It was a day for parents and grandparents to beam with pride. A day to break out new T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats in school colors and to look ahead to the future. A day to put pen to paper and make things official.
Wednesday marked the first day that area football and soccer players could sign national letters of intent to continue their academic and athletic endeavors at colleges and universities across the country.
The athletic departments at Lynden, Sehome and Squalicum held signing parties for multiple student-athletes, and Bellingham athletic director Chad Larson said the Red Raiders are planning one for later in the week.
While student-athletes such as Squalicum’s Ben Peterson (Air Force), Kendra Steele (Portland), Rowan King (Pacific) and Sydney Wong (San Diego); Ferndale’s Drew Westford (Fairfield) and Whitney Walker (Texas A&M-Kingsville); and Lynden’s Elisa Kooiman (Northwest Nazarene), among others, announced their intentions a few months ago, Wednesday marked the first time a number of others in the area proclaimed where they planned to go.
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Here’s a look at the choices that were announced this week:
Mount Baker’s Bass signs with Idaho
Last fall, Mount Baker senior T.J. Bass often looked like a man playing among boys during the Mountaineers’ run to the Class 1A state quarterfinals. Imagine what he’s going to look like with another year to mature.
Bass signed his letter of intent to play for the University of Idaho, accepting an offer to grayshirt in the 2017 season and join the team next January.
“It’s going to help me mature more and give me a little more time to get ready,” Bass said. “I’ll get to keep lifting. I won’t be coming in as an 18-year-old. I’ll go in as a 19-year-old, plus I’ll still have my redshirt year.”
Because he is grayshirting, the Vandals can’t talk about Bass’ signing until he actually joins the program, which is scheduled to move to the Big Sky Conference in 2018.
Bass said he can’t wait for his opportunity to play NCAA Division I FCS football.
“It’s crazy, really,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s kicked in that this is actually happening. It’s exciting.”
Bass, who was chosen co-MVP of the 1A Northwest Conference, chose Idaho over Montana, because he said, “Moscow was a nice little town like Deming. It felt like home.” Though he was a force on both sides of the ball, he said the Vandals will likely have him focus on playing along the offensive line, most likely at tackle.
Leighton, Wendling to play football at Central
Ferndale senior Winterhawk Leighton signed his letter of intent to play football at Central Washington University, choosing the Wildcats over Idaho, Portland State, Simon Fraser, Montana Tech and Rocky Mountain.
“I liked staying close to home,” Leighton said. “They have a great program tradition and some coaches that I really like. I like the atmosphere of the town, and it’s a place I can get a good education and play football.”
Leighton, who was a first-team All-3A Wesco North selection at offensive and defensive line after helping the Golden Eagles average 8.4 yards per rush attempt last fall, said he expects to plays along the interior of Central’s offensive line and perhaps major in business.
Leighton will be joined at Central by fellow All-3A Wesco North selection Jack Wendling, who said the two have been playing against each other for years. The Squalicum linebacker, who blends a physical presence inside with outstanding speed, also signed with the Wildcats on Wednesday after helping the Storm reach the Class 3A state quarterfinals last fall.
Wendling said he chose Central over Simon Fraser and the University of San Diego.
“I liked how it was three hours away from home – far enough away you can do your own thing but close enough to go home at Christmas,” Wendling said. “The coaching staff there was very welcoming, and they have a rich history there.”
Wendling said he will likely play inside linebacker at Central and major in construction management.
Fullner, Funk choose Central soccer
Ellensburg felt like home when Lynden senior Peyton Fullner visited Central Washington University, and it’s no wonder why. After signing to play soccer with the Wildcats, Fullner will get to once again play alongside fellow Lion alum Emily Holt, who just completed her freshman season.
“It’s going to be so fun,” said Fullner, who chose the school over an offer from Montana State Billings. “Emily is like a big sister to me. She’s one of the biggest reasons I had a lot of success. ... When I went over there, I stayed with her for a little bit, and she encouraged me to come.”
Fullner, who had 12 goals and 15 assists for Lynden last fall and was selected second-team all-state and first-team all-NWC, will likely play outside midfielder at Central. She said she plans to major in dentistry.
Holt won’t be the only familiar face Fullner sees.
Sehome senior Christina Funk also signed with Central. Funk was a second-team All-NWC selection after scoring five goals and logging six assists, and she should provide the Wildcats with an imposing presence in the middle.
