To some metro-area high school football programs that comprise their rosters from multiple communities, sending three players from one team off to play at the Division I level may not be too out of the ordinary.
What makes the story of Nipomo High’s Akeem King, Kevin Britt and Duane Hanna more unique, however, is that they were all homegrown talents — Nipomo through and through — and proud of it.
On Wednesday, the trio celebrated signing their National Letters of Intent at a news conference at Nipomo High. King will continue his career at San Jose State, becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) product in the seven-year varsity history of the school, while Britt and Hanna will play at Cal Poly and Sacramento State, respectively, both in the Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA).
“Because we’re not a ‘recruiting school,’ and we’re a public school, it’s very special,” Britt said of the class.
“I’ve known Duane since we were little, in Bantam (local youth football),” he added, placing his hand just above his waist to indicate their size at the time. “Even with Akeem, he came in kind of late (joining the football team as a junior), but we still knew him.”
Hanna was equally reminiscent of their childhood days.
“I’ve known Kevin since we were 7 or 8,” he said. “We all pretty much have a long history together.
“I’m kind of speechless. Growing up together, it was our dream to play college football. All that hard work paid off.”
The Titans had a historic campaign this past year, going 8-4 and advancing to the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
“I was just elated and proud to see them there with the weight off their shoulders, all smiling,” Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said. “I’m proud of the fact that our football program has gotten to a point where we’re being recognized (by colleges).”
Korben Boaz, a defensive lineman, was the first Nipomo product to sign with a Division I program when he opted for Cal Poly in 2008. The Titans were a combined 3-26 in their first three varsity seasons, 2003-05, before steadily becoming more competitive. King is the only San Luis Obispo County player this year to sign with an FBS school thus far.
“One year at a time, we’re setting milestones for our school,” Hanna said. “Hopefully, years from now, schools will look at us as a serious threat, like, ‘Oh, it’s Nipomo, we’ve got to watch out for them.’ Before it was like, ‘Oh, Nipomo? That’s a joke.’ We changed that around.”
At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, King possesses a near-elite combination of size and speed, as he has been electronically timed at 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash. As a senior, King had 30 tackles and two interceptions, and also caught seven passes for 203 yards and four touchdowns, earning all-Los Padres League second-team honors at receiver and all-county second-team distinction as an all-purpose player.
“Akeem is fast and big,” San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre said in a statement. “He has a huge upside, because he is very young in the game of football. We’re excited about his speed and the athleticism that he will bring to us as a wide receiver.”
Meanwhile, the 6-1, 160-pound Britt — who also has 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash — caught 53 passes for 893 yards and 11 touchdowns this past year, accruing all-divisional, all-league and all-county first-team status. He added 71 tackles as a defensive back, which is where Cal Poly will likely look to play him.
“We’d be very happy with him as a wide receiver, but the reality of the situation is, we can’t find guys that are 5-11, 6-foot that can run like he can run that can play corner,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “I’m not going to say two years down the road, he can’t be a wide receiver, but right now, he’s a corner, and we’re glad we have some height at that position.”
The 6-1, 190-pound Hanna had 134 tackles on his way to taking home the LPL Linebacker of the Year award, as well as all-divisional acclaim.
“We just love his trigger and explosiveness,” Sacramento State defensive coordinator Lou Baiz said of Hanna. “He’s a very good defensive player with very good reactions. We think he has a very bright future.
“In the recruiting process, we liked not only his athletic ability, but his tremendous character,” Baiz added.
The scholarships of King and Hanna are full, while Britt’s is 75 percent but could soon be elevated to full. The trio may eventually be joined by a couple of teammates in the Division I ranks. All-league first-team running back Eric Penningroth, who amassed a county-best 2,008 yards from scrimmage, recently went on a visit to the University of San Diego, while Cornell has also been in contact. Additionally, first-team all-county and second-team all-league quarterback Josh Correia is looking to continue his career at Hartnell College, a junior college in Salinas, and could later transfer to a four-year school.
Although no dates between the three California State universities have been confirmed in the near future, they have storied histories of playing each other, which King, Britt and Hanna wouldn’t mind adding to.
“That’d be exciting, to see old friends,” Hanna said. “There’d be a little trash talk and a friendly rivalry.
“We’re like brothers. There’s nothing like football. There’s that bond that’s everlasting.”