s a town, after all, that is still developing its reputation for quality football.
Some will play in bowl games and win championship rings. Others might not be as fortunate. They’ll still enjoy the college experience, likely coming back to our town in a few years with a college degree and eager to become a productive member of our community.
Today, we salute the players reaching the next level — whatever that level is.
More than 12 schools have signing day events scheduled. I’ll attend a few and update this column all day. You can contribute, too. Send photos and signing day information on Twitter @raybrewer21 and by using the hashtag #sunstandout or #702hsfb.
Check back all day for continuing coverage.