MURRIETA — When Vista Murrieta High senior Jeremy Castro finally settled on UCLA for his college choice, it was pretty clear he wasn’t settling at all.
Westwood just felt like home — much more so than Eugene, Ore.
Castro was one of five Broncos football players and 13 Vista Murrieta athletes overall to sign letters of intent Wednesday on the first day of the spring signing period.
Vista Murrieta produced the largest overall class in the Valley, but there were plenty of other significant signings, including three Division I football players at Chaparral (and 10 signings overall), two Division I signings at Temescal Canyon and a class of seven at Temecula Valley.
Castro, a defensive end who was a four-star recruit according to rivals.com, became the most intriguing signee in the area when he twice flipped his verbal commitment, once from Washington to Oregon, and the second — which raised some eyebrows — from the Ducks to UCLA last week.
The senior said Wednesday, after a signing celebration in the lobby in front of Vista Murrieta’s gymnasium, that the urging of his mother, also a UCLA fan, helped push him toward the Bruins.
"She had a big role," Castro said. "When I committed to Oregon, she liked Oregon, she liked (Ducks coach) Chip Kelly … but she wanted me to go to UCLA, and she wanted me to take my trip. So I made my mom happy, and I took my trip, and I loved it.”
Said Vista Murrieta football coach Coley Candaele: “He felt more comfortable in the environment at UCLA that was more conducive to growing up here in Southern California. Other schools look great until you look at the weather and the changes, and Jeremy just felt at home.”
Castro flipped his verbal to UCLA at about the same time rumors swirled that Kelly was about to take the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Castro said that did play a role in his decision, though Kelly wound up staying in Eugene.
“A little bit,” he said. “I heard a lot of stuff about that, and I didn’t like that.”
Offensive lineman Corey Whitaker was the Broncos’ other high-profile signee, securing a letter of intent with Nebraska. Like Castro, he couldn’t resist the on-campus atmosphere on his trip.
“I got there, and I quickly fell in love with Nebraska and Nebraska football,” Whitaker said. “I’m very happy to enter something that has great history behind it.”
Candaele, of course, hopes these signings — along with offensive linemen Jacob Dexter and defensive back Randy Perez (Western New Mexico), and lineman Sapule Ta’amilo (Sacramento State) — continue to establish a pipeline to potential scholarships for Vista Murrieta athletes.
"You create relationships with coaches and they come back year after year after year looking for a kid that they had that was good before,” Candaele said.
At the same time Vista Murrieta was celebrating its signings, Chaparral was introducing a class of 10 signees. That group included three Division I football letters — linebacker C.J. Dozier (Arizona), quarterback Matt Morin (San Diego State) and defensive end Teddy Queen (San Diego State). Running back/defensve end Damon Watkins also signed with Alcorn State.
Dozier and Morin both graduated early and are already enrolled at their respective college campuses, though Morin made his way back up Interstate 15 on Wednesday to join his fellow signees.
“So far, it’s gone really good,” said Morin, who last week was mentioned as a competitor this spring at the quarterback position by Rocky Long. “I’m just getting comfortable with the system and getting used to life down there. I’m really enjoying it a lot.”