SALT LAKE CITY — East senior Korey Rush sat behind an adjustable table decorated with multi-colored balloons hovering above the high school commons Wednesday.
After signing his National Letter of Intent to play football at the University of Nevada next season, he jokingly taunted his teammates, Preston Curtis and Joe Tukuafu, while they signed with Utah State.
“They have no chance,” Rush laughed.
Before either had time to respond, Tennessee Suesue chimed in, “Yeah, but Boise does.”
In all, five East High players signed with Division-I programs, four of which reside in the Mountain West Conference, along with the Deseret News' 2013 Mr. Football Ula Tolutau, who signed with Wisconsin.
Additionally, the Leopards had six players sign college scholarships: Malakai Solovi and Tualagi Laupata with Southern Utah; Sione Tuikolovatu and Michael Key with Weber State; and Isaac Valles and Preston Burnett with Dixie State. The 11 total signees was the highest from any program in Utah for the Class of 2014.
“This is a phenomenal group of kids that come from all walks of life,” East coach Brandon Matich said. “At the end of the day, this is something these kids wanted their entire lives and it’s years of hard work and they’re getting exactly what they deserve.”
Tolutau, Tukuafu, Curtis, Tuikolovatu and Key will all serve two-year LDS missions before joining their respective programs, but are considered members of the 2014 class.
“They’re all very excited, and I can see they’re a little nervous,” Matich said. “This is a huge step for them, and it’s a big chapter in their lives. I’m proud, very proud; I’m emotional, but I can’t wait to go up and tailgate and sit in the bleachers and watch them play.”
Key and Laupata signed as proposition 48 recruits in order to become academically eligible. They won’t participate in the first season, but will join the program on full-ride scholarship once they meet academic requirements.
The moment was bittersweet for Matich, who said he struggled sleeping the night before.
“There’s a part of you that when they sign that dotted line, they’re not yours anymore,” Matich said. “Almost like a dad, they become kind of like your son. It is a little sad because you’re excited for them, but you realize they’re not yours anymore. It’s the empty nest thing. It’s exciting, and I think they’re all ready for it.”
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