By Ray Hamill — From rivals to teammates, the top two defensive players in the H-DNL are taking their talents to Redding to play for Shasta College football this fall.
In the past three days, the Knights have received commitments from Big 4 co-Defensive MVPs Anthony Slayton of Del Norte and Justin Hagler of St. Bernard’s, each of whom played a pivotal role last season in leading their teams to a state bowl appearance.
On Sunday, Slayton admitted he’s looking forward to playing alongside his Big 4 rival and fellow linebacker.
“Playing against him, you’ve always got to know where No. 33 is on the field,” the Del Norte senior said of Hagler. “That was our main focus against St. Bernard’s.”
Both players are expected to have an immediate impact with the Knights after stellar prep careers, and both will be expected to use this stop as a stepping stone to a four-year program.
The talented duo follow in the footsteps of Eureka’s Josiah Graham and Antorious Bell, each of whom recently also committed to play at Shasta after graduation.
Hagler was pivotal in the Crusaders’ run to a state championship this past fall, leading the entire North Coast Section in tackles with 167.
His leadership, however, went beyond the stats.
“He’s our defensive star, our defensive captain,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said of Hagler during the season. “What he does on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker is exceptional. He knows what the other team is trying to do, he’s physical and he makes plays.”
Slayton was just as influential for the Warriors, finishing with 112 tackles, including a remarkable 28 tackles for a loss, and also had four sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.
It’s not the statistics he’ll remember the most from his time at Del Norte, however, but rather his teammates and coaches.
“The bond we had was just crazy,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. We played together as a team and we had great coaches who put us in the right spots. And we had kids who played hard. Everybody got after it in every game.”
Several local players have taken their game to Shasta College in recent years, including St. Bernard’s Garrison Roach and Del Norte’s Garret McAlexander, who each played there for the past two seasons, as well as Fortuna’s Cory Johnson, who was a freshman there in 2019.
Last season a perennially tough Shasta team finished 7-4, qualifying for the Golden State Bowl, where the Knights fell 50-43 to San Francisco in OT.
For Slayton, who is still undecided on what his major will be, it seemed like the right choice for a number of reasons.
“I think it’s the fit that will benefit me the most and get me to where I want to be,” he said.
His uncle, Mike Mari, is also the AD at Shasta.
Hagler, who Tomlin says “worked probably harder than anybody in the offseason,” was a big playmaker for the Crusaders on both sides of the ball, but is expected to focus on defense at the collegiate level.