CASA GRANDE — National Signing Day may not carry the same gravitas as it once did due to the early signing period in December, but it’s still a day when football players can realize their dreams. Or in some cases, it’s about taking the next step toward an ultimate goal.

Casa Grande Union defensive back Jahmier Haman fits into the latter. By pure ability, there is no question he’s a Division I player. In fact, he’s probably a Power 5 conference player. But football skill is only part of the equation.

Haman’s grades weren’t where they needed to be to receive those offers. So he’s doing what many other talented football players do — go the junior college route. Junior college provides a great opportunity for players like Haman to get on the right track.

On Wednesday, Haman signed a letter of intent to play at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California. He was the lone Cougars player to sign Wednesday, but CG Union coach Jake Barro said others will follow. Running back Caden Robbins was initially supposed to sign Wednesday, but he decided to take more time to mull over his offers.

“I felt like it was the best fit with my situation,” Haman said of why he chose College of the Desert.

Haman said the school will allow him to work on getting better as a person, in the classroom and on the football field. He spoke to one assistant coach, and that coach told Haman to expect to work hard to better himself in several areas when he gets on campus.

While he has yet to be on campus, Haman has a visit planned for Feb. 20.

Haman was a true lockdown corner for the Cougars, who advanced to the 4A state playoffs and won their first playoff game in 26 years. In eight games, he had 30 tackles, three interceptions and scored four total touchdowns. He had a TD reception, a pick-six, and he returned a punt and a kickoff for scores.

The process was a learning experience for Haman, who now understands the importance of academics when it comes to landing an athletic scholarship. But that wasn’t the only thing he learned.

“I learned to have faith in myself because nobody else will understand what you’re capable of but yourself,” he said.

And National Signing Day was still a very special day for Haman. He said it was an exciting moment that he will never forget. As for attending College of the Desert, once he has achieved his goals there, he wants to transfer to a four-year university.

“That’s the main focus is to get [to College of the Desert], take care of my academics, my football, gain a little weight,” he said.

Haman will likely play cornerback for the Roadrunners. It’s a position he loves, and he relishes the challenge of shutting down the opposing receiver. He also likes the one-on-one battles, saying he enjoys “being on an island” by himself.

Vista Grande sends trio to Minnesota JUCO

Despite a winless season on the field, Vista Grande had reason to celebrate Wednesday. The Spartans are sending three players to college. But the most surprising part? They are all going to the same college.

Roberto Barrera, Omari Smith and Elijah Montijo are all headed to Mesabi Range College, a junior college in Virginia, Minnesota.

Barrera, who played middle linebacker for the Spartans, had a few colleges on his mind, but one of the reasons he chose Mesabi Range was his connection with the coaches.

“They treated me like family when I was talking to them,” he said.

Barrera led Vista Grande with 59 tackles and three fumble recoveries in his senior season.

He visited the Mesabi Range campus Dec. 16, so he knows what he’s getting into with the frigid weather. But unlike many Arizona kids, he’s looking forward to it.

“I love the cold weather, so it’s gonna be cool,” he said, smiling.

Then Barrera put on his recruiting cap, convincing teammates Smith and Montijo to join him in Minnesota.

Smith said he contemplated playing college football but wasn’t sure about it first due to a lack of opportunities. But he researched the school and what it had to offer. Mesabi Range also had the major he was looking for, as he will study business.

The increased competition level is something Smith, an offensive lineman, is eager to experience.

“It excites me a lot,” he said.

Smith mainly played right tackle at Vista Grande as a senior, but he played all over the line and is comfortable playing any position. He especially enjoys pass blocking and battling defensive ends.

Unlike Barrera and Smith, Montijo did not sign Wednesday. But he is expected to have the official paperwork completed by the end of the week.

It took a little convincing from Barrera to get Montijo on board.

“He was helping me through the whole thing,” Montijo said.

Montijo, a defensive end for the Spartans, is looking forward to a new landscape, meeting new people and the opportunity to grow as a person. And he’s happy that he will have the opportunity to do those things with two teammates with whom he has a close relationship.

“Hopefully we get to make a new path in life,” he said.

Other Pinal County football players who signed Wednesday

Maricopa: OT Michael Flood, CB Marcus Brown

Combs: K Ian Loggins, CB Brayden Bernal, LB Sebastian Janik

Apache Junction: LB Zach Langenbach

Florence: RB Joshua Maignan, DE Regen Terry.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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