By Ray Hamill — The success of the 2019 Warriors football team is carrying over to the college fields, with an impressive seven different Del Norte seniors taking their game to the next level.
The high number of future college players is a testament to the talent of this year’s team, which won a first-ever North Coast Section championship for the program on the way to a state championship appearance.
Defensive MVP Anthony Slayton and teammate Eli Larson, two of the top players in the H-DNL, will each be taking their talents to Shasta College, while quarterback OJ Calleja will join College of the Redwoods.
Others moving on include Conner Long (Sierra), Kai Baugh (Butte), Nick Freeman (Siskiyous) and Kenji Adams Lee, the latter of whom is still considering offers from a pair of four-year programs.
All in all, that’s a very impressive haul for a local program in one year.
Slayton and Larson will join a Knights team that will feature some of the best talent from Humboldt and Del Norte counties, including St. Bernard’s star linebacker Justin Hagler, who also recently committed to play there.
Slayton and Hagler were named Big 5 co-Defensive MVPs as seniors, while Larson was projected to be arguably Del Norte’s top player before missing the majority of this past season through injury.
“Their defense is going to be off the charts,” Del Norte head coach Nick White said of Shasta.
All three of those players are legitimate Division-I talent going forward.
“These guys (Slayton and Larson) are our two best defensive players, and Shasta’s getting Hagler too, so they’re getting some of the top defensive players in the area,” White said. “That’s huge for their program.”
White expects this to be just a stepping stone for all three, although he also warned that they’ll have their work cut out for them at a quality community college program like Shasta.
“It’s a marathon when you go to college,” the Del Norte head coach said. “You’ve got to work your butt off to beat out the best competition.
“These kids have to bring it. They have to bring their A game every day and show the coaches what they’ve got.”
White also expects Long to find success at Sierra, where he likely will play outside linebacker.
“He’ll fit right in,” the head coach said. “He’s a try-hard kid. He does everything you ask him to do.”
Freeman was part of a dynamic Del Norte secondary in 2019 and could play either safety or corner in college.
“He’s smart enough and he’s athletic enough to play both,” White said of the outgoing senior who has been high on the Eagles wish list for a while. “It’s a great place for him to go and focus on academics and football.”
The head coach also believes CR will be a good fit for Calleja, although there will be an adjustment for the quarterback switching to a more pass-friendly offense.
“He was just a solid consistent player for us,” White said of the two-year varsity starter, who grew into the role. “He stepped into a leadership role at quarterback and did a good job.”
Baugh joins a perennially tough Butte program that is known as a stepping stone for players looking to play at the Division-I level, including Eureka’s Isaak Gutierrez, who earned all-state honors there in the fall before receiving a scholarship offer from the University of New Mexico.
“Butte is the best of the best and that kid will go in there and compete,” White said of Baugh, who is expected to play defensive end for the Roadrunners. “He’s one of the best players in this area. There’s a very high ceiling for him.”
Baugh will join former Eureka linebacker Tyce Mullins, who red-shirted with the Roadrunners in 2019 and is expected to compete for a starting spot this fall.
Adams Lee was one of the most reliable kickers in the NCS this past fall and will be looking to continue that in college, with an announcement on where he will play expected soon.
“He was super consistent for us,” White said of the senior kicker. “He’s undecided right now between two schools, but he’s going to play for sure.”