Jesse Granger / Las Vegas Sun
Published Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 | 10:17 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 | 5:57 p.m.
National Signing Day is generally reserved for athletic scholarships, but Ivy League schools don’t offer them.
Wednesday afternoon Liberty High receiver Darion Acohido signed his letter of intent for Columbia University.
Acohido sat at the table inside Liberty’s cafeteria with his 7-month old niece Sophia sitting on his lap smiling at the crowd with an adult-sized Columbia hat dangling from her head. His parents stood by his side, with his mother Pattie gripping a white bouquet of roses in one hand and a cluster of Columbia-blue tinted balloons in the other.
“We just feel blessed,” said Acohido’s father, Mark. “This is like living the dream. To him to finally get here and have this opportunity to get a quality education and be able to play football at the same time is like a dream come true for him.”
The four-year varsity player caught 159 passes for 2,337 yards and 17 touchdowns at Liberty, but more importantly for his future he excelled in the classroom.
“He is one of the smartest kids we’ve ever seen come through our program with a 4.5 grade point average,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “He was our team leader in the weight room, and he was a guy that I could count on to get the temperature of the team and see how everyone was feeling.”
Acohido helped Liberty reach two-straight state title games, and will now take his talents to New York City.
“It’s really why you’re in the business of being an educator,” Muraco said. “You hope that you play a small part in kids reaching their goals and dreams. I’m very proud.”
Pattie’s first reaction when she found her son would be going to Columbia?
“New York is so far,” she laughed. “I’m so proud of my son. He’s just amazing. We always taught him that anything you do, do it 100 percent and he’s definitely done that. He’s all about family and education comes next.”
Acohido will be receiving nearly a full-ride academic scholarship, which is worth an estimated $71,000. An amount his parents would not have been able to afford.
“It’s going to be four years of sleepless nights and countless workouts,” Acohido said. “I can see the bigger picture. I know football is going to end at some point, but my education will be with me until I die. Choosing Columbia was an easy option.”
Joining Acohido at Liberty’s signing day ceremony was fellow receiver Ethan Dedeaux, who signed with San Diego State after catching 59 passes for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns during his senior season at Liberty.
“He was a four-year starter for us and holds so many records for our school both offensively and defensively,” Muraco said. “He’s probably the most heralded player to ever come out of Liberty for what he’s been able to accomplish on the field.”
Linebacker Damahny Whittle signed with Northern Arizona, but may also receive more scholarship offers for track in the spring.
“He’s just a rare athlete that can play multiple sports,” Muraco said. “I’m so happy for him that he got a scholarship for football and gets to play four or five more seasons.”
Liberty’s massive offensive lineman Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu posed with his family for photos, with a bundle of Hawaiian leis draped around his neck. The 6-foot-6, 365 pound lineman received a full-ride scholarship from Navarro Junior college in Corsicana, Texas, late in the recruiting season.
“He’s been a staple for us on the offensive line for multiple seasons,” Muraco said. “He’s a very physically intimidating person. You look at how big he is but he’s the nicest, most polite kid of the field and that says a lot about his family and his upbringing.”
Centennial’s Jamaal Evans confident in picking Utah State
In high schools across the country, thousands of student athletes signed their national letters of intent today. In most cases, parents bursting with pride — and sometimes with tears of joy — sat behind the cameras as their children officially committed to their college of choice.
At Centennial High School, Jamaal Evans’ father stood behind him, his hands resting on his son’s shoulders. Leon Evans attended his son’s national signing day ceremony not only as a father but as a coach.
“It’s almost surreal for me,” Leon Evans said. “To see (Jamaal) put four years into the program and now he’s off to bigger and better things, it’s outstanding and I’m so proud of him.”
Playing for his father the last two seasons, Jamaal Evans has run and passed for more than 5,200 yards and scored 72 touchdowns. Today, he committed to Utah State.
“It means a lot to me,” Jamaal Evans said. “It’s a big day for my family. It all came down to one decision, and I’m confident that this is where I want to go.”
