At the time of the decision, football dominated.
For Jake East, it was. The Agoura High dual-sport star had an offer from Brown University to play lacrosse for the Ivy League powerhouse.
He left with his heart. The Ventura County Football Coaches Association Most Valuable Player and first-team member of The Star’s All-Defensive Team elected on Wednesday to sign with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and continue playing football.
“If you had asked me at the start of high school, it would have been a much tougher decision,” he said. “But the more football I played, the more I liked it. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play football in college.”
He’ll play it safe for Cal Poly SLO, which presents its own dilemma. East dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage for Agoura, racking up 151 tackles — including 125 solos — and three interceptions on defense while posting 72 catches for 1,338 yards and 14 touchdowns as a wide receiver on offense.
“I’m going to miss playing on offense,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “But I am a security.”
East said the Cal Poly SLO offer has materialized over the past three weeks. He jumped at the opportunity offered.
East was among 11 seniors honored by county football coaches at their signing luncheon on Wednesday at the Palm Garden Hotel in Newbury Park. Wednesday was National Letter of Intent Day for high school athletes signing up with college programs.
The lunch was the first in two years for the coaching association, scuttled a year ago by COVID-19 concerns.
“We just felt it was important to get back to normal,” said Mike Moon, head coach of Pacifica High and chairman of the county coaches.
There were happy stories for the football players attending the county event.
Max Carter, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound gifted tight end from Camarillo High, has signed with Valparaiso University in Indiana. He’s typical of high school stars who had to sweat a recruiting system now heavily influenced by college athletics’ transfer portal.
College football teams may choose to fill rosters first with players already in college.
“It’s tough, it’s stressful because you never know if an offer is coming, or when it might come,” Carter said. “But the opportunities are always going to be there. If you have the desire, you have the ability to end up playing in college.
“You may have to start at a JUCO (community college), but you’ll always have that opportunity.”
Three area players are heading to Pac-12 schools, including two from Oaks Christian. The Lions’ talented defensive end tandem of Sterling Lane and Mathias Malaki-Donaldson – who helped Oaks Christian to the CIF-SS Division 5 Championship game – are each set for talent programs.
Lane, the County Coaches Defensive Player of the Year, will play for Arizona. Malaki-Donaldson is ready for Oregon State.
“It’s definitely a special day for me and my family,” Lane said. “You dream of playing college football and I’m happy to have this opportunity.”
Malaki-Donaldson is the rare high school player who hasn’t considered a college football future for a very long time.
“I didn’t start playing football until my freshman year,” he said. “It all fell into place pretty quickly. I know I really enjoyed my senior year. We came together like few people thought we could.”
Oaks Christian started 0-5 before rallying to reach the Division 5 title game.
Malaki-Donaldson could begin the bonding process with a new teammate on Wednesday. Simi Valley quarterback Travis Throckmorton also signed with Oregon State after an injury-plagued season that forced him to miss four games and limited him to a seven-game streak.
“It was a frustrating time where I had to deal with injuries for seven weeks,” he said. “You never want that as a senior. I’m healthy now and back to work preparing for the season.”
Throckmorton doesn’t plan on getting any playing time as a rookie, but he’s motivated by the opportunities ahead. He’s inspired by another Ventura County quarterback who’s done big things this college season.
Cameron Rising is a Newbury Park High graduate who overcame a lot of adversity before leading Utah to a narrow loss to Ohio State in this year’s Rose Bowl.
“He definitely inspires me,” Throckmorton said. “I watched so many of his games when I was younger. He’s a great guy and he shows me what’s possible.”
Lane and Malaki-Donaldson were among four Christian Oaks players who signed their letters of intent on Wednesday.
Justin Davis, an offensive lineman, heads to Arizona Christian. Elijah Gipson, a defensive back, will play for Portland State.
Gipson led all County defensemen with nine interceptions as a senior. It wasn’t as easy as he made it out to be.
“I was traded from Alemany and came in as a wide receiver when I got here,” he said. “It took a lot of hard work and great training to get me there, but I really enjoy playing this position. It was my dream to not only play college football, but to make it to the NFL as well.”
Calabasas High senior Nolan Wilson was among the top wellness stories on signing day.
The two-way lineman, who is white, is heading to Grambling State, one of the country’s legendary black universities. Wilson, a long snapper, said he wasn’t worried about fitting in.
“It’s not even something I think about,” he said. “I grew up in Detroit and I’m used to being with different cultures. I can’t wait to be there.”
Wilson honed his skills as a long snapper through long hours of hard work.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” he said with a smile. “It’s not easy at all. But it challenged me to improve, and I did it with hard work and great coaching.”
Three other athletes from the region have officially signed their football letters.
Saint-Bonaventure’s Luke Carfaro heads to Claremont McKenna as defensive back; Pacifica’s Donald Dixon is an offensive lineman who will play for New Mexico; and Agoura’s Andrew McCarthy is set for Washington University in St. Louis at linebacker.
Dixon is the Offensive Lineman of the Year among County Coaches and Channel League teams. He transferred to Pacifica after spending two years at rival Oxnard High.
“Everyone made me feel welcome and they made it a great place to become a better football player,” Dixon said. “I’m so grateful to the coaches. It’s been a real challenge, especially after we only had a five-game season in my junior year.
“I feel really lucky to have won my scholarship. I can’t wait to take the next step.”
Loren Ledin is the editor of The Star. He can be reached at [email protected] or 805-437-0285.