College football’s national signing day sometimes can feel like a cross between Black Friday and Christmas.
It felt more like the latter for six area football players who did as expected Wednesday and signed national letters of intent with schools they previously had given oral commitments.
The head of the class was La Habra High School linebacker Aaron Porter, who signed with UCLA, but also includes Highlanders teammates Brett Bartolone and Sean Wale, who signed with Washington State and Boise State, respectively. The La Mirada trio of Spencer Fox, Devon Hall and Jesse Gonzalez signed with South Dakota, North Dakota and Western New Mexico, respectively.
Porter, the 2011 Daily News Player of the Year, was one of the major pieces to UCLA’s recruiting class under new coach Jim Mora Jr., who replaced Rick Neuheisel in December. The senior, who also was CIF-Southern Section Southwest Division Player of the Year, was one of the top recruits in California and ESPN.com’s No. 16 inside linebacker prospect.
“UCLA’s a great school, great education and it’s close to home,” Porter said. “The new coaches are excellent. I think they are way better than (the previous coaches).”
A key for Porter, who also plans to play baseball in Westwood, was Mora Jr., who had two head coaching stints in the NFL, with the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. He also spent several seasons as an assistant, including a stint as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator.
“It’s always great to learn from someone who has coached (at that level),” Porter said. “I think he’s going to make a big impact at UCLA.”
Porter, who set a La Habra record with 388 career tackles, including 23 tackles for a loss this past season, toyed with going to Oklahoma after the Sooners, including head coach Bob Stoops, pushed hard for him during the past month.
But he couldn’t be swayed from being a Bruin and being part of a recruiting class that has been ranked in the top 20 by most recruiting publications.
“UCLA was really the school,” said Porter, who committed to the Bruins during the summer. “(Oklahoma) came in too late and I didn’t really have any time to really think about them, so I went with UCLA.”
It was the same for Bartolone, a receiver/running back who appears to be a perfect fit for new Washington State coach Mike Leach’s spread offense.
Bartolone, who was first-team All-Area and on the All-Southwest Division team, accounted for 1,587 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Highlanders, who were 9-4 and advanced to the CIF-SS semifinals.
“I’m really excited,” Bartolone said. “To be a receiver in that offense is a dream. I’m just doing the best I can to prepare for next season.”
Wale, who was first-team All-Area and the Southwest Division punter, has similar feelings, especially joining a Boise State program that has been of the nation’s best each of the past four seasons.
“It’s obviously a pleasure (to go there),” said Wale, who is expected to compete for punter and place-kicker for the Broncos. “I’m excited to go out there.
“I have a tremendous opportunity that they’ve given me to go out and compete at one of those spots (punting and kicking), starting next year.”
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Fox was one of the area’s top offensive linemen and helped the Matadores average more than 200 yards rushing a game and reach the division semifinals. He was first-team All-Area and All-Southeast Division.
“I took a trip to South Dakota and felt really welcomed there,” Fox said. “It felt like that’s where I was supposed to be.
“I like the coaching staff, they’re all winners. I’m excited to get out there and start playing.”
Hall, a defensive lineman who helped lead the Matadores to the CIF-SS Southeast Division semifinals, had similar feelings toward North Dakota.
“I went there and visited the school and it was really a beautiful environment,” Hall said. “They have a really good football program and thought it would be the right fit for me.
“It’s pretty far (from home) and pretty cold, but I think I’ll be able to adjust. There are a few California kids on the team and they told me it’s all right.”
It was the same for Gonzalez, a tight end who helped the Matadores rebound from an 1-4 start to share the Suburban League title.
“It’s not really a big place,” Gonzalez said of Western New Mexico. “But they invited me out there. I liked it, and I can’t wait to get out there and play.”