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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Tim Martinez: Signing day still has meaning at local high schools

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: February 7, 2024, 6:17pm
3 Photos
Mountain View seniors Aiden Nicholson (center) and Cash Cook sign papers during a College Signing Day ceremony at Mountain View High School on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024.
Mountain View seniors Aiden Nicholson (center) and Cash Cook sign papers during a College Signing Day ceremony at Mountain View High School on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In the era of transfer portals and early signing periods, the tradition college signing day on the first Wednesday in February has become largely ceremonial.

But signing day had special meaning for four Mountain View High School football players.

That’s because Mountain View’s JJ Thompson, Ayden Denbo, Cash Cook and Aiden Nicholson didn’t make their decisions until late in the process.

“I actually made my verbal commitment over the phone yesterday,” Thompson said.

For Cook, it was a toss-up between Whitworth College and Southern Oregon University as recently as Monday.

“I took a visit to Southern Oregon first, and I really liked it down there,” said Cook, a quarterback. “And then a few weeks later, I took a visit to Whitworth. It was like a week ago. And I really liked it there too. I liked the campus. I think they have the educational programs for me there, which will set me up good for after college. And they have a great football program that went 10-1 last year. The coaches really liked me, and they gave me an offer before my visit. That just helped me decide.”

20 Photos
A banner at Union High School during a College Signing Day celebration at Union High School on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024.
College Signing Day 2024 Photo Gallery

But it wasn’t for the best effort of Denbo. The defensive lineman had made up his mind to go to Southern Oregon, and he wanted Cook to join him.

But Cook took the visit to Whitworth along with Thompson, who has been Cook’s teammate on the football field for a long time. Thompson also signed with Whitworth.

“Having a guy that I played with since the third grade was a big factor to it,” Cook said.

Thompson said he liked the Whitworth campus and the family feel to the program.

“They were all really nice to me when I went there,” Thompson said. “The coaches were amazing. Everything just felt perfect. It felt like family.”

Nicholson, a receiver, said he signed with Eastern Washington, instead of considering some more prominent programs, because he wanted to go someplace where he could make a more immediate impact.

“Even having big offers, I’ve always wanted to go a smaller school,” Nicholson said. “My goal is to play a decent amount as a freshman. At a Power-5 school, they mostly want you to redshirt, or sit down and not play a lot that freshman year. But at Eastern Washington, they want you playing. And even if you only play four games, you can still redshirt. But my goal is play a lot on special teams and play a lot as a receiver.”

The signing period for college sports other than football first opened up in November, and many local high school athletes signed then. Then came the early signing period for football in December.

Some area schools honored those athletes with ceremonies in the fall or in December. Others will wait until later in the spring to allow more students to make final decisions on their college destination.

But Wednesday, schools like Skyview, Camas, Union and Mountain View stuck with this traditional signing day as time to put as many of its students on a single stage in front of family, friends, teammates and classmates to honor their accomplishments.

It also allowed the seniors a chance to share their appreciation for all those who helped them along their journey.

Denbo captured the moment best with this bit of hard-earned wisdom.

“I think overall what I’ve learned leading up to this point is that sometimes when you feel like your life is falling apart, it’s really falling into place. I felt that over and over in my life. … I’ve won and lost matches by first-round pin. I have beaten and been beaten by one point. And I’ve been on both sides of a blowout game. But at the end of the day, I kept going. No matter what, even when I felt like giving up or giving in, I kept trying this life. It’s the people around me who have helped me do that.

“Sometimes, the greatest catharsis isn’t the one inside ourselves, but the one we share with others. At the end of the day, if you get anything from this, it’s to keep trying. Keep going for that glory dream. Keep those important people in your life. Because you’ll truly regret it one day if you don’t.”


Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator at The Columbian. He can be reached at tim.martinez@columbian.com, 360-735-4538 or follow @360TMart on Instagram and X (Twitter).