While the nation’s best high school football players made a spectacle of their signings with their respective colleges in front of TV cameras, news reporters and an ESPN audience, one Denair High athlete did it quietly.
In front of a few school officials and his family, Paul Oei became a Cal State Stanislaus men’s soccer player on Wednesday morning. He also became just the second male athlete in his high school’s history to sign with a four-year college in 18 years.
“It’s a big deal,” Oei said, “having the security of having somewhere to go.”
He was one of three local athletes who secured college scholarships during Wednesday’s National Signing Day because of their extraordinary athleticism. Turlock High’s Josue Barajas (also to Stanislaus men’s soccer) and Pitman High’s Jasmine Nickelberry (to UC Irvine women’s soccer) are the other two.
For Oei, he will play as a right midfielder under coach Dana Taylor, who first got in contact with the Denair senior through his traveling soccer club, Turlock FC, late in 2010. It was only then that Oei realized he could actually play at the college level, though his high school coach and teammates figured he had the ability long before then.
But in March 2009, Oei suffered a concussion during a skiing trip that left him thinking his soccer playing days were over. He spent three days in the hospital and seven months away from sports.
“I was close to not playing anymore,” he said.
Oei was told not to compete in any sports because it could increase his blood pressure, which would mean trouble. But once he finally got back on the soccer field, he had a new attitude about sports.
By his senior season, he recovered. He was the face of the Coyotes program under coach Daniel Romero. Though his team finished fourth in the Southern League and short of a playoff berth, Oei was voted as the league’s MVP after finishing with 32 goals and 13 assists.
“It’s nice to have a player like that,” Romero said of Oei’s abilities. “Not only was he a good player, but helped the program. He was certainly someone Denair needed.”
“It was ugly for Denair before him,” the coach added.
The Coyotes barely won any games prior to Oei’s arrival. Fast forward to last season when he nearly led Denair to a playoff spot, and it might help understand the impact he made in a purple and white uniform.
Oei appreciated his stay.
“It means a lot coming from such a small school,” he said. “Usually people go to JCs, so it’s a big accomplishment to start out at four-year school right away.”
Nickelberry stays committed to UC Irvine
In November 2009, Jasmine Nickelberry committed to play for the UC Irvine women’s soccer team, though she had plenty of time to change her mind. But when Wednesday arrived, she did not have a change of heart and signed with the Anteaters during National Signing Day.
“I really knew I wanted to play in Southern California,” said Nickelberry, who is a Pitman High senior. “I was looking at schools there and Irvine was my favorite.”
She played two years of prep soccer with Turlock High before transferring to Pitman. After those two seasons, she decided to commit all her time to her traveling squad, the Mustang Soccer Club out of Danville. After suffering an ankle injury — her first injury in 13 years of playing — she decided that high school soccer was just too risky. It also conflicted with her traveling team.
Nickelberry had a handful of other scholarship offers, but remained faithful to the Anteaters.
Barajas becomes a Warrior
By signing with Cal State Stanislaus men’s soccer, Josue Barajas achieved a rare feat for a Turlock High soccer player — and that’s earning a scholarship. He will publicly sign with the Warriors on Feb. 11, Turlock coach Doug Sperry said.
Barajas was the Bulldogs’ team MVP after finishing with 14 goals and 11 assists during Turlock’s rare playoff run last season.
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