By Paul Meadors Sports Editor
It all started with a simple gesture six years ago, a telling moment in the lives of two Jr. High students at Clark Intermediate School in Clovis, CA.
A kid named J.J. Wills had transferred in, a potentially anxiety-filled experience for any young person, and after an AAU basketball tryout where the talented new kid showed his stuff on the basketball court, Coltin Velasquez welcomed him the only way athletes know how.
“I gave him a big high-five,” said Velasquez. “And I thought to myself ‘This guy is going to be good.’”
If foreshadowing is Velasquez’s forte, then he’s the Clovis version of Nostradamus.
And the rest is the stuff of legends for the pair of wide receivers in 2015, virtually unstoppable on the field and one of the top receiving combinations in the state.
The proof? Well, the dynamic duo has helped lift Clovis High to a perfect 5-0 record, a No. 22 state ranking, and combined for a staggering 1,069 yards and 16 touchdowns.
For the opposition – it’s pick your poison.
But there’s more than meets the eye as the two have forged not only a dynamic tandem on the football field (and the basketball court), but have developed a tight friendship mixed with heartfelt respect, good-natured ribbing and a healthy dose of competition.
Sitting between the two-sport athletes in the bleachers south of Lamonica Stadium after a cool afternoon practice in late September, it’s evident the boys in Blue and Gold share a mutual admiration.
“Coltin is an all-around great guy,” Wills says with a charming smile that would light up any football stadium. “He’s a great player, athlete and friend, and in my eyes he’s a sleeper and some school is going to get him. Everyone in the TRAC knows who Coltin is.”
Right back at ‘ya says Velasquez: “As a football player, what’s there not to say about J.J.? He does everything exceptional. I try to model myself after him.”
The two would watch NFL highlights together imagining themselves as pro players, studying how players interacted with each other when they were “miked up.” Who’s to say they won’t, with Wills holding a football offer from Idaho and Velasquez gaining interest from schools like Sac State and Cal Poly.
Schools should be doing cartwheels to land either of these guys.
Velasquez is the consummate hard-nosed football player with a chiseled jaw, deep blue eyes; a 6-foot-two 190-pounder who’s not afraid to out-muscle opponents on a jump-ball or lower his head for extra yardage. Wills is the speedster, a blur down the sidelines, with a 6-foot frame and slight build, the son of former UCLA running back and Hanford High star Shawn Wills.
And this is for certain – both are a nightmare for any football defense but yet humble, a combination Cougars head coach Rich Hammond is proud to point out.
“It works because they are both celebrating each other and their teammates,” says Hammond. “When their number has been called they’ve both answered. It’s easy to get caught up in success and attention and yet they’ve totally been team guys.”
Case in point: When asked what play has been their favorite of the season so far, Wills doesn’t mention his two four-quarter touchdown receptions against Stockdale that sealed a big win but Velasquez’s amazing 45-yard Hail Mary catch with zero seconds on the clock to close out the half at home against Lemoore. “He just took it and everyone including the crowd was going crazy.”
And for the friends who share a family bond as thick as blood (Coltin: “I call his parents my second mom and dad.” J.J: “His family is my family”), the perfect way for the football season to unfold would be a TRAC title, a D-1 Central Section title and a run to a state title. Certainly all is within reach, but the boys are mature enough to understand the importance of living in the here-and-now.
“You never know when it’s going to be your last play,” says J.J. “I see people all the time who say, ‘Man, I was so focused on the future that I wasn’t living in the now.’”
Not missing a beat and in a moment of reflection, Coltin stares off into the sunset, now a beautiful mixture of orange, red and deep blue and contemplates, “It’s crazy that we’re here now, it seems like we were just in 7th grade.”