COEUR d'ALENE - For the past 17 seasons, there has never been a Coeur d'Alene High football player who has gone on to play football for a Pac-10 or Pac-12 school.
That could change soon.
Viking seniors Matt James and Chase Blakley gave verbal commitments to play football at and attend the University of Washington. After about a year of the Huskies recruiting him, Blakley beat James to the verbal commitment finish line on May 14. James gave his verbal commitment on July 30. The NCAA initial signing date for football players is Feb. 5, 2014.
James, a 6-foot-5, 270-pounder who plays left tackle and nose tackle, has wanted to become a biomedical engineer since two years ago.
Blakley, a 6-foot-5, 240 pound wide receiver and defensive end who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, has 20 receptions for 339 yards and a team-high five touchdowns for the Vikings (4-3, 1-0 5A Inland Empire League). Blakley was recently rated by Rivals.com as the No. 10 tight end recruit in the country.
James, who was born in San Antonio, Texas, and moved to Coeur d'Alene when he was 3, chose to attend the university in part because, according to the U.S. News and World Report, the school is ranked No. 8 among biomedical engineering schools.
"Everything really worked out well," James said. "I really liked the coaches. I like the football program and their biomedical program's among the top 10 in the nation right now. What I want to go into is nanotechnology, and their nanotechnology program is among the top two in the world right now. I was doing some research on the Internet and I stumbled across it. For a while, I wanted to be a gastroenterologist, like my dad. He told me that maybe that wasn't the best profession to get into."
Nanotechnology, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary website, is "the science of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices (as robots)."
James said he has talked with Washington offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto and James thinks they want him to play as an offensive tackle, though the team hasn't told him exactly where they'd like to play him.
Blakley grew up dreaming of playing for Washington.
"I love Washington, everything they have to offer, you can't beat that with their education," Blakley said last week, during the Vikings' bye week. "Definitely their (athletic) program at the moment right now, it's pretty hard to beat. It's close to home, I love all their coaches. I think it's going to be a great place for me."
The last Coeur d'Alene High player to play for a Pac-10 football team was Paul Tofflemire, who graduated from Coeur d'Alene in 1987, started one game at right tackle in 1988 and was the starting center for the University of Arizona from 1989-1991. He was an All-American lineman at Coeur d'Alene and graduated in 1987.
Tofflemire, younger brother of former Post Falls High, Arizona and Seahawks standout Joe Toffelmire, is currently a real estate broker who works for Coldwell Banker Bain in Redmond, Wash.
"They must have some talent," Paul Tofflemire said. "(Washington coach Steve) Sarkisian is recruiting some top-notch talent from around the country. I wish them all the best, especially since they're Vikings."
Justin Wilcox, the Huskies' defensive coordinator, and Jordan Paopao, the tight ends coach, were in contact with Blakley.
"Growing up, I was like, 'Washington, dang, that'd be an awesome place to play football and to attend school. Once I got the opportunity, I definitely took advantage of it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Add to the fact that Washington runs a spread offense under Sarkisian which is not too different to what Coeur d'Alene runs, and both players said they felt like it was the best choice for them. James was also recruited by Washington State, Boise State, Arizona State, California, Utah, Florida and Oklahoma, among others.
Boise State, Washington State, Utah, UCLA, Cal and Oklahoma were interested in Blakley as well, and he had scholarship offers from Eastern Washington and Idaho. Blakley was born in Spokane and raised in Coeur d'Alene.
Blakley wants to pursue a career in finance and has had several influences growing up. His grandfather, Gary Blakley, is a retired banker who worked for Washington Trust Bank. The person he lives with, business owner Jon Berger, is coming out with a mobile phone app called "iShoutout", which according to its website helps businesses connect better with their customers.
Gary Blakley spoke about his grandson, who was born Chase Brown, until his name was changed to Chase Blakley when he was 4 years old.
"Once he started walking (as a young child), he walked for about a week and then he ran," Gary Blakley said. "He was always on the move ... he's played a lot of sports. He's played soccer, lacrosse, basketball and football ... he decided football was his focus and that's what he's doing."
Blakley said Washington told him it wants to use him all over the field, both outside as a slot receiver and blocking in-line with his hand on the ground. He said it's similar to how the Huskies use current starting tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a junior who is widely considered by NFL draft experts to be among the top tight ends in college football. Seferian-Jenkins already holds the Washington record for catches, touchdowns and receiving yards by a tight end.
