Eastern coach Aaron Best is a Tacoma native who said his goal is to keep athletes in-state.
The thought of putting pen to paper to sign for an athletic scholarship still bewilders Anthony Stell. He really didn’t know this — National Signing Day — was a thing as a freshman at Rainier Beach High.
Stell knew players signed for athletic scholarships. But how you get a college’s attention, the meaning of the stars by a player’s name on scouting sites, the basic process that will finalize as Stell is seated among his football teammates Wednesday to sign to play at Eastern Washington?
“No, I went on Twitter and started looking stuff up,” said Stell, who had a breakout junior year where programs eventually sought him out. As a senior, the 5-foot-10 three-star athlete helped the Vikings make their first Class 3A state-championship game appearance.
“So, this is surprising,” he continued. “I never imagined anything like this day happening. I’m signing to go to college.”
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Stell is one of 11 players from the state either signed or set to sign their NLI to play football at Eastern, including four Beach teammates. The school planned a celebration for all of its athletes at 2:30 p.m. in the gym that’s open to the public.
Eastern made contact with defensive back Darrien Sampson first, his freshman year. Stell, running back Freddie Roberson and preferred walk-ons Jeremiah Sio (running back) and Mason Starling (receiver) followed.
“You watch us play and you can’t deny that we have great players,” said Beach coach Corey Sampson, who’s also Darrien’s father. “They got offers from lots of other places, but Eastern loved them and they felt most comfortable there. It’s close to home and it’s competitive.”
Nestled in Pac-12 territory, it’s expected the Eagles will sign top prospects who are either overlooked or don’t fit on Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) rosters. Eastern coach Aaron Best, an alum of the program and assistant coach who was named to the top spot in January 2017, is a Tacoma native who said his goal is to keep athletes in-state. As of Tuesday, only one commit is from out-of-state.
This season, however, the crop of talent Eastern has pulled in is turning heads. Sumner receiver Tre Weed committed to the school last week. He’s a three-star, do-everything athlete who amassed 2,054 all-purpose yards with 33 touchdowns for the Spartans.
Meridian senior Simon Burkett, a three-star quarterback who led his school to the Class 1A state-championship game, was part of the eight recruits who signed during the early signing period in December.
Eastern was 7-4 last season. The Eagles return junior quarterback Gage Gubrud, who led the Big Sky Conference in passing average with 334.2 yards per game with 26 total touchdowns.
“With the class we have coming in now, I think we can win a national championship in about two years, when we’re juniors,” Stell said. “That’s when we’ll know the program and be like vets. And we’ll have a strong bond together.”
A bond jump-started by five of the players graduating from the same high school.
“I get a good feel when I’m there,” Darrien said. “It feels like I’m at home. We feel like we could go over there and change things around.”