West Valley Preps
On National Signing Day Feb. 7, 14 Centennial Coyotes were happy to take the next step in their athletic careers during a ceremony in the high school auditorium.
As expected, the eight seniors from the Peoria school’s 5A state champion football team stood as the centerpiece, choosing their next team.
And with cornerback Dominique Hampton remaining solid with his commitment to Washington, the spotlight was squarely on tailback Zidane Thomas. After withdrawing his verbal commitment to Boise State in December, he became one of the most sought after players in the state.
Thomas announced his commitment to San Diego State on Twitter Feb. 6, after visiting the school the previous weekend.
He also had offers from Utah, Louisville and Iowa State among others. Despite the power five conference offers, the Aztecs appeared to be the best fit schematically because of the traditional power run game that helped Donnel Pumphrey become NCAA Division I’s all-time leading rusher and saw Rasha Penny rush for 2,248 yards in 2017.
“I really felt at home. I really like San Diego and the campus is nice. The coaches told me that I’ve got to just work hard. There’s big shoes to fill there and I’ve got high expectations,” Thomas said Feb. 7 in an online interview with Eric Sorenson of Sports360 AZ.
Football players were not the only athletes to sign a letter of intent with an NCAA Division I program. Centennial girls soccer coach Steve Ybarra said Jayden Anderson is the first player he has coached to sign with a Division I program.
In a Twitter interview, Anderson stated that her recruiting process was short. She took a visit out to Georgia State, but didn’t really have a good feeling and then went to New Mexico State University for an unofficial visit.
Ste said she verbally committed in March of her junior year.
“It’s not too far from where I live in Peoria, so I can come home often to see friends and family. The girls on the team are amazing, really nice and outgoing and I clicked with a lot of them right away,” Anderson stated. “Since I’ve signed, NMSU has gotten a new head soccer coach so at first I was worried about what would happen. But I’ve talked to him and everything will be staying the same, I’m just ready to show him what kind of player I really am.”
She said her sophomore and junior year were her two best years playing high school soccer, making it to the playoffs.
“I’ve had girls older than me impact my play in high school soccer and Ybarra did as well, making it more fun than it being so serious all the time,” Anderson stated. “I am extremely proud to be a Coyote and to have this experience and to have made all of these memories at Centennial and I hope more girls can come in and make an impact on the team.”
Also, Coyote softball corner infielder Natalie Del Ponte signed with Division I Wagner University on Staten Island in New York City. Teammates Caitlyn Swisher (Ottawa University Arizona) and Emily White (Paradise Valley Community College) signed to stay in the Valley.
Del Ponte said her other firm offer was from Central Arizona College in Coolidge, though ASU and Oregon State had shown some interest. She liked the smaller campus and that from the freshman dorms you could see the city.
“The coach just got the position in August and I feel like I could help the softball program excel and go to a higher level,” Del Ponte said. “When I went for my visit I was aware that it was across the country but I didn’t feel far from home. I was thinking it could be an amazing experience for me to be in a different place to mature and grow as a person.”
She said she’s undecided, but likes that Wagner is a liberal arts school and that she can keep her options open on a career in an artistic field.
Del Ponte also said she’s happy to have made her decision before the Coyotes’ season starts.
“And going into high school season I am leaving my position as the third baseman, we just picked up a freshman and I now have to tell her what made me successful at my position and what colleges are looking for and simple aspects of the game,” she said. “This season I’m going to get into the mentality that this could be an example of what college is going to be like, practice everyday, juggling school work, balancing a social life. I’m mentally preparing for the next step.”
Baseball middle infielder Andy Kupec signed with Scottsdale Community College, volleyball player Sierra Dominguez committed to Ottawa Arizona and football linebacker Jordan Ware agreed to become a preferred walk on at Arizona State University.
Five football athletes signed at junior colleges, a day after the Maricopa Community College District announced its intention to stop funding its four schools with football programs — Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale and Phoenix — following the 2018 season.
Offensive lineman Cristian Williams signed with Scottsdale Community College, kicker Xavier Rojas and linebacker Christian Gomez with Phoenix College, linebacker Jacob Franklin with Glendale Community College and offensive lineman Trevor Renfro with Mesa Community College.
Though local groups are working on proposals to keep community college football in the county, the uncertainty after this fall adds a sense of urgency to the freshman years of this class.
“This year as well as spring ball is really important, I want to go in and pick up on every new concept they have and do my best to achieve my goals,” Renfro stated in a Twitter interview.
After being selected almost unanimously as an all-state lineman, Renfro ultimately chose a program where he can springboard to a larger four-year university.
“Minot and Northern State really showed big interest to me and I respect what they did for me as well as my preferred walk-on (offer) to NAU. What stood out to me is that (Mesa) knows what my goal is and I feel like once I get there I will be working as hard as I can to achieve my goals,” he stated.