BULLHEAD CITY — Two former River Valley High School Dust Devils football players proved that anything can happen as long as talent is combined with hard work and perseverence.
Jacob Sammut and Brady Viles signed their letters of intent in Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday night to attend classes this upcoming semester at the University of Texas at El Paso and to play football for the Miners this season.
In addition to the signings, Tuesday marked the first day of Camp Ruidoso for Sammut, Viles and the Miners.
Sammut and Viles are the latest Colorado River Union High School District student-athletes to earn a spot on a Division I football roster by excelling at the junior college level.
Mohave High School T-birds offensive lineman Josh Bruns signed his letter of intent to attend Glendale (Ariz.) Community College and play football for the Gauchos in 2011 and 2012 before signing his letter of intent to attend classes at UMass and to play football for the Minutemen in December of 2012.
I have been covering the CRUHSD student-athletes for 12 seasons, and there has not been one football player coming out of high school Division I ready.
Sammut, Viles and Bruns have had to work their way up the JUCO ranks before reaching the promised land.
“I think that after going through all of the downfalls and everything I’ve been through these past few years and coming from JUCO, I think it’s like a dream turned into a reality into Division I football,” said Sammut by cell phone from Ruidoso Tuesday evening. “Not many people can say that, so for me, I’m still trying to embrace the moment and enjoy the things that are coming along with it.”
Sammut graduated from the College of the Canyons, Santa Clarita, Calif., this summer after serving as the Cougars’ long snapper in 2014 and 2016. He missed the 2015 season after suffering a shoulder injury.
“I think with all of the doubt that I had graduating high school, saying I was too small to play JUCO and all of these other people who gave me that motivation,” Sammut said. “I think it was kind of good for me to have to bounce back after having shoulder surgery and having to red shirt and still recover from that and getting where I’m at now.
“That’s what made the bounce back a lot better and has made this process less stressful and more of a grind.”
Viles’ road to UTEP was no less winding than Sammut’s.
When he was asked if he remembered how unhappy he was about being relegated to place-kicker during his first season of JUCO ball, said Viles, while chuckling by cell phone, “Yeah, it’s a pretty good gig so far.
“I just feel like ever since I graduated high school, I kind of came a long way.
“Right when I finished high school I went to that Arizona prep school, which turned out to be such a bust, you know.”
When he was told that his one-year experience at Arizona Post Graduate Academy ended up working out really well for him, Viles said, “Yes, everything worked out well. I’m just happy where I’m at right now because I went to that prep school and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, so actually I took a year off and decided I thought I was going to be done and just quit, but I kind of had a fire inside me — kind of — and I just wanted to play again, so I messaged Tom Minnick from Arizona Western and he gave me a chance and then now, the craziest thing ever, me and Jake are here at UTEP. It’s insane to me.”
Minnick is the head coach for the Arizona Western College Matadors, and Viles played in Yuma, Ariz., in 2016 before getting the call from El Paso.
While Sammut and Viles faced their fair share of anxiety on their road to Division I football scholarships, Bruns did not face as much turbulence as the two Dust Devils.
“I always knew I was going to get a D-I scholarship,” said Bruns by email. “My first year I pretty much sat the bench, but once I got on the field for my second year I knew how good I was and that I was going to move on.
“Going from sitting on the bench to being one of the best tackles in (JUCO) was really humbling.
“It opened my eyes, and I learned I had to work hard to get where I wanted.
“Once the first offer came in, the rest started rolling.
“It was a fun, little experience.”
The road to earn a spot on a Division I football roster does not come easy, and the CRUHSD just added two more of its student-athletes whose talent and perseverance will hopefully show local prepsters that they can do it, too.
COINCIDENCE NO. 1: When I heard that two high school teammates who worked together — long snapper and field goal kicker — in high school earned scholarships to do the same thing in one of only 128 NCAA Division I football programs, I thought it was mind-boggling.
COINCIDENCE NO. 2: Sammut and Viles earned scholarships to play football at UTEP, which is where I earned my bachelor’s degree, also was no less mind-boggling.
Daniel McKillop is the sports editor of the Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 928-763-2303, ext. 5110.