Lynden receiver Jalani Phelps and Meridian lineman Spencer Blackburn played on the same middle school basketball team and nearly attended the same high school.
Whatcom County's lone two Division I football recruits are set to reunite at Eastern Washington University, as both completed their commitment process on national signing day Wednesday, Feb. 5, and will head East to Cheney next fall.
Phelps, joined by his mom, Tamara VanDiest, coach Curt Kramme, coach Blake Van Dalen and athletic director Mike McKee, held a mock signing at Lynden High School while Blackburn signed his official papers at Meridian High with his family and friends in attendance.
"Mostly it's a relief to know where I'm going," said Phelps, donning a red jacket and gray EWU beanie cap. "I'm very excited to be playing at Eastern. They have a great tradition of winning, similar to Lynden. I'm super excited to be an Eagle the next couple of years."
Eastern, a Division I-AA FCS school, has reached the playoffs four of the past five years, won a national championship in 2010 and advanced to the semifinals each of the past two seasons.
Phelps, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound wideout, terrorized Northwest Conference secondaries the past two years. He caught a team-high 55 passes for 837 yards and nine TDs. Phelps finished with 86 career receptions for 1,423 yards and 16 touchdowns.
EWU head coach Beau Baldwin directed high praise toward the Lynden product.
"What jumps out at you is how mature he is and the mentality he has," Baldwin said in a press release. "He has a calmness to him but a drive deep down that you can see. We like the entire package that Jalani brings to our program at the wide receiver position."
Phelps said originally he planned to attend Central Washington University after the school offered him a scholarship. But he had a change or heart after visiting the Ellensburg campus.
He waiting to choose until he took an official visit to Cheney, and there Phelps decided where he wanted to spend the next four to five years of his life.
"I went to camp (at Eastern) the last three years," Phelps explained. "I knew the campus. There was a family feel. When I committed, all the coaches were giving me hugs, and the whole time there I felt like I was already a part of the program on my visit."
Phelps, who is interested in majoring in either business or criminal justice, was told he won't be informed whether he'll redshirt or not until just before the start of the season, because the coaching staff wants incoming players to battle for starting positions.
Although Cheney is a small city, Phelps was intrigued by Spokane's location only being 15 minutes away, and said similar to Lynden, football players at EWU are recognized throughout the community.
"It's a great opportunity," Kramme said. "His hard work has paid off. He's made contributions to our program for three years now. I'm very happy and proud of him."
Blackburn only two days ago learned he'd for sure be an Eagle.
He had received an offer from the South Dakota School of Mines, but was told by EWU coaches he'd know by last Monday, Feb. 3, whether or not they were going to offer him a scholarship.
He was ecstatic once he heard the good news.
"It was actually in a voicemail," said Blackburn. "I just yelled, 'I'm going to be an Eagle.' Then I called my parents."
Blackburn is only one of two Bob Ames coached players to start all four years along the offensive line. He also was a force on the defensive side of the ball. This year, Blackburn helped pave the way for Meridian running back Letrez Jones to run for 1,960 yards. He was a unanimous first team offensive and defensive Class 1A All-NWC selection.
Blackburn remained in contact with EWU defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Ryan Sawyer the past two years, but even after Blackburn took his official visit to Cheney, he wasn't sure if Eastern would award him a scholarship or not.
On Wednesday, proudly wearing a red EWU jacket, Blackburn put pen to paper and signed his official letter of intent to play at EWU.
"It was weird," he said. "For a while, I didn't think I was going anywhere for college football, at least Division I, but it worked out well."
Blackburn, who is planning to major in mechanical engineering and technology, said he hasn't been told which side of the ball he'll play, although he's hoping to play defense. He said Eastern recruited two additional athletic lineman who're also versatile enough to play offense and defense.
Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, in a press release, said he could picture Blackburn anchoring the offensive line.
"At 260 pounds, he runs incredibly well and also has the ability to play on both sides of the ball," Baldwin said in a press release. "We see him as a possible future center. He's very sharp, plays hard with lots of thump and has a great body. He has the mindset and ability to be a very good athletic center for us."
Joining Blackburn and Phelps on Wednesday as Whatcom County college football commits was Sehome quarterback Daniel Ziegler. The ultra-athletic signal-caller who led the Mariners to the state playoffs, committed to the South Dakota School of Mines with family by his side at Sehome High.
Ziegler guided Sehome to its best season since 1999, running for a team-high 1,058 yards and nine TDs and throwing for 1,278 yards and 14 touchdowns.
However, Ziegler said the Hardrockers are looking to play him in the slot and use his blazing speed on kick returns. Ziegler smiled and suggested he could be a Percy Harvin-like player for South Dakota.
"It feels so great, because there is always so much uncertainly with where you are going to end up," said Ziegler, wearing a Hardrockers T-shirt. "You're worried about not playing at the next level at all."
South Dakota School of Mines is a Division II school. It went 6-4 last year and recently made the move to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Ziegler was excited that his family would get the chance to watch road games around played around the Northwest.
Ziegler, who chose South Dakota over Montana Tech, said he's interested in mechanical engineering.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
|Student athlete||High school||Sport||College|
|Spencer Blackburn||Meridian||Football||Eastern Washington|
|Sarah Dolese||Sehome||Track||Montana State|
|Chris Fredlund||Squalicum||Cross Country||Loyola Marymount|
|Courtney Hollander||Lynden Christian||Basketball||Seattle Pacific|
|Drew Lomsdalen||Sehome||Baseball||Bellevue College|
|Taylor Lunde||Meridian||Soccer||Pacific Lutheran|
|Olivia Olason||Blaine||Soccer||Edmonds Community College|
|Jenn Paul||Bellingham||Golf||Western Washington|
|Jalani Phelps||Lynden||Football||Eastern Washington|
|Alyssa Porter||Bellingham||Track||Nevada, Reno|
|Stephanie Somers||Lynden||Basketball||Idaho State|
|Emily Webster||Sehome||Soccer||Western Washington|
|Avery West||Sehome||Tennis||Utah State||Oscar White||Bellingham||Baseball||Bellevue College|
|Daniel Ziegler||Sehome||Football||South Dakota School of Mines|
NOTE: To report a Whatcom County student athlete that is planning to continue their playing career in college, please email email@example.com or call 360-715-2286.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.