East County Sports

Easterners finalize college decisions

East County football stars Khaleed Davis, Alex Lilliard and Mike Jones are headed to Dixie State.



By Ramon Scott and Bill Dickens 
© EastCountySports.com


EL CAJON (2-4-16) — In the past when the name Dixie State popped up, the focus has been on the Red Storm being a probable Southern state Division I-AA power. But that’s far from the truth.

Dixie State University is situated in picturesque St. George, Utah, an NCAA-Div. II institution.

The Red Storm is in the process of revamping the athletic program – from the uniforms to the stadium – to go from a possible move from Division II to I-AA. Coach Shay McClure was working as a recruiter in San Diego for another college, then got the head job at Dixie, setting up the connection.

McClure and the Dixie State Red Storm came looking for good football talent in the East County and cashed in with some of the area’s top seniors.

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Taj Broomfield, of West Hills, signs a letter of intent to attend Dixie State University in St. George, Utah.


“St. George, Utah, is a very beautiful place,” Broomfield said. “They were the first school to offer me, their coach was recruiting me early in the season. They found me through a camp in San Jose. I always had the dreams to (play on the collegiate level), I didn’t know if I was going to get there or not.”


“The coaches showed love from the very start, they constantly called me. It was great up there. I would like to win a championship the first year. We are going to compete and play hard.”


“It really felt like home when I took my visit out there, and I enjoyed meeting everybody. The coaches and the players that are on the team now made me feel like I was home. I want to get a great education and have fun.


“Knowing that we all came from the same conference, we played all-star games together and we actually do know each other, we have somebody to go to,” Jones said of the East County quartet.

“All four are expected to come in and compete right away for playing time,” according to MONTELL ALLEN of MBA Sports Recruiting.


A 5-foot-9, 160-pound cornerback, Howard gave two reasons why he chose the Cardinal, a Division II in Liberty, MO. (population 30,096)

“I like the small town atmosphere, and playing football in the snow is something I’ve always dreamed of. When we visited there last month it was snowing and 20 degrees. That was just perfect for a taste of the Northern weather.”

Howard, who intercepted five passes and made 28 tackles in the Cougars’ secondary, suffered ACL injuries as a sophomore and junior. “Everything went smoothly my senior year because I wore a brace. I’m going back there for a chance of playing time right away,” said Howard, who will major in Civil Engineering.

Three Headed To Wazzu
Washington State University Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch went out looking for some speedsters on defense this year. The class the WSU coaching staff assembled consists of 13 defensive players, including five linebackers, five defensive backs and three defensive ends.

The only thing lacking defensively in this recruiting class, WSU coach Mike Leach concedes (though, he considers this a “nit-picky” issue) was perhaps a bona fide defensive tackle.

“The bigger priority was defensive ends,” Leach said. “There’s perhaps a slight imbalance on our roster in that there’s not a D-tackle in this class, though, we have plenty of guys who, as they get older, will evolve to that position.”

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The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Bender was headed for San Diego State, then took a sharp turn north and headed for Pullman, WA. Bender garnered All-CIF San Diego Section First Team honors his senior year … recorded 74 tackles with nine sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception returned for a touchdown…also broke up eight passes…rated three-star prospect by ESPN.com and Scout.com.

WSU Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch: “You’re trying to find guys who have a good first step and some length. Danny possesses all those things. He can rush the passer and has good athleticism.”

“It was tough (to call coach Rocky Long), there were several de-commits (at SDSU), not everyone took the time to thank the coach for the opportunity, but I did it out of respect,” Bender said. “It was tough to hear back from him, but he appreciated that I called to tell him what was going on.”

“A lot happened in the past week with kids de-commiting. A lot of spots opened up and you get a lot more phone calls. It was a good process.”

“I liked verbally committing (to SDSU) because once you do that, you know you have a spot somewhere just in case for some reason something happens. It just depends on the commit.”

“The fan base (in Pullman), and having their own stadium, and playing in front of a big college crowd. That is something I’ve always wanted to play for. I met the defensive line coach (and assistant head coach) Joe Salave’a, he’s a great guy and I like the defense he runs. It made a big influence in my decision.”


The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Vinyard also played tight end at Helix. … as a senior, named first-team All-East County, helped the Highlanders to the San Diego Section title. … finished with 27 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries, one forced fumble. … rated the No. 25 tight end prospect nationally by ESPN.com and the fourth-best tight end in California by Scout.com.

Former WSU QB Jason Gesser stated, “Right away you’re going to talk about his frame. He’s very long, and he’s going to play that rush linebacker spot. He’s a 10.9 100M guy, he runs a 4.6 40. From talking to (Alex) Grinch, he likes this guy because he has a ton of upside. His senior year was the only year that he played defense.”

Said Vinyard, “It’s a team on the rise, they have a great coach (Mike Leach) who got Pac 12 coach of the year last season, so things are looking pretty good.”

“It’s been a lenghty, but fruitful experience overall. I just want to thank God and my family for everything they’ve done to help me get to this point.”


The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Woods was teammates with Mason Vinyard at Helix … as a senior, named an All-CIF San Diego Section, All-East County and All-Grossmont Hills first teamer … had 58 tackles 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and scored three defensive touchdowns … helped Helix to an 11-2 record … rated the No. 61 inside linebacker nationally and No. 10 inside linebacker in California by Scout.com.

“He’s very explosive,” said former WSU QB Jason Gesser. “He jumps off the film. He’s one of the faster guys out there – speed, speed and more speed.”

