This year’s National Letter of Intent signees of Pahrump Valley High School will not be starting their college careers alone. Two of them are going to the same school to play football, and the third again will be playing baseball with his brother.
Willie Lucas, Zach Trieb and Nico Velazquez made it official Wednesday, joining athletes from all over the country in making their college choices official on national signing day for several sports.
The latter two are heading to a newcomer on the college sports scene. Ottawa University in Surprise, Arizona, a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, is a new campus of the more well-known Ottawa University in Kansas. That school should ring a bell locally, as former Pahrump Valley wrestler Antonio Sandoval is a redshirt sophomore there. The Arizona campus, whose teams are called the Spirit, was founded in 2017 and already fields 21 varsity sports, even though some still play at a local high school.
But the football team has a home field, and Spirit Field, with permanent seating for 1,200, soon will have an adjacent three-story building featuring a locker room, training room, weight room and athletic offices, with a press box and VIP space on the top floor.
But it’s the ground floor Trieb and Velazquez are getting in on, and they are excited about the prospect.
“It’s a brand-new school,” Trieb said. “You can lay the foundation for players to come. It’s a fresh start there.”
“I thought it looked great,” Velazquez added. “Everything’s going to be brand new. They’re just starting to build the athletic area, and the dorms will be brand new.”
Pahrump Valley football coach Joe Clayton was not surprised Trieb and Velazquez received an opportunity to play football in college.
“I’m really excited for Zach and Nico, and for them to be able to go together, grow together and play together is fabulous, too,” Clayton said. “The one thing I’m really excited about is they’ll be closer to home. They were being recruited by a lot of northern schools, which is great, but it’s nice because now maybe I’ll get more opportunities, being a little selfish, to watch them play on Saturdays.”
If Clayton gets that chance, the game he will see from the stands bears little resemblance to the game he coaches from the sidelines.
“They run an air raid,” said Velazquez, smiling at the irony. “Almost a polar opposite of here. They pass a lot, and we run almost every single play.”
But the Spirit do know how to run the ball, and already they have learned how to win. They went 7-4 in their inaugural season, which ended with a 38-35 loss to Olivet Nazarene in the National Christian College Athletic Association’s Victory Bowl. And while they averaged 367 yards per game through the air, the Spirit accumulated a solid 166 yards per game on the ground.
“The losses they had were by a field goal or one touchdown,” said Trieb, who said he also had a scholarship offer from Presentation College in South Dakota and considered Winona State in Minnesota.
While OUAZ, as the school is known, is a member of the Golden State Conference, the conference does not sponsor football, so the Spirit play football in the Sooner Athletic Conference against opponents from Oklahoma and Texas as well as Arizona. They were 5-3 against conference foes in their inaugural season.
Both Trieb and Velazquez plan to study biology in a pre-med program.
“Ottawa University is lucky they got those two,” Clayton said. “I think very highly of both of them, and it showed on the field and also in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, Lucas will continue his baseball career at Big Bend Community College, a school he never heard of until his brother, Garrett, chose to play there. Garrett Lucas signed his letter of intent at a similar ceremony last year.
“He loves it there,” Willis Lucas said of his brother. “The baseball is a lot of fun, and the baseball is actually very good there. I think five out of the six coaches are ex-pros. The catching coach (Ryan Doumit) was a 10-year pro. He played for the Pirates and Braves.”
Lucas has a clear vision of his future and how Big Bend fits into it.
”I’m going to study environmental safety management,” he said. “That way I can start my path to being a firefighter. And then, after my two years are done, I’m going to study fire science at a bigger college.”
And Lucas is not placing limits on that bigger college.
“Possibly UNR or UNLV if I don’t get another offer, but hopefully I’ll get another offer,” he said.