Charter Oak’s Travis Santiago is heading to Azusa Pacific to play football? Will more big-time area players do the same?: Azusa Pacific University’s bump up to Division II has created quite a buzz around Southern California and led to an impressive recruiting haul for its football program.
As head coach Victor Santa Cruz and his staff put the finishing touches on this year’s commitments, he can’t help but be impressed.
“It’s a huge opening door that this school has not had access to,” Santa Cruz said about APU leaving the NAIA for Division II starting in the fall. “Now you have the stage of NCAA Division II combined with the market of Los Angeles.
“It’s a recipe for a lot of success and a lot of influence.” (To continue click thread)
The Cougars have signed 14 recruits from as far away as Mesa, Ariz., and as nearby as Covina.
Just last week, APU landed standout Charter Oak quarterback Travis Santiago.
“This recruiting class is symbolic of the type of fruit there is out there for us to pick,” Santa Cruz said. “This is one of the best recruiting classes we’ve ever brought in and we believe it’s going to continue to stay at a high level because recruiting-wise we’re going to be able to get into the homes and get into the schools that didn’t necessarily used to give us this type of access.”
After UCLA and USC, APU arguably is the next-best thing in Southern California when it comes to football. Before APU was moved to Division II, local football players who failed to land at Division IA or Division IAA universities had to leave town to play at the next-highest level.
That’s all changed and it’s something that appealed to Santiago, who like many others in this year’s recruiting class might not have considered APU when it still was in the NAIA.
“It’s not little Azusa Pacific anymore,” Santiago said. “This is actually big-time football now. Being D-II was a big key for me. Now I get to travel around the country and play in big-time football games.
“I’m excited for that. People around here in this Valley should really look into it now that they’re D-II.”
APU also landed other locals in Charter Oak safety Jonathan Thropay and Glendora running back Corey Victoria. Recruits from Southland powers such as Crespi and Corona Centennial also are part of this year’s class.
Santa Cruz now has more room to work with scholarship-wise, but he said he was not at liberty to say how many of the available 35 scholarships a Division II program can have were allotted to the program by the university. APU costs about $37,000 per year for students, but it’s estimated 90 percent of the student body is on some form of student aid.
As for the football program, Santa Cruz said things can be structured so a partial scholarship combined with financial aid and grants can wipe out most or all of the costs for his players. Unlike USC and UCLA, APU cannot offer the proverbial “full ride.”
The Cougars currently play their home games at Citrus College and will continue for the foreseeable future. One assistant coach estimated APU had 7,000 fans for last year’s home opener against University of San Diego.
From there, crowds dwindled but still were respectable.
The university is taking measure to make sure the program has what it needs to compete at its new level. The team will have natural grass and field turf surfaces to practice on this summer.
“Every young man is looking to compete at the highest level,” Santa Cruz said. “There’s a limited amount of Division I opportunities with scholarships. Now, being a Division II school in one of the largest markets, we’ve got an amazing footprint.
“The high school players are now saying they want to stay home. They want to compete and we want to compete. It’s a good marriage for everybody.”