Palo Verde football coach Darwin Rost chuckled Monday when asked if he felt like a proud father while watching his players move on to college football.
First, Liloa Nobriga revealed to Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins after a Panthers basketball game last Tuesday that he planned to sign with the Buffaloes.
Then, Sidney Hodge told UNLV assistant coach Kris Cinkovich on Monday that he would be joining the Rebels.
“I’m just proud of those kids,” Rost said. “There’s a reason we only lost one game in 2008. We had some very special kids.”
Nobriga and Hodge join Palo Verde senior cornerback Torin Harris, who has committed to Southern California, as Panthers bound for Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
A fourth, senior running back Chaz Thomas, could soon make it a quartet, but he is still waiting for offers, Rost said.
“It’s nice to know where my friends are going to be,” Hodge said of Palo Verde’s recruited seniors. “I like to know that my friends are playing college ball, too.”
The Panthers were 14-1 this season, losing only to McQueen, 13-12, in the Class 4A state title game.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound Nobriga said Colorado has told him he could play either inside or outside linebacker or even defensive end.
“We’ll see where I fit in the scheme,” said Nobriga, who set a school record with 185 tackles this season. “I kind of pride myself on being able to play more than one linebacker position. I’m looking for an opportunity to come out and compete early.”
Nobriga said the runner-up to Colorado was Utah. He also visited Hawaii and had additional offers from UNLV, UNR and late comer Washington.
But the college atmosphere of Boulder, Colo., about 30 miles from Denver, combined with academics and Big 12 Conference football, was too much for him to pass up.
“The recruiting process, it was tough for me at times,” Nobriga said. “It worked out well. I’m happy with the school I chose. I feel that’s the best fit for me.”
Rost called Nobriga’s improvement from his junior to senior seasons “huge.”
“We had a raw athlete when we had him starting his junior year,” Rost said. “He became such a student of the game with the film sessions and weight room.”
Rost pointed out that three former Palo Verde stars will be playing in the Big 12 North Division next season.
In addition to Nobriga, the division will also feature Nebraska center Mike Smith and Missouri safety Jarrell Harrison, a recent transfer from City College of San Francisco.
“That’s exciting,” Rost said. “The Big 12’s no slouch conference.”
Hodge, who has been told he will play cornerback at UNLV, plans on being a grayshirt for the Rebels. He will be able to enroll as a scholarship student in January 2010 and participate in UNLV’s ensuing spring practices.
His official visit to UNLV will come this weekend. He visited Southern Utah last weekend, and Weber State was also in the mix.
But the “chance to play Division I football and staying close to home” made UNLV’s offer the most appealing, Hodge said.
The 5-8, 175-pound Hodge excelled on both sides of the ball for the Panthers.
Defensively, he intercepted a team-high seven passes and made 39 tackles.
Offensively, he was a threat both rushing (858 yards, eight touchdowns) and receiving (233 yards, four TDs).
Rost said playing in the same secondary as Harris could have overshadowed Hodge in recruiting, but he routinely met the challenge when teams threw away from Harris.
According to a Palo Verde game program from last season, Hodge had the team’s fastest 40-yard dash time at 4.57 seconds — two-hundredths of a second faster than Harris.
“Sidney did a great job for us,” Rost said. “I don’t think we called a zone play once, the whole secondary.”
LOPEZ WAITS — Fresh off his weekend visit to Southern Utah, Las Vegas High senior quarterback Emir Lopez said he is “definitely going to see other options.”
Lopez said he hopes to schedule a visit to San Jose State next weekend and has also been in contact with Wyoming and Division II Saint Anselm of Manchester, N.H.
LIBONATI LIKES REBELS — Green Valley senior quarterback Nick Libonati said he is excited about UNLV’s invitation to walk on but that nothing is certain yet.
“Right now, that’s looking nice, a good deal,” Libonati said. “I don’t think there’d be any place better to play than Las Vegas. It’s a school that’s on the rise, and the Mountain West is on the rise as a conference.”
HAWAII LIKES EAMON — Del Sol senior running back Derek Eamon said Hawaii plans to visit him Tuesday, though he has not been informed of an offer yet.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Hawaii’s a beautiful place and a wonderful program.”
Eamon said Hawaii favors him as a linebacker. He also has an offer to play running back at Navy.
PROBY CLOSE? — Cheyenne senior linebacker Damien Proby recently told Rivals.com he is “for the most part” committed to Northwestern.
Proby could not be reached for comment.
His only visit was to Northwestern in December, though he has at least six other offers from FBS schools.