National Signing Day 2019 has officially arrived as student-athletes from across the nation signed their letters of intent to play at the college of their choosing. As usual, this year’s signing day was no small affair for the Mt. SAC football program as 17 Mounties will go on to play at the next level.
Headlining this year’s class was Austin Griffin, the number one ranked JUCO tight end in the nation, who signed with Boise State. Griffin originally was committed to Louisville, but flipped just before head coach Bobby Petrino was fired in November.
Also signing was offensive lineman Angel Matute to Missouri. 2018 was actually Matute’s first year on the o-line, having been recruited originally by Mt. SAC as a quarterback.
“It was a pretty awesome experience being able to learn a new position essentially every year in JUCO,” Matute said. “I’d say it was very different but it’s something I enjoyed learning daily throughout the year and just trying to always get better.”
Matute is excited about getting to compete with Mizzou in the SEC, arguably the most competitive football conference in the NCAA. “My mindset is just to come in, work hard, and push myself as hard as I can every single day,” Matute said. “To get my degree and also make everyone back home proud.”
Another Mountie signing to a major Division 1 program was Tauivi Ho Ching, who signed with the University of Hawaii. Ho Ching credits feeling at home during his visit as a major part of his decision, as well as being able to stay close to several of his relatives who live in Hawaii, Samoa, and the continental US.
“Being from Samoa, I grew up in the Polynesian culture and that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to most at Hawaii,” Ho Ching said. “The opportunity to play with my brothers who have a similar upbringing and shared values.”
Ho Ching also said that while he enjoyed his time at Mt. SAC, he is ready to move on to the next phase of his education and career; and will always value the importance of persistence and perseverance that he learned during his time as a Mountie.
Defensive end Elijah Golston will transfer to Old Dominion after only one year at Mt. SAC, something he was able to do due to his status as a qualifier.
“Transferring out in my first year was one of my greatest accomplishments because I had coaches and even family that didn’t believe I would make it D1,” Golston said. “I bet on me and I put myself in a situation to be successful by handling my grades to become a qualifier, and then putting in the work on the field to get out.”
Golston said that he felt truly wanted by the Old Dominion coaching staff, as they would regularly keep contact with him while other schools would just be “hi and bye”. Having lived most of his life on the west coast, Golston looks forward to moving to the east coast as he looks to elevate his game to an even higher level.
Walter Harris III, another Mt. SAC o-lineman, signed to Southern Utah. Harris had attention from several schools, however he decided on SUU during his campus visit in December.
“I prayed on it really hard, prayed on it really long, it’s kind of funny how recruiting goes,” Harris said. “You never thought who would come around would come around, and God works in mysterious ways really, while being on that trip I felt like that was it.”
This is actually Harris’ second time transferring from Mt. SAC, he first transferred to Eastern Michigan after his first season, however he returned less than a month after leaving.
“It feels better than the first time really,” Harris said. “This whole recruiting ride really has been up and down, I had my highest highs and my lowest lows. It’s really been a rollercoaster to be honest, and to really have been through it all just feels amazing.”
Harris played all five positions on the offensive line at Mt. SAC, but Southern Utah plans to utilize him mainly as a guard.
Mountie quarterback Steven Nava signed with Southwest Minnesota State. Nava didn’t have any offers until late in the recruiting process despite impressing early in the season with several clutch performances, however that never discouraged him.
“I knew that someone would believe in me so it was about trusting the process and finding the best place to finish my degree and my career,” Nava said. “All I could ask for was an opportunity and I was more worried about what to do with it when I got one.”
Now that he has his opportunity, Nava is looking forward to earning a spot on the team and helping the Mustangs win games a he takes with him the Sacdawg mentality. “It’s Mt. SAC vs everyone and if you trust the process and work hard, everything will fall in place. And like Coach Rod said, I’m Born to Win.”
Another former Mt. SAC QB signed on Wednesday as Jai’ave Magalei, who helped lead the Mounties to a slice of a conference championship in 2017, signed with the University of Louisiana. For Magalei, this day was especially significant because he was forced to sit out the 2018 season due to a significant knee injury he had suffered during the final game of the 2017 season.
“This whole year has been a blessing in disguise but very tough to just sit out and watch football all year,” Magalei said. “But the recovery process has been pretty chill and a blessing to see the progress.”
Magalei describes Louisiana as a perfect fit for him, everything from their laid-back attitude to the way his style of play fits their offense and even how his family was treated during his visit all stood out to him. Magalei is also grateful for his experience so his family now “can be at peace because this Cali JUCO life for an out of state student is no joke.”
Defensive back/linebacker Montez Evans also signed on Wednesday to Houston Baptist University. Evans came to his decision after he went on a visit to HBU and felt like everybody there treated him like family. He came to Mt. SAC after being a non-qualifier out of high school, which he credits as being a wake-up call for him.
