Del Norte

Several H-DNL players to feature as JC football returns to California

Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – Josiah Graham working out at the Redwood Bowl during a long offseason. Graham and several other former H-DNL players will be in action on Saturday as JC football returns to California.

By Ray Hamill — The H-DNL will be well represented when JC football makes a welcome return to California on Saturday.

In what will be the first non-Division-I college football game played in the state in 15 months, Shasta College hosts College of the Siskiyous, with no less than six former H-DNL players expected to play in the game, including players from both the Big 4 and the Little 5.

All six are freshmen and all six are expected to feature heavily.

Shasta will suit up four of them — Eureka’s Josiah Graham and Antorious Bell, Del Norte’s Anthony Slayton and Hoopa’s Carlos Aguilar — while Del Norte’s OJ Calleja and Nikolas Freeman will line up for Siskiyous.

“Both of those guys are going to play for us, and both will play quite a bit,” Siskiyous head coach Tyler Knudsen said of Calleja and Freeman, who each played a pivotal role in the Warriors run to a state bowl game in 2019. “Both have been doing a really good job for us.”

More California JC teams will return next week, but for this weekend the Shasta and Siskiyous showdown is the only game being played in the state, as they each begin a short spring season along with Feather River.

The three teams will play each other twice over the next seven weeks, with a championship showdown on April 17 between the two teams with the best records.

Anthony Slayton was named co-Defensive MVP of the Big 4 in 2019.

Fortuna quarterback Daeden Taylor is also on the Feather River roster, giving the H-DNL even more interest in the season.

Saturday’s game will be streamed live at www.shastacountysports.com/livestream for any local fans who want to tune in, with kick off set for 1 p.m.

And preparations, according to both head coaches, have been going well in what have been unusual circumstances.

“We’re going good,” Shasta head coach Bryon Hamilton said. “We’ve got a lot of distractions with COVID stuff, but we’re used to that now and working through it.”

Knudsen has been impressed with his players’ ability to persevere through it all.

“The thing I’ve realized the most in all of this is how resilient our guys are,” he said. “They’ve just been so resilient and just so happy they have the opportunity.”

Hoopa’s Carlos Aguilar will make his collegiate debut with Shasta College on Saturday.

Saturday’s game will see former Del Norte teammates on different sides of the ball, and all three are expected to play a big role.

Slayton was a co-Defensive MVP of the Big 4 while with the Warriors and will play a lot in the heart of the Knights’ defense where he is already establishing himself.

“He’s doing a great job at linebacker and he’ll see some playing time for sure,” Hamilton said.

Calleja will split time with two other Siskiyous quarterbacks, as the Eagles coaches want to use the game to have a look at a lot of different players, while Freeman will play at safety.

“Both these guys have worked so hard since they’ve been here,” Knudesn said of his Del Norte duo. “And they do it with a smile on their faces.”

For Shasta, Graham is also expected to feature heavily on offense after giving his coaches a taste of what he can do with a 40-yard TD catch in a preseason scrimmage.

“He’ll start in some of our spread and open packages,” Hamilton said. “He’s doing a great job at receiver for us.”

Nikolas Freeman in action for Del Norte

Bell also has been turning some heads during the preseason after switching from running back to defensive back, where he will feature along with the athletic Aguilar.

The former Hoopa standout was one of the best at his position in the H-DNL as a high school senior in 2019.

“For all these guys, it’s a big step up,” Hamilton said. “People don’t realize how big a step up it is, and these guys, they all come from good programs, and they’re all doing well.”

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