New Faces, New Places: How Clovis Athletes, Fresno State Fared on National Signing Day

(Left-right) Clovis West football’s Marcel Sanders Jr., Isaiah Howard and Nick Herrera signed to their respective colleges at an on-campus ceremony Wednesday afternoon. (Gabe Camarillo/Clovis Roundup)

The early signing period for college football opened Wednesday, a day filled with the promise of a bright future for four Clovis Unified athletes, as well as for the Central Valley’s own college football program, Fresno State. 

Four football players from CUSD high schools – including three from Clovis West – signed national letters of intent, securing their spot at the colleges they individually committed to.

Keanu WIlliams, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive lineman out of Clovis High, signed his letter of intent to play at the University of Oregon early Wednesday morning. Williams highlights the Ducks’ Class of 2021, which ranks sixth nationally and first in the Pac-12 conference, according to 24/7 Sports.

Williams turned in a solid junior campaign in 2019, where he recorded 82 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He was honored as a preseason All-State selection in 2020 by Cal-Hi Sports.

“We are excited Keanu received this well-deserved honor and officially signed with Oregon today,” said Clovis head coach Rich Hammond. “Keanu is a very physical defensive lineman who will make an immediate impact on the field for the Ducks.”

The trio of Golden Eagles – Marcel Sanders Jr., Isaiah Howard, and Nick Herrera – signed national letters of intent to their respective colleges Wednesday afternoon at an on-campus ceremony.

Sanders Jr. confirmed his move from the Central Valley to Silicon Valley, signing with San Jose State. The 6-foot-3, 252-pound defensive end was a three-year starter on Clovis West’s varsity football team, lining up both on the defensive line and on offense at tight end. Sanders wreaked havoc as a pass rusher, recording eight sacks and scoring two defensive touchdowns in his junior season.

Now, Sanders will cause opponents problems while wearing a San Jose State uniform. He already has one familiar rival school on his radar.

“I’m excited to play Fresno State,” said Sanders. “That’s a big game for me when we play at Fresno State because all my family and friends will be there. I most definitely will be playing with a little bit more energy.”

Howard, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound wide receiver, signed with perennial FCS power Eastern Washington, a school that produced NFL wideouts Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne. Howard totaled 41 receptions in 2019, his most favorite being the game-winning touchdown at Central Catholic. 

“He’s a highly skilled receiver and one of the best Clovis West has seen in some time,” Clovis West head coach Tim Randall said of Howard. 

Clovis West also sent its starting center from 2019, Nickolas Herrera, to play college football. He signed with Bethel College out of Newman, Kansas and described his recruiting as an “interesting process.”

“Out of nowhere, the head coach just hit me up one day and told me where he was from, and it kind of happened really fast,” explained Herrera. “Overall, I can’t put it into words. I just can’t wait to get there.”

Along with the four Clovis athletes who penned their letters of intent Wednesday, Jacob Tafoya of Clovis East plans on playing college football in the fall of 2021. He’s committed to Air Force, but will sign in February with friends and family.

Fresno State adds 14 new Bulldogs on Signing Day

The Fresno State Bulldogs kept busy on National Signing Day, adding 14 new faces to their ranks as part of the Class of 2021. 

An overview of who signed with the Bulldogs Wednesday:

Jonathan Arceneaux – Running back, Los Angeles, CA 

A 5-foot-9, 175-pound back out of Lawndale High School, Arceneaux chose Fresno State over Cal, Oregon State, Utah, and every other Mountain West school except for Air Force. He rushed for over 3,500 yards during his sophomore and junior seasons at Whittier High, making the Cal-Hi Sports’ All-State sophomore team in 2018. 

Jaylen Henderson – Quarterback, Encino, CA

A 6-foot-3, 190-pound dual threat quarterback, Henderson grew up with ties to the Fresno State football program as the cousin of former Bulldog linebacker Chris Carter. Henderson was rated the No. 24 dual threat quarterback in the country after passing for 2,644 yards and scoring 25 total touchdowns (20 through the air, five on the ground) at Chaminade High School in 2019.