As head coach at Centennial, Leon Evans has been taking his team to Logan, Utah, for summer camps every year since 1999. His son made most of those trips and fell in love with the university there.
“It’s the school I’ve been going to for eight years, since I was a little boy,” Jamaal Evans said. “I’ve seen it develop and build all new facilities. I’ve seen that program grow, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Leon Evans said his son is expected to have an opportunity to fight for a job at quarterback in Logan but could also move to play safety.
The scenery, however, isn’t the only thing that will be familiar to Jamaal Evans at Utah State. His favorite target at Centennial — receiver Savon Scarver — also committed to the school today.
Scarver, who has state titles in track and is considered one of the fastest players in Las Vegas, caught 43 passes for 946 yards and eight touchdowns this year.
“It’s crazy. I’ve been waiting on this my whole life,” Scarver said. “Just to get the opportunity to go play somewhere and continue my football career means a lot to me.”
Scarver brought the biggest crowd of all the commits at Centennial, with several family members proudly watching as he committed to Utah State.
“It means a lot having my parents here,” Scarver said. “They have supported me through the whole thing. It’s really all because of them why I’m here, so I thank them for that.”
Scarver said he chose Utah State because he wants to major in kinesiology. He will be roommates with Jamaal Evans.
“That’s my brother, so it’s cool I get to play with him for another four years,” Scarver said.
Centennial’s other receiver, Bryce Hampton, was a surprise addition to the ceremony, getting an offer from Mesa Community College in Arizona. He received the offer about a month ago but only told his family and close friends.
“I went down there and took a visit with my mom and dad. I enjoyed the school, so I think it’s a good fit for me,” Hampton said. “This moment means a lot to me...To see the smile on their faces is great. It all pays off.”
Desert Pines’ Morris playing the waiting game
Isaiah Morris was noticeably missing.
His teammates sat on the stage in the Desert Pines High School theater today during a national signing day celebration, one by one walking up to the podium to confirm their college choice and thank supporters.
They were signing with various levels of college football, from powerhouse USC to lower-tier Adams State in Colorado and Division III Black Hills State in South Dakota. Morris, not only one of Desert Pines’ best players but one of Las Vegas’ best, somberly sat in the crowd.
The running back so desperately wanted to be part of the festivities, surely mentioning how everything he does is for the memory of his deceased mom.
But he had no school to sign with. College recruiting is a cut-throat business, and Morris became a victim of the numbers game.
He verbally committed to UNLV in the summer but mutually agreed with coaches to de-commit because he wanted to visit other schools. UNLV gained a commitment from another running back.
Morris still had offers from UNR, Eastern Washington and Hawaii and was leaning toward picking UNR. But the UNR’s coach was fired and he wasn’t an immediate priority for the new staff. Eastern Washington and Hawaii filled spots at his position.
“My time will come,” he said. “I have to be patient."
Desert Pines coaches were active all January trying to find Morris a spot. And depending on how the week works out, Southern Utah and Weber State might still have a scholarship available.
Morris is just 5-foot-8, 160-pounds but is widely considered one of the fastest players in the state. He earned the moniker “Speedy.”
Speedy ran for a lot of yards and touchdowns the past three seasons to help Desert Pines win the state championship in 2016 and post a 43-6 record. He’ll play in college, likely as a slot wide receiver, and continuing to honor the legacy of his mom, who died in 2012.
If Morris needs inspiration, he should look at the path of former Valley High player Kerwynn Williams, who was also undersized and possessed elite speed. Williams went unsigned a few years ago but found a spot at Utah State and became one of the program’s all-time great players. He just finished his third season in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals.
“Everyone will have to come back in a few weeks,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez jokingly told the crowd.
Southern Utah hopes for another gem at Agassi Prep
If you can play, they will find you.
Zeivaun Ned, a wide receiver and defensive back from small-school Agassi Prep, signed today with Southern Utah.