“(WSU) is a great program on the rise,” said Woods. “We’re just ready to compete and keep working hard. They have a great facility and great coaches. Our parents keep motivating us.”

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Gaier and Burton, of Granite Hills

Eagles fly high


A three-star recruit by Rivals.com, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Burton was a de-commit from Arizona to the Bruins. He compares himself to 6-4, 254-pound Cassius Marsh, the former Bruins’ star DE currently lining up for the Seattle Seahawks after being drafted in the fourth round in 2014. As a senior Burton logged 44 tackles, five sacks and one fumble recovery.

“It was a tough decision (to de-commit), but UCLA was the definitely the choice for me.”

“(My family) is super excited, we’re just ready to get out there and start working and competing.”


“Why leave the best place in the country, great weather, great football. They were really great to me in the recruiting process, it made me want to stay here.”


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Helix players at a signing at the La Mesa campus on Wednesday.

More Helix guys

MEKHI STEVENSON – WR – HELIX – UNLV – A 6-foot-1, 177-pound wide receiver who caught 36 passes for 779 yards – an average of 21.6 – for 10 touchdowns in his final season at Helix. He announced his commitment to UNLV earlier this week with a creative self-produced video.

“I’ve been waiting on this moment my whole life, to do this with my best friends and teammate, not as many schools have as many guys as we do.”

FORREST HANLON – DL – HELIX – SAN DIEGO STATE  One of five San Diego players headed to the Aztecs, Hanlon is a 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive lineman. He was the All-Grossmont Hills League Defensive Player of the Year.

“(SDSU) won the Mountain West championship, so hopefully we will keep that tradition going,” Hanlon said. “All the work we’ve put in (at Helix), all the time together, it’s coming through, finally.”

NATE STINSON – RB – HELIX – NORTHERN ARIZONA – A 5-foot-6, 180-pound running back who piled up an East County best 1704 yards and 31 touchdowns on 180 carries for the Highlanders, he has accepted a scholarship to Northern Arizona University.

Stinson was named the All-CIF Offensive Player of the Year and should compile a bevy of rushing statistics with his low profile running style for the Lumberjacks.

“I love the coaches, I love the players, it’s like a family out there (in Flagstaff, Ariz.).”

MICHAEL AUSTIN – QB – HELIX – CAL POLY SAN LUIS OBISPO – Helix High 6-foot, 180-pound standout quarterback flirted with the opportunity to attend the Naval Academy, but instead of making the lengthy commitment as a Midshipman, opted to go to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Under head coach Troy Starr at Helix High School, Austin quarterbacked the Highlanders to an 11-2 record, Grossmont-Hills League title and the CIF-San Diego Section Open Division championship. Helix lost to Mission Viejo in the state I-AA regionals. In 27 career games, Austin completed 259 of 436 passes for 4,006 yards and 46 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,022 yards and 17 scores in his three-year varsity career.

As a senior, Austin connected on 107 of 187 passes for 1,725 yards and 18 scores while rushing for 397 yards and eight more touchdowns, earning first-team All-East County, first-team All-Grossmont-Hills League, first-team All-CIF-San Diego Section and second-team all-state honors as well as a spot on the San Diego Union-Tribune All-Academic Team for the third year in a row with a 3.64 grade-point average. His statistics as a junior include 114 completions in 188 attempts for 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns with 424 rushing yards and six more scores. He played baseball as a freshman, hitting .304. A three-year starter in football, Austin was recruited by Cal Poly, Dartmouth, Army, Navy, Air Force, Penn and several Big Sky schools.

More signings


A breakaway threat for Christian High, Petty rushed for 1175 yards and 13 touchdowns on 176 carries and should continue to run wild in the Broncos backfield.

“It’s the best decision for me and my family. I have family in the midwest so it is easy for them to come to my games. It was an easy decision for me. Family is the most important thing for me right now.

“Everything that I have been through from freshman year to senior year, it feels like a boulder has been lifted off my shoulders. It feels good.”

Petty wants to study Kineseology.

“I just want to stay close to the game.”

Petty is one of the most explosive players in the San Diego County.  Some may say it is odd he signed with Hastings, but he says he loves that Hastings is providing him with a wonderful opportunity and the fact that the Coaches believe in him and his ability, according to MBA Sports Recruiting’s Allen.

DURAN MILLER – LB – MOUNT MIGUEL – HASTINGS COLLEGE – A Mount Miguel 6-foot, 210-pound defensive lineman made some rocket hits and has signed a scholarship to Hastings.

LOGAN BAKER – LB – VALHALLA – HASTINGS COLLEGE – A 5-foot-11, 170-pound linebacker of Valhalla, is also going to Hastings (which takes three from East County)

EMMANUEL ALAILIMA – DL – HELIX – AZUSA PACIFIC – Azusa Pacific landed , a 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive lineman from Helix. He was injured during the season, but shined in all-star play.

RILEY REYES – LB – GRANITE HILLS – MARIST – Reyes signed with Marist of Poughkeepsie, NY.
Reyes is a tackling machine and should knock down his share of opponents.

BRANDON HESTER – Slot – CHRISTIAN – DARTMOUTH – He’s a double threat with grades and athletic ability.

NICK SEXTON – WR – CHRISTIAN – HUMBOLDT STATE –  Sexton is one of the most polished WR in San Diego County.  He is a sure handed player with speed.  He is ready to join a receiving corps that is filled with other San Diego County Alum. Look for Nick to contribute early as HSU makes a run for the D2 Playoffs again.

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