Braylen Nelson – Offensive Line, Denver, CO

A 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman, Nelsen chose Fresno State over four other Mountain West schools: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming. Rated by Prep Redzone Colorado as the second-best offensive lineman in the state, Nelsen is considered within the program to be one of the Bulldogs’ best offensive line signings in a decade.

Jordan Hornbeak – Running back, Fresno, CA

A 6-foot-1, 185-pound running back, Hornbeak stayed with his hometown school, signing with Fresno State and joining former San Joaquin Memorial teammates Josh Kelly and Mac Dalena. And what a get for the Bulldogs: Hornbeak is the highest-rated running back to commit to Fresno State since 2003, according to 24/7 Sports.

Tre Watson – Tight end, Rio Rancho, NM

A 6-foot-5, 215-pound tight end, Watson was named New Mexico Athlete of the Year by MaxPreps for his football and basketball exploits at Cleveland High School.

Malik Brooks – Husky, Las Vegas, NV

A 6-foot-2, 195-pound versatile talent, Brooks was the first Bulldog to commit in the Class of 2021. He ranked as the No. 12 overall recruit in Nevada according to 24/7 Sports, and chose Fresno State over BYU, Colorado State and New Mexico.

Charlotin Charles – Linebacker, Las Vegas, NV

A 6-foot, 190-pound linebacker, Charles hails from Nevada high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman and was rated as the No. 15 overall recruit in Nevada by 24/7 Sports.

Tito Chikere – Defensive tackle, Sugarland, TX

A 6-foot-4, 245-pound defensive tackle, Chikere is the furthest east recruit the Bulldogs reached for, thanks to recruiting coordinator Julius Brown’s connections made as part of the Texas Tech coaching staff.

Frankco Gratton – Defensive end, Seattle, WA

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound edge rusher, Gratton was coveted by Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer for his length and athleticism.

Julius Lewis – Defensive tackle, Modesto, CA

A 6-foot-4, 280-pound presence up front, Lewis hails from Central Catholic, where former Bulldogs Jared and Justin Rice played. The Modesto native has undeniable energy and enthusiasm to play in Fresno, as seen in his welcome to fans Wednesday:

 

Alzillion Hamilton – Cornerback, Castro Valley, CA

A 6-foot, 160-pound cornerback, Hamilton was a dual-sport athlete at Hayward High School, playing baseball in addition to football. DeBoer commented that Hamilton “is very natural and makes everything look really easy… [he] tracks the football really well in the air and has great ball skills.”

Julian Neal – Safety, San Francisco, CA

A 6-foot-4, 200-pound safety, Neal chose Fresno State over San Jose State and Eastern Washington, both of whom coveted him as a receiver.

Emari Pait – Husky, Los Angeles, CA

A 6-foot-2, 185-pound athlete slated to play at the “husky” position, Pait chose Fresno State over San Jose State, San Diego State, Oregon State and Arizona State among others. Pait played in all three phases of the game at Culver City High School

Jalen Williams – Cornerback, Lancaster, CA

A 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback, Williams is reported to be Fresno State’s No. 1 cornerback commit in the 24/7 Sports era. Much to the pleasure of Fresno State fans, Williams chose the Bulldogs over Mountain West rival Boise State. 

DeBoer expressed optimism about the Bulldogs’ Class of 2021, which ranks fourth in the Mountain West behind UNLV, Boise State and San Diego State, according to 24/7 Sports

“One by one, we are going to make this roster phenomenal,” said DeBoer. “Every one of these guys that we sign today is critical.”

DeBoer’s Class of 2021 also picked up a commit late on National Signing Day, when Arizona safety Zeke Branham announced his commitment to the Bulldogs. DeBoer said there are eight spots left to recruit for the February signing period, with the focus on recruiting for the defensive line. 

Gabriel Camarillo has written for the Clovis Roundup since August 2019 and follows high school athletics, Fresno State football and former Clovis Unified student-athletes. Gabe also writes for The Collegian as a staff sports writer and works at One Putt Broadcasting as a board op for 940 ESPN radio.