Normally during this time, prospective Division I college football players like Jake Saltonstall would be taking part in spring practice in front of four-year coaches. However, in what has become just the latest unforeseen consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, Saltonstall’s recruitment has been postponed. All in-person recruiting has been sidelined indefinitely by the NCAA due to COVID-19 (coaches are still allowed to make contact with recruits via phone calls, texts and video).
Saltonstall, a Foothill College grey shirt freshman defensive end out of Live Oak High, already has three offers on the table: the University of New Mexico (UNM), the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the University of San Diego (USD). However, Saltonstall and those around him are confident he would be receiving additional offers once coaches got to see and talk to him in person.
But with President Trump extending social distancing guidelines through April, and with several Bay Area counties expected to extend shelter-in-place for that same period, there’s no telling if the NCAA will be able to make any adjustments for coaches to come visit prospective recruits in the spring or extend it into the summer. Despite the uncertainty, Saltonstall didn’t seem worried, as he has options.
“I’m not trying to rush anything because this is something I’ve really worked hard to get,” said Saltonstall, a 2018 Live Oak High graduate. “I haven’t always been considered a D-1 (type) athlete, and I feel like for me right now it’s too early in this whole pandemic to determine what I’m going to be doing for next season. I definitely wouldn’t be afraid to play another year at Foothill or transfer out by the summer.”
Saltonstall is receiving attention after a tremendous freshman season at Foothill in which he earned All State and All Region NCFC honors for the Pacific 7 American Division. Foothill coach Kelly Edwards had tremendous praise for his 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end.
“He’s instinctive to the point where if we run a play he understands leverage,” Edwards said. “He could sit himself down and get ready for a run play, but if the (opposing offensive) tackle was sitting back (in a stance), he took off, used his hands and played aggressive in that regard. He was both (a pass rusher and run stopper).”
Saltonstall’s story, while not unusual, has some storybook elements. A solid player at Live Oak but hardly a star, Saltonstall had one offer to play football out of high school—from a Division III school no less. Instead of taking a sure thing, Saltonstall decided to play at Foothill because he had bigger things in mind.
“I always had a dream of playing football at the highest level. And since the beginning, it was my dream to be a Division I football player,” he said.
Upon the advice of one of his trainers, A.J. Rangel, of Pro-Sports Training, Saltonstall took a gray shirt so he could catch up physically at the community college level. And that’s exactly what Saltonstall did. From the final game of his high school career to his first college game last September—a span of 21 months—Saltonstall packed over 30 pounds of muscle on his tall frame.
By the time the 2019 season-opener rolled around, Saltonstall was ready to be unleashed. In the opening quarter, Saltonstall had a sack, and the moment was so exhilarating that he ended up vomiting once he got to the sideline.
“Because I had not played for a while, my emotions really got to me,” he said. “That game, I remember standing with my guys before the game and tearing up a bit because I was so excited to get back on that field. I’m a pretty emotional player when I’m on the field, and there was so much anticipation behind that first sack. I wanted it so bad, and when it actually happened, it reassured me all the work I put in the off-season was going to pay off. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life before.”
Saltonstall believed in himself even when others couldn’t see this scenario playing out. He remembers telling his parents that he would be going to Foothill instead of the University of Redlands—which was his only four-year offer out of high school—and seeing the disappointment on their face.
“They didn’t have the best reaction to it, but I believed in myself and knew I could prove to them going to Foothill was the best decision I could make,” said Saltonstall, who noted he has a good relationship with his parents. “I never lost sight of what I wanted and kept pushing to prove to myself and them it was the best decision.”
Amanda Saltonstall, Jake’s mom, wanted Jake to take the lone offer out of high school.
“But he wasn’t going to settle,” she said. “So we supported him a little reluctantly. We were nervous. He felt like he failed in our eyes by going to a (community college), but it’s been the best thing. I do not believe he would be in this position without it. I would encourage any kid who has a dream to go the (community college) route. I was so skeptical before, but not anymore after seeing what Jake has done.”
Indeed, many a player has spring-boarded one or two good years at a community college into a four-year offer, and Saltonstall is just the latest example. However, Saltonstall had to be gifted with some talent to become an impact player, and being 6-4 doesn’t hurt. Combine Saltonstall’s talent with his indefatigable work ethic, and what resulted was a season that got the attention of solid four-year programs. Of course, for every story like Saltonstall’s, there is another whose story didn’t end so well.
“Going to Foothill was kind of a scary thing because it’s kind of like last chance university for these kids,” Amanda said. “Jake got it by done by listening to the coaches, blocking out the noise and focusing on getting better.”
After his junior season at Live Oak, Saltonstall made up his mind that he wanted to play at the Division I level. The singular purpose he displayed in every facet of his life—especially being disciplined with workouts—speaks volumes of his pursuit for a scholarship.
“I just spoke it into existence,” he said, “because at the end of the day, it was going to be me believing I could use my athletic abilities to allow my parents to not pay for my school.”
Saltonstall credited Rangel along with Edwards, Foothill defensive coordinator Matt Raivio and defensive line coach Greg Kragen for helping take his game to another level. Rangel and Raivio have given Saltonstall workouts to help him get bigger, stronger and faster, while Kragen has been a huge help in the technical aspects of the position.
It’s no surprise considering Kragen played 13 years in the NFL—including nine with the Denver Broncos—and was a three-time All Pro selection, which meant in three separate years Kragen was one of the best players in the NFL at his position.
“He’s taught me some great technique with pass-rushing moves, which will help me at the next level once I get there,” Saltonstall said.
Amanda noted Rangel has not only been a strength and conditioning guru for his son, but a role model as well.
“This man is such a mentor to my son, and we feel forever grateful,” Amanda said. “He’s guided Jake in this direction, and we feel really blessed to have him in our son’s life.”