High School Football

Nine schools coveted Oakdale's Nico Sarale. Who got him to sign on the dotted line?

Oakdale High School's Nico Sarale poses for a portrait at the Merced Sun-Star office in Merced, Calif., on Thursday, July 27, 2017.  Sarale has committed to UC Davis.
Oakdale High School's Nico Sarale poses for a portrait at the Merced Sun-Star office in Merced, Calif., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. Sarale has committed to UC Davis. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The most sought-after football player in Oakdale High history has a new home.

Nico Sarale has committed to UC Davis, one of three offensive lineman to sign with the Aggies during the spring window. In all, Davis received letters of intent from seven athletes, bringing their 2018 signing class to 18.

"Each of these guys are well-rounded individuals who want to receive a great education," Hawkins said in a school press release.

One of the jewels is Sarale, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound offensive lineman who received attention from nine schools and held at least four offers, as reported by 247sports.com.

He chose Davis, though, spurning offers from the Air Force Academy, Sacramento State, Cal Poly and Fresno State, where his good friend and former Oakdale teammate Matt Kjeldgaard has signed.

Sarale was the Valley Oak League's co-Outstanding Offensive Player of the Year, sharing the award with Central Catholic running back Dauson Booker. In three varsity seasons, Sarale helped pave the way for seven 1,000-yard running backs, including Cal Poly walk-on Will Semone, who rushed for a Stanislaus District record 2,851 yards in 2016.

"I like playing football," Sarale told The Bee before the start of the 2017 season. "I like to contribute the way I can for my team and take care of my guys running the ball and my quarterback."

Though he has flourished in the shadows of many of his teammates, Sarale's impact didn't go unnoticed. He was named to MaxPreps' all-Sac-Joaquin Section and The Modesto Bee's All-District teams as a junior and season, and is a two-time Cal-Hi Sports all-state honoree.

Sarale has been a catalyst in many of Oakdale's greatest moments.

In 2016, the Mustangs completed the trifecta: winning a share of the VOL crown, while raising Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF State banners. The state championship was the first in school history, and the Mustangs left no doubt. Running behind Sarale, Oakdale won its final seven games, 14 of its last 15, and whipped Bishop's School of La Jolla in their stadium in the state final, 47-0.

This past fall, Oakdale went wire-to-wire as The Bee's top-ranked large school team, surviving a home loss to eventual Division I section and CIF State champion Folsom. The Mustangs won their 13th league title in 16 seasons and advanced to the Division III section final. There, they lost to rival Manteca, 37-14, but by then, Sarale's stature was set.

He was the district's preeminent offensive lineman, ranked No. 3 among its top returning players and No. 1 among those at his position. Between his junior and season seasons, he packed on 45 pounds of muscle.

"Football is something I love," he said. "Anytime you see a running back have great success, it always says something about the offensive line. People that truly know football understand that."

Sarale joins a program on the rise. Under Hawkins, the program set 46 records and boasted the Big Sky's top offense for the first time in school history. The Aggies open the season at San Jose State Aug. 30.

Davis also offers a slice of home. Merced running back Ulonzo Gilliam and Central Catholic linebacker Montell Bland recently completed their first season in the program.