The last Agassi Prep player to sign with a school of significance was LeShaun Sims, who also was found by coaches at the Cedar City, Utah, school. It was a good get — Sims just finished his first season with the Tennessee Titans.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Ned runs a 4.46 40-yard dash and has won multiple sprinting state championships. Sound familiar? Yep, that was the scouting report on Sims when he was in high school.
Arbor View's Rogers signs with UCLA
In 2014, when Greg Rogers was just a sophomore (albeit a 6-foot-4, 285-pound sophomore), he was offered a scholarship by UCLA football.
For nearly three years, college scouts from across the country have patrolled the sidelines of Rogers’ games at Centennial and Arbor View. He received offers from more than 20 schools, including Oklahoma, USC, Colorado, Michigan and Florida, during his seemingly endless recruiting period.
It was all for naught.
Rogers knew all along that he wanted to be a Bruin. He verbally committed to UCLA on Nov. 21, and this morning, he signed his letter of intent, proudly wearing his baby blue and gold hat.
“I always knew within myself that I was going to go to UCLA,” Rogers said. “They’ve always been loyal to me, and the coaching staff has stayed the same. Ever since sophomore year when I got the offer, I knew that was where I wanted to be at.”
Rogers is ranked by ESPN as the No. 5 defensive tackle for the class of 2017 and was a two-time Las Vegas Sun preseason all-city selection.
“With Greg going big time, there are some big expectations and he’s going to go in and hopefully do his thing,” Arbor View coach Dan Barnson said. “We played against him for three years and he’s such a big presence on the field, so to be able to put that presence in our uniform was a special thing.”
Also at Arbor View, quarterback Hayden Bollinger officially committed to Colorado Mesa University, and defensive back Mike Sims signed with Southern Utah University.
“This is always a fun day,” Barnson said. “It’s kind of like the exclamation point for four years for some of these kids, and we’re proud of them.”
Under center the last two seasons for Arbor View, Bollinger has led the Aggies to a combined 20 wins and saw only four losses.
“Hayden was our guy. He was our leader,” Barnson said. “Hayden changed me as a coach this year when it comes to his arm. The double wing is who we are and we are very proud of it, but we did throw this year a lot more because of him.”
In the three years before Bollinger took over as varsity quarterback, no one threw for more than 650 yards in a season. This year, Bollinger threw for more than double than that — 1,310 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“I just took the opportunity and ran with it,” Bollinger said. “I knew coming into this school that they didn’t throw and that I would have to change that. My time here was unbelievable. Coach Barnson and this program are unbelievable. I’m very thankful and blessed to be here, and I’ll be an Aggie for life.”
Despite playing in a run-heavy offense at Arbor View, Bollinger said, Colorado Mesa plans on using him as a quarterback and likes what they saw in his throwing ability.
“I went to a summer camp there and they told me they wanted to keep me under the radar, so they would offer me late November or December and they did,” Bollinger said. “I really enjoyed my official visit and am happy to commit there.”
On the defensive side for Arbor View, things will look very different next year without Sims anchoring the back end.
“He’s been on varsity for three straight years and been on the field, so that’s going to be a big change for us not to see him playing defensive back for us,” Barnson said.
Sims couldn’t contain his smile as he sat in front of his letter of intent, pulling his scarlet Thunderbirds cap tightly over his curly hair.
“I have always dreamed of playing college football, so now I know I’ll get a chance to play out my dream,” Sims said. “Southern Utah isn’t the biggest place, but I know that I can achieve all of my goals. There are players that have made it to the NFL from there, plus I get my education along the way.”
All three players helped shape Arbor View’s dominance over the Northwest League for the past few years but they all agreed — Arbor View did more for them than they did for it.
“My memories at Arbor View are a lot of winning and a lot of hard work,” Sims said. “Coach Barnson made us great players but great people as well.”
Check back later for more coverage of National Signing Day from schools throughout the valley.