Football education continues
Seven GJ players sign college letters of intent
Before the senior class of the 2013 Grand Junction High School football team ever played a down as a group, they were on opposite ends of the eighth-grade Super Bowl.
Theron Verna, Quinton Walton and Alex Steiner played for the East Middle School Bears, and Tyler Heinsma and Austin Lewis played for the West Middle School Raiders.
The Raiders picked up the victory, but it wasn’t long before some of the stars from the two teams joined forces at Grand Junction.
Wednesday, the five players from that eighth-grade Super Bowl joined John Wiman and Dion Martinez as they signed their national letters of intent to play college football. The seven signees make up the largest class of players that has gone on to play college football during coach Robbie Owens’ six-year tenure.
Lewis and Verna signed to go to NCAA Division I schools, Northern Colorado and Drake, respectively.
Heinsma, Walton, Wiman and Steiner all signed with schools in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Heinsma and Walton signed with CSU-Pueblo, Wiman with Colorado Mines, and Steiner with Colorado Mesa. Martinez signed with Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College.
“I think the biggest thing with this group is that they came in right as we turned the program around, and they saw what the expectations were, so it was sort of programmed into them,” Owens said. “They just started winning, and I think it says a lot about this class in particular, that they were able to keep that tradition alive. We’ve gotten more and more guys to sign each year, and all of these guys made a commitment to football. I think that’s paid off for them.
“It’s an exciting time, because this is a group of guys that we’re going to miss. They have that senior leadership, and they’re going to be successful in college because of that.”
For Verna, who signed with Northern Colorado as a tight end, his relationship with this senior class traces back to that eighth-grade Super Bowl.
“I think after that game we all became friends,” Verna said. “We came into high school and we all shared a bond. It’s been four years of learning who each other are and growing together. It’s been a fun time, and it’s sad but also fun to see everyone moving on.”
Verna said the jump to college football is intimidating, but he’s confident he can make the transition.
“You know, I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little scared going out and seeing some of those guys (that play at Northern Colorado),” Verna said. “But no, regardless of whether I redshirt or not, I think I’ll be able to acclimate well and play some football. That’s one of the main reasons I picked it.”
Heinsma and Walton signed with CSU-Pueblo, a program that was ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II for a portion of last season. Owens called Heinsma “one of the most under-recruited” players he’s coached, and he said CSU-Pueblo had a steal of a recruit when they approached Heinsma late in the recruiting process.
Heinsma said the championship-caliber program at CSU-Pueblo was the main draw.
“They have a lot of Division I coaches, and that high level of coaching shows,” Heinsma said. “They have a great coaching staff. That really got me.”
Walton, whom Owens called “one of the most heavily recruited Division II players in the country,” spurned some Division I offers in favor of the winning atmosphere and proximity of CSU-Pueblo.
“It was a gut feeling because I knew where I go to college had to be somewhere I could go for five years and really enjoy,” Walton said. “I wanted it to be somewhere closer to home where my family can come see me play, and I can come home easily to visit. When I took everything into account, Pueblo was where I wanted to be.”
For Wiman and Lewis, academics was the first and foremost factor in where to play college football. Lewis said he felt it was a “perfect fit” at Drake, and Owens agreed, saying Lewis matched everything the coaches at Drake were looking for.
Wiman wants to be an engineer and said Mines thought he was a good fit at safety.
Steiner will join a kicking battle at CMU, which signed two other kickers Wednesday. He cited staying close to home as the key factor in signing with the Mavericks.
Owens said Steiner was the most surprising signing to him, because Steiner began playing high school football as a junior after switching from soccer. But Owens pointed to Steiner’s commitment to football as the biggest factor in him receiving a college offer.
Martinez, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound defensive back and receiver, signed with Scottsdale Community College because he felt like it was a good place for him to develop as a football player.
“I think when we first got here, we all believed that we could play college football,” Martinez said, referring to the Tigers’ senior class. “I think along the way, some people doubted us, and that really pushed us to be better football players.”