“We played together on (Whatcom FC) Rangers for a long time,” Fullner said. “It will be super exciting to play together again. Just another familiar face over there.”
Funk chose Central over Western Washington, Pacific Lutheran, Puget Sound and Montana.
“I think it was the perfect distance from home,” Funk said of her decision. “I’m kind of a homebody, but I wanted to go off and get the college experience.”
Funk said she expects to play a holding mid for the Wildcats while majoring in either pre-veterinary science or biology.
Blaine’s Ball catches on at UPS
Choosing to sign to play football for the University of Puget Sound over Pacific Lutheran was a no-brainer for Blaine senior Anthony Ball.
“They like to throw the ball about 50 times per game, so I didn’t even need to think about it,” said Ball, a receiver who finished third in Whatcom County with 55 catches for 811 yards and nine touchdowns and was selected first-team all-2A NWC last fall. “I like everything about it – the team, the facility, the way they do things.”
Having a fellow Whatcom County receiver to take him under his wing in Meridian alum Marcus McGuinn, who just finished his freshman season with the Loggers, didn’t hurt either.
“I had an overnight stay with him,” said Ball, who plans to major in computer science. “He said he’s excited to have me there. He’s got good experience and will show me the way they do stuff.”
Squalicum’s Mitchell to play basketball at Lewis-Clark State
Squalicum’s Damek Mitchell will head to Lewiston, Idaho, to play basketball for Lewis-Clark State College.
Mitchell, who was a first-team All-NWC pick as a junior, leads all Whatcom County players with 24.2 points per game this season.
Lewis-Clark State plays in the NAIA’s Frontier Conference.
Hommes follows family to Northwestern College
When Lynden senior Jacob Hommes signed to play football at Northwestern College, he became the third Whatcom County alum on the Red Raiders’ roster, joining junior tight end Josh Hornstra, who played for Lynden Christian, and freshman tight end Josh Fakkema, who played at Blaine.
But that’s not why Hommes made the choice to go there. You could say playing football for the Red Raiders is in his blood.
Hommes’ grandfather played football for the school before graduating in 1971, and his cousin is currently on the roster. His grandparents live 15 minutes away from campus.
“I’m looking forward to following in my grandfather’s footsteps and playing football at his alma mater,” Hommes said.
Hommes said he chose Northwestern over Arizona Christian, Montana State and Western Montana, partially because Northwestern College wanted him to play quarterback in a system similar to what Lynden uses and because he could have a chance to contribute right away.
“That’s not something I was able to do at Lynden, so I’m really looking forward to that,” said Hommes, who plans to major in kinesiology.
Hommes was a first-team all-2A NWC selection at quarterback and helped lead the Lions to the state semifinals with 1,814 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. He also finished second in the county with 1,471 rushing yards and 20 TDs.
The Red Raiders play in the NAIA’s Great Plains Athletic Conference.
Steele to play football at Carroll
Lynden senior lineman Tanner Steele signed his letter of intent to play at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, choosing the Saints over Montana Western, Central Washington, Linfield College, Simon Fraser and Dordt College.
“The coaching staff was awesome,” Steele said. “They’re very passionate about their program and football and they’re very welcoming. I loved the history and vision they had for the program.”
Steele was an All-2A NWC selection at offensive and defensive line for the Lions this fall, helping Lynden reach the state semifinals, but he said he’ll likely focus on playing offensive tackle at Carroll while majoring in education.
The Saints play in the NAIA’s Frontier Conference.
Bellingham lacrosse has two commits
The Bellingham Warriors lacrosse program produced two more college commits, as Jackson Zerba, a senior at Bellingham, recently committed to NCAA Division II Westminster College in Utah and Bekah Jensen, also a senior at Bellingham, will play at D-II Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
While Zerba continues a long line of college lacrosse players churned out by the program in recent years, Jensen is the first Bellingham girls player to move on to play in college, according to an email from the club.
Ganow to stay close to home
Sehome volleyball player Jessica Ganow signed her letter to attend nearby Skagit Valley College.
Ganow played primarily a defensive specialist Skagit Island Volleyball Academy for the past three years.
Whatcom County Class of 2017 signings
U.S. Air Force Academy
Texas A&M Kingsville
University of San Diego
NOTE: To report a Whatcom County student-athlete who has or will sign a national letter of intent, call 360-715-2286 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.