National Signing Day is when high school athletes turn college dreams into reality, the chance to sign scholarships to play sports in college.
Three weeks ago the dreams of Ezekeal “Zeke” Mata, a senior kicker for the Mission Hills High School football team in San Marcos, were not close to reality.
Mata, who wanted to play big time NCAA Division 1 football, only had official offers from the University of Redlands and Whittier College, both NCAA Division 3 schools.
That changed two weeks ago, when Louisiana State University offered Mata a chance to come play football. Yes, that Louisiana State University, the L.S.U. Tigers, the team that just went undefeated, winning the National Championship to complete one of the best seasons in college football history.
“I’m at a loss for words because that is beyond incredible,” said Mata when asked about the offer from L.S.U. “I just couldn’t help but jump around, I pumped my fist in the air, I was outside yoga class and I was going crazy.”
Mata, who his a Cardinal Scholar at this school with a 4.2 Grade Point Average, earned his way into L.S.U. thanks to his academics, but will have a chance to earn a full scholarship thanks to his kicking skills.
On Feb. 5, Mata signed his scholarship during a ceremony on the Mission Hills campus.
Longtime Mission Hills football coach Chris Hauser was smiling at the back of the room in which the ceremony was held.
“It’s nuts! I’m looking up there, I’ve seen a lot of helmets over the years, but to see an L.S.U. Bengal Tiger helmet up there, you just go 'Are you kidding me?' A kid from San Marcos is going to the bayou in Baton Rouge, it’s thrilling.”
Mata calls L.S.U. his dream school, he started liking the Tigers in 3rd grade because of the mascot and the school colors. Then in junior high he visited L.S.U. on a family vacation. Later, in high school, Mata attended a kickers camp where he met L.S.U. special teams coach Greg McMahon. It was coach McMahon who called Mata to offer the chance to play for the Tigers.
“His exact words were, he’d love to have me as a L.S.U. Tiger. I said, “OK, that’s good for me, no other offer is going to be better than that.”
So, how did this happen? Going from no big-time college football opportunities to one with the National Champions?
Well, despite earning many personal honors for his play and having a strong leg -- Mata has made a 67-yard field goal in practice, and his in-game best is 53 yards -- the fact is that recruiting kickers is tricky. Colleges often wait until late in the process, after all other positions have been sorted out, to recruit kickers. But, Mata had two things in his favor. One, former San Diego Chargers kicker John Carney is Mata’s personal coach and Carney put in a good word for Mata with college coaches. Two, how Mata kicked at those high school camps on the L.S.U. campus were still fresh in coach McMahon’s mind.
When Mata signed his letter of intent, it was truly a college dream come true, saying, “It only takes one opportunity to get you where you want to be and that proved to be correct in all matters.”