Many of the Valley’s top high school football players gathered at Majerle’s Sports Grill at Desert Ridge Marketplace to make their college commitments official on Wednesday.
Here are snapshots from the day:
Mesa Desert Ridge three-star defensive end Jalen Harris signed to play at Arizona where his father, Sean, was a linebacker. His mom, Charon, played basketball. But Harris assures that he came to the decision of becoming a Wildcat all on his own.
“It was my choice, my dad never pressured me,” Harris said. “He told me I had to do what’s best for me, I have to be there for four years.”
That was the best piece of advice he said that he was given as he weighed his options.
Heavily recruited by Notre Dame, it was the family feel that swayed in Arizona’s favor and made it the best fit for him.
“They never made me feel like I was a recruit,” Harris said. “They made me feel like I was family.”
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Peoria Centennial defensive end/tight end Andrew Nichols never stepped foot in New York City until he made his official visit to Columbia University. Although the ever-changing atmosphere is different than what he’s used to, he found it easy to picture himself there.
“As soon as I stepped on campus and I saw everything, I felt at home,” said Nichols, a two-star recruit who drew offers from all eight Ivy League schools. “The best thing about the area is that you walk 10 minutes in one direction, and it’s a whole different place. There’s Mexican food in one spot, then walk 10 minutes then oh, there’s Chinese food. So many different options.”
Columbia coaches are interested in the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Nichols as a defensive end.
“As soon as I get on campus, they expect me to be an impact player,” Nichols said.
As a National Football Foundation Valley of the Sun’s Curley Culp defensive lineman award winner, he has the potential to do so.
Both the Sun Devils and the Wildcats had Gilbert Highland four-star tight end Tyler Johnson on their radar, but he opted to join Arizona State coach Todd Graham’s team. Though the experience is rewarding, he’s relieved to focus on the next step.
“It’s exciting, but overwhelming,” Johnson said. “But when it got down to the end, the choice was easy. Schools from California to Florida, up to Michigan and back down here, they are all great schools that provide what you need to be a successful student-athlete. But at the end of the day, staying here was the best decision.”
Johnson also decided against attending Michigan State, his father’s alma mater. Bill Johnson played as a defensive lineman, then spent eight seasons in the NFL. When he made his official visit, he was greeted with pictures of his dad.
But remaining in-state felt like a more natural fit, he said.
“Staying at home, being with my friends, family, I got all my resources in one area,” Johnson said.
Growing up, Gilbert Higley tight end Bryce Gilbert was surrounded by Sun Devil fans. His family now will don Arizona blue and red.
“They’re all making the switch, but they’re excited for me,” Gilbert said. “It’s time for me to get going in Tucson.”
Gilbert is ranked as a three-star recruit and No. 18 among Arizona high school prospects by 247Sports. He turned down offers from Louisville, Nebraska, Oregon State and Arizona State.
Gilbert already has tasted the rivalry. He attended this past season’s Territorial Cup game that Arizona won, 56-35, in Tucson.
“I can’t wait to finally get out there, contribute and be a part of it,” Gilbert said.
Buckeye Verrado long snapper Joe Reeves isn’t unfamiliar with Arizona State’s campus. His brother is an alum, which is why committing as a walk-on came easily.
“I’ve always loved the campus,” Reeves said. “It’s been a dream of mine to be a part of it. I’m looking forward to following in my brother’s footsteps.”
He’s prepared to train behind current Sun Devil long snapper Mitchell Fraboni as a redshirt. Fraboni, who was also a walk-on, earned the starting job midway through his freshman season in 2015 and worked his way to a scholarship.
Reeves hopes to follow the same path. The emphasis ASU put on “togetherness,” he said, is what makes him feel like he has that chance.
“Every player and coach there expressed that it’s a team, whether you are a walk-on or scholarship,” he said. “You’re all treated the same, you’re there working out hard every day as a team.”