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Mission Viejo, Santa Margarita have reasons to celebrate
Santa Margarita sports information director Sean Zeitler saw the crowd of football recruits assembling for the picture early Wednesday and offered his assistance.
“Get in tight,” he calmly instructed. “Big group.”
Later in the morning, a smaller but tight-knit collection of football recruits at Mission Viejo gathered for their own photo on National Signing Day.
The Diablos, coming off a 16-0 season and CIF-SS and state titles, didn’t feature one FBS (Division 1-A) recruit. Santa Margarita, which missed the playoffs, had nine players participate in its ceremony, including five Division 1-A recruits.
But despite their differences, the South County powerhouses – slated to play during Week 0 next season – found plenty to celebrate.
“(The nine recruits) shows the talent of our (Trinity) League,” said Santa Margarita quarterback KJ Costello, the county’s top prospect who signed with Stanford.
“I firmly believe if we’re in any other league in the country, we push to win the league.”
Recently hired Santa Margarita coach Rich Fisher was impressed with the Eagles’ list, which featured wide receiver Dylan Crawford (Michigan), punter Sam Loy (Vanderbilt), linebacker Tanner Matthews (Navy) and defensive end/tight end Alec Stewart (Wyoming).
“Nine is a lot,” the former Nebraska assistant coach said. “I wish I had all nine of those guys back.”
Mission Viejo had arguably the best team in the county last season but its signing class featured three FCS players, Division II-bound long snapper Andrew Tomlinson (Colorado State-Pueblo) and a NAIA center signee Ricky Bowman (College of Idaho).
“(Our class) just shows that it’s a team sport,” said quarterback Brock Johnson, the Register’s offensive player of the year who signed with Georgetown.
“We have zero true Division 1 kids and yeah, we went 16-0, won 28 games in a row and won the state championship.
“It doesn’t take superstars … It just takes a team to come together, love each other like family and bond and play for each other.”
Johnson expressed his feelings for the Diablos during their signing day ceremony. He said Mission Viejo -- not Georgetown -- was his dream school. But like Costello, he now moves onto the next challenge.
SCHOOLER DOESN’T SIGN
Mission Viejo All-County defensive back Brenden Schooler made his first and only recruiting trip over the weekend to Wyoming, but he decided not to sign with the Mountain West school. Schooler (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) wants to pursue a Pac-12-level program, Diablos coach Bob Johnson said.
“He already phoned (Wyoming),” Johnson said of the senior. “He liked the place a lot but when he slept on it, talked to his parents, he just wants Pac-12 or Notre Dame. He wants that and he deserves that.
“I 100 percent agree with him.”
Sonora quarterback Cole McDonald (6-4, 195) was offered by Hawaii on Monday and signed with the Mountain West team, former Raiders coach Paul Chiotti said.
Tustin linebacker Alema Pilimai (6-4, 204) signed with BYU after being a commitment to rival Utah. “I used to live in Provo (Utah) when I was (younger) … and I guess I just wanted to be home,” he said via Twitter.
FRIENDS TO THE END
Mission Viejo cornerback Lewis Cowans, who signed with Montana, played host to former Villa Park teammates Brennan Corbin (Montana) and Lance Vecchio (Cal Poly SLO) at the Diablos’ ceremony. Cowans earlier in the day spent time with Vecchio and Corbin at Villa Park, who signed early morning.
"We're all family, so we try to stay tight," Cowans said.
Cowans and Veechio's brothers also were friends and now play college football. Lenny Cowans plays defensive end at Sacramento State while Louis Vecchio is a defensive lineman at Penn.
And now, Cowans and Corbin are headed to Montana together.
"I was kind of iffy on Montana because I was going up their alone," Corbin said. "I was pumped (Cowans signed)."
CRAWFORD: DON'T BANK ON HYPE
After Santa Margarita’s ceremony, Crawford prepared for the Wolverines’ broadcasted signing day festivities. He anticipated being introduced by Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winner, Desmond Howard.
"You don't look at the hype but it's cool," said Crawford, who planned to use FaceTime video with Michigan. "You can't really factor in that but obviously if you get the experience, it's cool ... But you can't be banking on that to make your college decision."
Crawford called Michigan the best fit for him. The senior narrowed his choices to the Wolverines, Miami and UCLA. "We're going to be something special," he said of Michigan. "We just got to put in the work."
Santa Margarita outside linebacker/defensive end Tanner Matthews (6-5, 235) had several intriguing scholarship offers but one of the reasons he picked Navy was to follow the footsteps of his grandfather, Chad Brucker. Brucker served in the Navy and attended the Eagles' ceremony Wednesday.
Matthews is interested in becoming a pilot in the Navy or serving in computer cyber warfare.