Pigskin parade - Titan football program scoring at the next level

phillip Brents

Fri November 25, 2016 11:51am

Eastlake High School assistant football coach Mark Mendillo has been compiling an annual list of former Titans playing at the next level for several years now.
Prominent on this year’s list are EHS grads Gabe Casillas, a starting offensive lineman at the University of Texas San Antonio; Isiah Olave, a starting punt returner at UC Davis; Aaron Baltazar is the starting running back rotation at Azusa Pacific and, of course, Tony Jefferson, a starting safety with the NFL Arizona Cardinals.
Baltazar, who is studying business management, is a member of this year’s Azusa Pacific Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship team. The Cougars finished 8-0 in GNAC play, 9-2 in the regular season, en route to earning the school’s first invitation to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Baltazar gained considerable notoriety as a Titan, rushing for 1,855 yards and scoring 24 touchdowns as a senior. He earned all-league, all-section and all-state honors. He started five games for Boise State in 2013 before being felled by a knee injury. He ranked second among Broncos running backs at the time of his injury. He has starred on the field for Azusa Pacific when healthy with a 4.1 yards per carry average and five touchdowns in six games.
Joining Baltazar, a junior running back on Azusa Pacific, is Rey Osuna, a former standout at Olympian High School. Osuna, a sophomore linebacker, led Olympian in tackles during his senior year in 2013. He is a back-up middle linebacker and kick-off team starter at Azusa Pacific.
Casillas helped lead Southwestern College to 19 victories and a pair of bowl wins prior to transferring to UT San Antonio. He earned first-team All-California Region IV and unanimous first-team All-American Mountain Conference selection as a sophomore.
A member of Eastlake’s 2013 CIF championship team, Olave collected 1,565 all-purpose yards during his senior campaign, made 36 total tackles, including 28 solo stops. Eastlake compiled a 29-8 record during his three varsity seasons on the team.
Quarterback Josh Palet, it should be mentioned, is rostered on this year’s top-ranked University of Alabama team.
The biggest name on Mendillo’s list? Jefferson, of course. Mendillo added a new category to his list — Titans playing in the NFL — after the 2010 EHS grad signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
The former University of Oklahoma standout is on pace to set personal single-season marks this season for tackles after compiling 63 in Arizona’s opening nine games. He finished the 2014 season with 79 total tackles and had 78 stops last season with his first touchdown on a 26-yard interception return.
The Cardinals advanced to the NFC championship game to cap the 2015-16 season. Jefferson made a San Diego homecoming during an Aug. 19 preseason game against the Chargers.
“You’ve got to get better each year — you can’t be stagnant or be the same,” Jefferson explained of the pressure of playing in the NFL. “The older you get, there’s young guys coming in looking for your job. At the same time, you have to help them grow.
“I’ve got a long career ahead of me. I just want to win — that’s my whole focus. You don’t get many opportunities to be on a team like this. You never know what can happen one year to the next. You could never be in a position like this again, so I’m just trying to take advantage of it while I can.”
Mendillo’s list of Titan alumni playing in college, current as of September 2016, also includes: Arturo Hurtado and Travis Gardner at Fort Lewis College; Ty Stevens (Dixie State University); Blake Wilson (Charleston Southern Univer­sity); Armando Alvarado (University of La Verne); Isaiah Strayhorn, Aeden Johnson, Francisco Aguilar, Greg Raby and Izzack Morales at Southwestern College; Tommy Lopez (Sierra College); Justin Scott (Capital University); Jake Sugget (Central College); and Nate Sweat (Eastern New Mexico).