Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 | 2 a.m.
They were promoted to the varsity team for the playoffs during their freshmen season. They cherished each moment of that postseason run, helping Arizona power Chandler High win the large-school state championship and developing an unbreakable friendship.
The following year, defensive tackle Chris Manoa and cornerback Bryce Jackson watched as two Chandler teammates signed together with Arizona State. That’s when it hit them — they’d also find a college to play at together.
That spot is UNLV.
Today, during the early signed period, Manoa and Jackson will follow through on their long-standing pact and sign with the same university. And for UNLV, that’s a good thing because both fill immediate needs in the Rebels’ struggling defensive.
“I saw those guys sign with ASU during our sophomore year and I told Bryce we should keep that loyalty going,” Manoa said.
Chandler, which is consistently ranked in the national top-25, won the state championship the past two seasons with the duo leading the way. Manoa in 2017 had 56 tackles (14.5 for a loss) and 11.5 sacks; Jackson had 81 tackles with two sacks and two interceptions.
“We only know how to win,” Jackson said. “I want to come in there to UNLV and change the culture and start winning some big games. Winning. That’s my only mindset.”
UNLV is expected to sign about 14 recruits today during the NCAA’s initial early signing period. In past recruiting cycles, there was just one signing period in early February, meaning college across the board are adjusting to a new recruiting calendar and will have to regroup after the dust settles today to finish filling out their class.
UNLV’s class is highlighted by three-star wide receiver Patrick Ballard of Texas and three-star local quarterback Kenyon Oblad, who is Nevada’s all-time leading passer. Both are expected to sign national letters-of-intent to signal a significant step for the Rebels in maintaining its top-60 scoring offense.
But UNLV’s biggest need is upgrading its defense, and Manoa and Jackson project to be contributors — possibly sooner than later.
The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Manoa was the National Football Foundation’s defensive lineman of the year in Arizona, which considering the state is a hotbed for talent, speaks volumes about the type of player UNLV is receiver. He’ll wear jersey No. 99 and could replace the Rebels’ former No. 99, recently graduated Mike Hughes Jr., up front.
“(Defensive line coach Tony Samuel) spoke so high of him. They told me Mike is the captain and I have big shoes to fill,” said Manoa, who also had scholarship offers from Idaho, New Mexico State and Northern Arizona.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Jackson, was also was offered by Air Force and Navy, will help improve arguably UNLV’s weakest position group in the secondary.
“I love that family culture at UNLV,” Jackson said. “I love that they have been 100-percent committed to me since the day they offered me in the summer.”
Jackson and Manoa are so sold on being part of UNLV together, they’ve spent the past two days convincing a third high school teammate — tight end Jarick Caldwell — to also sign. Caldwell is verbally committed to UNLV and visited last weekend with his Chandler teammates, but indicated he’ll field more offers and sign in February.