“It was more like a lesson for me to grow up and coming here it was more like a wake up call,” Evans said. “Coming to Mt. SAC, all I know is that it really taught me how to work hard.”
In addition, several other Mounties also signed their letters of intent. Elmer Pauni signed to New Mexico, joining his former Mt. SAC teammate Alexander “Moana” Vainkolo. Offensive lineman Tim Dolan signed to Azusa Pacific and Mosese Manu signed to Utah State. Darrian Hambrick, Max Latu, Noa Aluessi, and Mosese Moala all signed to Texas A&M Kingsville. Cameron Coleman signed to Texas A&M Commerce, Joseph Williams signed to UT Permian Basin, and Wallen Te’o signed to Ottawa University of Arizona.
Although the football program lost several key playmakers, they hope the next generation of Mounties can make just as big of an impact. Headlining Mt. SAC’s 2019 recruiting class are Harold Estrada, Tama Ma’alona, Tyrehl Vaivao, Joseph Tesimale, Kymani Sombelon, and Charlie Faraimo.
Harold Estrada is a 6’3 215-pound quarterback who comes to the Mounties out of Memorial High School in West New York, NJ. Although he got looks during recruiting, his grades were not up to par. Estrada fell in love with Mt. SAC as soon as he stepped foot on campus for his visit.
“Everyone has that dawg mentality that you have to go get it,” Estrada said. “I had a talk with Coach Deen and Coach Purcell and they kept it real, that’s all you can really ask for.”
Estrada looks forward to playing for a historic program such as the one at Mt. SAC and is determined to help get the team back on top after a rough 2018 season.
Tama Ma’alona is a 5’10 170-pound defensive back from O’Dea High School in Seattle, WA. Ma’alona was frustrated after not getting any offers at all from universities despite his best efforts on Friday nights and comes to JUCO with a chip on his shoulder to prove his doubters wrong. He credits the winning culture established at Mt. SAC as well as the team’s embracement of his Polynesian culture as the biggest factors into his decision. Ma’alona knows he has to come in and put in work to earn his playing time, and he is up to the task.
“Coming in as a freshman, I know I got to take every rep seriously and just work my butt off because starting spots don’t just get handed to you,” Ma’alona said “It’s a whole new game playing at the JUCO level. Everyone’s older and you got to respect that, everyone has a purpose as to why they’re doing this and taking days off isn’t going to get you out.”
Tyrehl Vaivao is a 6’1 240-pound linebacker out of Columbia River High School in Vancouver, WA who also went the JUCO route because of his high school GPA. He became interested in Mt. SAC after hearing about the program and watching the team’s games on Youtube. He looks forward to “being a part of a great program, building relationships with coaches and teammates, and winning games.” He also intends to focus his attention on school and building his grades up.
The Mounties signed a second quarterback in the 6-foot, 200-pound Joseph Tesimale out of Colony High School in Ontario, CA. He joins the team looking to prepare and better himself so he can ultimately transfer out to a four-year institution. He was regularly communicating with tight ends coach Phill Ramirez, who helped Tesimale feel right at home and in-touch with his Samoan roots. He looks forward to putting in the work and earn his spot and eventually become a leader for the team.
“My first mindset is working hard for my position and listening to whatever the coaches have to say,” Tesimale said. “If I do that, I believe they will help me get to a university but first win a championship as a Sacdawg.”
After losing two of their best o-linemen, the Mounties are hoping to rebuild their line, and Kymani Sombelon out of Kahului, HI may just be a part of that. Although he is a bit undersized at 5’11 245 pounds, Sombelon has some serious power that can translate to the next level. He decided to come to Mt. SAC after one of the current players on the team was telling him about the family-like environment and how close everyone is, as well as California reminding him of Hawaii in some ways.
“What I look forward to most is just being part of a close knit team, pushing each other to be the best whether it be on the field and also in the classroom,” Sombelon said. “Mostly, I look forward to the start of summer training. It’s a great time to show the coaches and players what I’m capable of and representing my family along with the 808 state.”
Mt. SAC also added to their defensive backfield by picking up Charlie Faraimo, a 6-foot, 190-pound DB out of Centennial High School in Boise, ID. He joins the Mounties in hopes of earning better opportunities than the ones present to him out of high school. He was comfortable after visiting campus in January and also liked the fact that he has family that lives close by.
“I am excited to come play for a reputable school,better my game, and play for a great coaching staff,” Faraimo said. “My mindset coming in is to compete and win a national championship while I am there.”
While it’s impossible to replace the talent that is leaving, Mt. SAC has a good group of young players coming in as well as several key players returning with a chip on their shoulders for next season. One thing both the outgoing and incoming classes share though, is that they will always be Sacdawgs for life.