Thurston County might be the newest pipeline to Western Oregon University.
During National Signing Day on Wednesday, four high school football players from Timberline, Tumwater and Rainier inked their commitments to play for the Wolves next season.
“This year, the Olympia area had four really good kids for us,” Western Oregon coach Arne Ferguson said.
Mason Simeta (Timberline), Isaac Thompson (Timberline), Aiden Slater (Tumwater) and Ian Russell (Rainier) will all head to Monmouth, Oregon to begin their college careers. They are the only players from Thurston County on the Division II school’s roster.
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“I’m so excited I get to see some of the guys I hear about all the time because they’re big-school guys, and I’m excited to prove myself as well,” Russell said. “I’m excited to get to know them, work with them and play with them on my team.”
Russell, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker, led Rainier to the 2B state playoffs for the first time since 1991 last fall. As a senior he recorded 47 tackles and five sacks against opponents that often ran opposite his direction.
He is a two-time Olympian All-Area selection, and was an honorable mention all-state selection as a senior.
“Ever since second grade, all I’ve wanted to do is play college football,” Russell said. “I feel like Western Oregon is a great school for me, and I’m so excited I can go there and prove ... that small kids with big hearts for football can do anything any other kid can do.”
It’s a dream come true, says Russell, who is the first player from Rainier since Mike Wolfe (Eastern Washington, 2003) to receive a college football scholarship.
“I was fortunate enough to host him to have a better handle on small-town kids,” Ferguson said. “He is so physical and athletic. These are things we have not seen other kids do – hitting, spinning and maintaining balance.”
Ferguson said he sees Russell as a linebacker.
“Anywhere they think I’m fit and I can help the team, that’s where I’m going to go and try to work my hardest at,” Russell said.
Slater (6-3, 230) is also projected to start his career as a linebacker, though he played defensive end for the T-Birds, helping them to a 2A state-title appearance last season.
“I’ve always wanted to play at the next level,” Slater said. “I’ve been grinding for that the past four years. My coaches always told me I was capable of it. I believed them and they believed in me.”
Slater was the 2A Evergreen Conference defensive MVP as a senior, and an Olympian All-Area selection. He earned all-state honors as a defensive lineman, tallying 62 tackles (seven for losses) and six sacks. He also recorded a safety, blocked kick, fumble recovery and had a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“He is more prepared than some other kids from that level,” Ferguson said. “He is successful physically. We don’t think he will have as big of a transition physically as some of the other kids.”
Simeta (6-3, 225) and Thompson (6-1, 180) will continue their careers together after spending four years with the Blazers.
“We already have the brotherhood,” Simeta said. “We’re just going to become stronger as a duo. I feel like we’ll be a great impact when we go down to Western Oregon.”
Simeta was an all-state selection at linebacker after recording 91 tackles (18 for losses), eight sacks and a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown. He helped the Blazers reach the 3A state quarterfinals, and spearheaded a defense that allowed just 43.9 rushing yards per game.
He was an Olympian All-Area selection and the 3A South Sound Conference defensive MVP.
“The kid is young, being 17, and a big hitter,” Ferguson said. “He can play inside linebacker, but moves well enough to play strong-side backer. We are excited about his pass rushing skills down low.”
Thompson spent much of his senior season sidelined with an injury, and Ferguson isn’t sure yet where he’ll fit, but says there’s no doubt Thompson is an athlete.
“We had him on a visit, and talked to him about some things,” Ferguson said. “We evaluated how much he’s grown, and he will fit in and do well.”
Thompson was both a wide receiver and cornerback for the Blazers. Like Simeta, he’s glad to head south with a teammate in tow.
“The last four years we’ve always pushed each other,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be the same the next four years.”
Staff writer Todd Milles contributed to this report.