The first National Letter of Intent signing period brought a total of 17 new Aztecs to the program.
The prospects came from as far away as Saskatoon, Canada and as close as down the road at Helix High School.
Rocky Long built the foundation for the future, and addressed some immediate needs for depth. Recruiting continues to be on the rise, and this class is no different, ranking among the top of G5 classes. This crop of Aztecs chose to play for the red and black over 24 offers to play at P5 schools.
The class is not complete, however, as unsigned recruits have another opportunity to sign NLI’s during the second signing period in early February. The Aztecs will likely add six to eight more prospects during that time, before completing the 2018 class.
A handful of the signees, particularly Justice, McTear, Scott, and Banks, have potential to contend for serious snaps next season due to their college ready bodies. Others, like Okpoko, Kothe, and Byrd, show huge upside, but need to add some more weight before being ready to star at the next level.
So far, the class includes the San Diego Section Defensive Player of the Year, Rashad Scott (Helix HS), and the section’s three time Kicker of the Year, Matt Ariaza (Rancho Bernardo HS). Rocky Long found his future leader in the middle of the Aztec’ defense, Andrew Alves (St. Augustine HS), who held offers from all three of the service academies.
The fastest athlete in the state of New Mexico, Jordan Byrd (Manzano, HS), chose the Aztecs over four Power 5 conference offers. CIF runner-up at Helix, Carson Baker (Helix HS) looks to contend for the QB position down the road. At 6’ 5” 335 lbs, Billy Dunkle (Eastlake HS) adds size to an already imposing offensive linemen group on the Mesa.
A quarterback’s nightmare, Keshawn Banks (Rio Rancho HS), doesn’t lose any quickness or agility despite his great size. After grey-shirting, T.J. Sullivan (Mt. Carmel HS), brings a hungry and determined mindset to the Mesa. A signee that surprised most fans, Daniel Okpoko (St. Joseph’s HS), is a defensive end prospect with raw talent and an extremely high ceiling.
Local sledgehammer, Josh Bornes (San Marcos HS) brings an intimidating style of play to the Aztec defense. 6′ 6″ Las Vegas product, Daniel Bellinger (Palo Verde HS) was a standout on both sides of the ball, but projects as a stud tight end at the next level. The human highlight reel, Cedarious Barfield (El Dorado HS), will be switching from all-star quarterback to defensive back for the Aztecs. Nic McTear (Heritage HS) the nation’s #15 tight end, was a late surprise addition to the program, choosing the Aztecs over offers from LSU, Auburn, Miami, and more.
The staff’s continued focus on recruiting Las Vegas paid off with the addition of one of Nevada’s top defenders, Allan Mwata (Liberty HS). After a huge senior year, DE Cameron Thomas (Carlsbad HS), saw his recruitment take off, but stuck with the hometown team. Long-striding 6’ 3” wide receiver, Elijah Kothe (Faith Lutheran HS), is a versatile athlete who also stars on the hardwood. Local star athlete, JR Justice (St. Augustine HS), chose to keep his talents home over offers from USC, Louisville, Virginia Tech, and many more.
Steele Canyon High School’s Mikel Oliver is still expected to sign in February, after completing required courses, and 6′ 8″ Oregon State DE transfer, Joah Robinette (San Marcos HS) is expected to join the program this spring as well. With the core of the 2018 class now signed, the staff can focus on any remaining holes, or go after the best athletes available during the second signing period.
By The Numbers:
1: International Player (Okpoko, from Canada)
2: The top 2 players from the state of New Mexico are now Aztecs (Banks and Byrd)
3: Legacy players are following in their family’s footsteps to the Mesa (Thomas, Dunkle and Bornes)
4: Signed as “Athletes”, with the opportunity to play multiple positions ( Justice, Barfield, Byrd, Bornes)
5: Prospects measured 6’ 4” or taller, adding needed size to the roster (Dunkle, McTear, Banks, Thomas, Bellinger)
6: Signees held US military service academy or Ivy League offers (Barfield, Baker, Thomas, Kothe, Bellinger, Alves)
7: Chose the Aztecs over at least 1 Power 5 offer (McTear, Justice, Kothe, Bellinger, Byrd, Thomas, Dunkle)
8: Local San Diego HS prep stars (Justice, Dunkle, Scott, Thomas, Baker, Alves, Bornes, Araiza)