DECISIONS, DECISIONS: After a recruiting frenzy, Hemet lineman turns down UCLA to be a Duck.
By VALERIE DETWILER/The Valley Chronicle
The table was set for Hemet High School's most recruited football player, Hamani Stevens, on Wednesday in the school's gym.
To the left of him sat a University of Oregon hat. To the right, a UCLA hat.
Stevens had two scholarship offer letters in front of him, Oregon and UCLA.
So, which one did he sign?
“The school I'm going to pick is,” Stevens said as he touched the tops of both hats, “University of Oregon.”
The crowd cheered and Stevens hugged his twin brother, Samiu, who entered the gym wearing an Oregon hat, and older brother Chris.
“It just felt right for me,” said Stevens after the announcement. “Both schools are great. But this just felt right.”
The announcement came as a surprise to many in the crowd and some of his football coaches, who were yelling, “Pick the blue one!”
Stevens said his parents wanted him to go to UCLA because it is closer to home. Stevens said he liked the school and had nearly made up his mind to go there last year. However, he decided he wanted to keep his options open and visit other schools.
So, why all of the secrecy? Why wait till now, the day his scholarship offer could officially be signed and turned in, to announce his decision?
Because, Stevens said, even he didn't know where he was going until five minutes before he walked into the gym.
“Other than getting married, this is probably the biggest decision I'll make,” Stevens said before he signed. “These are two great schools. It's like deciding between two flavors of ice cream. It's all good.”
Stevens, a member of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he hasn't decided if he will go on the mission that young Mormons often make. His three older brothers have gone on missions.
Both UCLA and Oregon told Stevens they were open to him going on a mission.
The Stevenses aren't strangers to signing day nor the world of recruitment. This is the fourth time the family has been through the recruiting process, although it hasn't always been this crazy. All four of Hamani Stevens' brothers played football at Hemet, and his twin brother, Samiu, played right next to him on the offensive and defensive lines at Hemet. Three of them have played or will play at the Div. 1 level.
Brother Tevita, another Hemet High standout, agreed to attend University of Texas, El Paso, with a fellow Bulldog, Brandis Dew, who is a sophomore at UTEP.
Stevens' mother, Telekaki, said even though she has been through this process before, this was the hardest one.
“He's the youngest,” Telekaki said. “I think I wanted to be close to him.”
Why was Stevens such a hot commodity?
“He's just such a rare combination of size, speed, and strength, and tenacity on the field,” Hemet head football coach Andy Boynton said of the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Stevens.
Other schools that recruited Stevens were Michigan State, Colorado University, San Diego State University, Brigham Young University, and Arizona State.