Signing day yields smiles across Coachella Valley



Ben Simonds and Trae Riek lived on the same street growing up, their houses across the road from each other. The two spent countless hours playing sports together and openly talked about one day starring for the La Quinta High School football team.

But Riek eventually moved with his family to a different neighborhood in the desert, and while Simonds eventually became a standout at La Quinta, Riek suited up for the cross-town rival — the Palm Desert Aztecs.

Wednesday morning, as a part of National Signing Day, Simonds signed a national letter of intent to accept a scholarship to play football for Fresno State. He had previously considered playing for San Diego State, whose mascot, incidentally, is the Aztecs.

After Simonds signed, La Quinta football coach Dan Armstrong quipped to the crowd of family who had gathered, “Hey, now he doesn’t have to become an Aztec.”

Despite a different path, Riek also accepted a football scholarship, signing a few hours later with Northern Colorado. The 6-foot, 205-pound tailback still have a chance to play on either side of the ball. He racked up 1,834 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground in 2013, and was also an all-league defensive back.

“Getting your education paid for is great,” Riek said. “So to be able to play football is just the icing on top.”

Riek said he also might attempt to play baseball in college if it doesn’t prove to be too difficult of a task to juggle.

Desert Chapel was the only school with multiple football players signing. Roman Pellum, a standout 6-foot-4, 230-pound linebacker, signed with New Mexico State, and defensive lineman Taylor West signed with Arizona Christian.

Pellum ultimately opted to join his cousin, former Palm Springs standout Rodney Butler, in Las Cruces.

“The program is really building there,” Pellum said. “They just got a big grant to build up their weight room, and the field is changing, and the coaching staff is getting that program in the right direction. When I went there, it just felt like this is where I needed to be.”

Wearing a back hooded Fresno State sweatshirt with black lettering and a matching black hat, Simonds was joined by more than a dozen family members in the office of La Quinta principal Donna Salazar for his signing at 8 a.m.

Riek’s signing was much more public. He was joined by coaches and more than 50 students to sign his letter of intent just outside the Palm Desert gymnasium.

Simonds, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound nationally ranked power lifter, is versatile enough to play anywhere on the offensive line. He led the way for La Quinta’s power run game last season.

“I just have to work hard now,” Simonds said. “I’ve got to gain some weight. The coaches are sending me my workout pack, and just combine that work conditioning and agility and hope for the best.”

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