Blakley said the transition should be fairly smooth and Coeur d'Alene coach Shawn Amos said his blocking is superb.
"I think the (switch) from wide receiver to tight end, I'm just going to do well at it and I'll be preparing for it in the offseason," Blakley said. "I love blocking and I take pride in it. I'll do whatever the coaches tell me to do. They're a fast, up-tempo offense, they go no-huddle. I think I'll fit in well."
James' father, Dr. Mike James, has worked as a gastroenterologist in Coeur d'Alene for 15 years. Gastroenterology, according to thefreedictionary.com, is "the medical study of the stomach and its diseases." Mike James served in the Air Force for nine years and reached the rank of major. The family moved from San Antonio to Vacaville, Calif., located 34 miles southwest of Sacramento, and lived there for nearly three years.
Last Friday, James and his parents met with university officials in the bioengineering department for the first time. On Saturday, the family watched Washington host Oregon in a Pac-12 football game, which the Huskies lost, 45-24. Seferian-Jenkins caught a touchdown pass in the defeat.
"They told us that they've never had a football player in the bioengineering department," Dr. James said. "I think he connected with those guys."
This fall semester, James is taking classes in Advanced Placement calculus and AP physics. He currently carries a 4.03 grade-point average, while Blakley has a 3.1 GPA.
James and Blakley grew up playing football together since the fifth grade.
"We were in the Border League (team camp) in Spokane this past summer," Blakley said. "Matt would be on the O-line, I'd be on the D-line, we'd be battling it out against each other. It was a fun experience. One time he bull-rushed me, the next play I got even with him and juked him once ... Matt's a beast. He's probably the hardest worker on our team, he never backs down."
Amos has high praise for both Husky recruits.
"When Chase is on top of his game and plays with a high motor, he's almost unblockable at the high school level," Amos said of Blakley as a defensive end. "Chase is as valuable for us on the D-Line as he is the offensive side. One of the most impressive things about Chase is his absolute ability to dominate someone blocking on the edge. He's obviously a huge physical mismatch for people, when opponents have to guard him one-on-one."
Amos loves the way James carries himself both on and off the field.
"Matt's as dominating a guy as we've had up front," he said. "He's a force inside. He's a perfect example of what you want your high school football player to be. He's a hard-working, humble, smart, tough, athletic kid. He's the total package. He makes you smile every day you go to practice."
Amos said both players should be able to compete just fine at the Pac-12 level. But it won't be easy.
"I think for both those kids, it's a huge jump and investment in work and competition," Amos said. "Going to the Pac-12 is like going to Mars. Every kid that goes there from high school, there's an adjustment period. It's about the willingness to adapt to the investment to be able to play in practice when you're tired and when you're sore and it's everybody is good. You take a practice off and you go down a spot (in the depth chart). Someone's going to take your job and as soon as they recruit you, they're trying to get someone better than you. That's the reality of that level of football."
Two years ago, James played in the state 5A football championship game as a first-year starter as a sophomore, as Cd'A beat Eagle, 49-28. As a junior last season, Coeur d'Alene lost in the title game to Madison of Rexburg, 37-30.
Last season, Blakley was a first-year starter as a receiver and defensive end.
This season, if the Vikings reach the state title game, they would host every playoff game if they keep on winning and the state title game will be held in the Kibbie Dome at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
When James was a freshman, he was called up to the varsity team to stand along the sideline during Coeur d'Alene's state championship run that ended in a win over Centennial of Meridian in the state championship game, 28-7. His older brother, Josh James, was a senior on that team. Josh currently starts at Carroll College, which is usually one of the top NAIA teams in the nation.
Matt James started out as a 180-pound freshman and was a 220-pounder as a sophomore. In person, without pads and his football helmet, he appears to hardly have an ounce of fat on his frame.
"I think putting weight on was a big thing for me," James said. "I wasn't very heavy as a sophomore ... I'd been putting on 40 pounds a year, since my freshman year. (Looking thin) is what they say about my brother, too."
One of James' and Blakley's biggest games this season came on Sept. 7, in a 44-43 loss to Bothell at Husky Stadium, in front of Sarkisian. Blakley caught seven passes for 98 yards - both game highs - and two touchdowns. James had two tackles and didn't allow a sack on offense.
If they end up signing with Washington, as expected, James and Blakley have the opportunity to play even more big games in that stadium.