Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014 | 2 a.m.
It was Josh Winfield’s first stop on the recruiting trail.
The Las Vegas native Winfield, a newbie to the college football coaching ranks at Southern Oregon University, arrived at Canyon Springs High to find players for a program he believed would accomplish great things.
“I remember when coach Winfield recruited me, he said we are going to win the national title,” said Isiah Carter, a 2014 Canyon Springs graduate and Southern Oregon linebacker. “Everything he has preached to me came true. It was the way he presented it to me. I could tell with the conviction in his voice. There was something ringing in my head. It will happen if I buy in.”
Carter wasn’t the only local to buy in.
Winfield recruited seven players out of the Las Vegas Valley for the class of 2014 to Southern Oregon, including Carter and defensive back A.J. Cooper from Canyon Springs, and running back Lantz Worthington from Centennial High. All three dressed last week for the NAIA national championship game, where Southern Oregon beat Marian University of Indiana 55-31 for the program’s first national championship.
“Las Vegas is such an under-recruited area. It’s an untapped resource,” Winfield said.
Winfield was a senior on Las Vegas High’s undefeated 2005 state championship team — they would have given the modern-day Gorman teams a battle — and played four years at the University of Mary in North Dakota. When Winfield’s playing days were finished, he returned to Las Vegas ready to start his professional life.
He worked at the Cosmopolitan, was a substitute teacher and helped coach at Las Vegas High. Soon, two years had passed. He was living at home and searching for a career path. In his heart, though, he knew what direction he wanted to take.
“My mother asked, ‘Why aren’t you coaching? You know you love football. Try to make money with it,’” Winfield said.
In the spring of 2013, he caught his break into the college game with Southern Oregon. Sure, it an NAIA school, and the pay isn’t great.
But it’s football. He’s learning on the job and already earning the reputation of being a good evaluator of talent. Carter was fourth on Southern Oregon with 75 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss and four sacks. Worthington is their fastest player, being overlooked last year by Division I schools and finding a chance with Southern Oregon. Cooper is one of their best cornerbacks.
All three, because they were undersized, were lightly recruited. But for Winfield, their skills were exactly what he was after. He knew they could immediately contribute.
“I always thought to myself I could play at any school,” said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Carter. “I’m undersized and they looked past me because of that. They judged me for my size and not my ability.”
With the national championship as ammunition, Winfield will again return to the recruiting trail in January. He’ll be back in Las Vegas looking for more under-the-radar players, delivering a similar message to his initial visit at Canyon Springs.
“That is the first school I walked into,” he said of Canyon Springs. “I met with coach (Hunkie) Cooper and was able to recruit his son (A.J.). Those guys did a good job of making (the national championship talk) right.”
Winfield is still learning the ins and outs of the industry. He loves his second home in Southern Oregon as much as his first of Las Vegas. One day, he hopes to advance through the coaching ranks to return home.
“I want to lead UNLV to a national title,” Winfield said. “Hopefully Tony (Sanchez) can take care of that pretty soon.”
Other locals at Southern Oregon include Raequan Bascombe (Canyon Springs), Malik Davis (Desert Pines), Terry Dodd (Cheyenne), Ray Robinson (Las Vegas High) and Justin Taitague (Las Vegas).