The 2020 high school football season remains in doubt, but for four Long Beach athletes, their future on the gridiron has now been solidified. Millikan’s Ezavier Staples joined a trio of Long Beach Poly athletes–Keyonta Lanier, Bryun Parham, and Jacob Tuioti–in signing their National Letters of Intent during the early signing period for football.
Staples will attend UCLA, and plans on being an early enrollee with the Bruins to get a head start with the program. Lanier signed his NLI with New Mexico, Parham is headed to San Jose State, and Tuioti signed with Army. The combined value of the four-year scholarships at those institutions adds up to more than $650,000.
“It’s a blessing, it’s truly a blessing,” said Staples following his Signing Day presentation at El Dorado Park. “I honestly thought I wasn’t going to get anything my senior season. Knowing that I’m not going to have a prom, winter formal, even walk the (graduation) stage, getting the opportunity to do something like this is a blessing.”
Millikan head coach Romeo Pellum spoke briefly at the Signing Day event, talking about what makes Staples a special wide receiver. He discussed Staples’ performance in the classroom in addition to his natural talents on the field. Pellum said he hopes this can be a pivotal moment for a program that is looking to produce more “Power 5” recruits.
“With Staples doing this, it’s not just big for our program but it’s big for our community,” said Pellum, who is in his second year as Rams head coach. “I hope everyone sees what we’re doing at Millikan. If you’re a Long Beach parent, keep your kid in Long Beach. He doesn’t have to go to a private school, he can get the same things at Millikan that he can get at a private school. So why leave if you can stay?”
The 6-foot-2 Staples was a major offensive weapon for the Rams last season, hauling in 50 passes for 1,087 yards and 11 touchdowns. He chose UCLA over offers from Arizona State, Boise State, Kansas, Purdue, and others.
The contingent of Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits would normally be celebrating Signing Day together in the school’s auditorium or gymnasium, but this year they were kept separate due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each player had a small celebration at home with a Poly helmet and jersey to go with decorations for their school of choice.
Lanier chose New Mexico over offers from Arizona State and UNLV. The lanky 6-foot-1 wideout led a balanced Jackrabbits receiving corps with seven receiving touchdowns in just nine games played. Lanier also had big performances in some of Poly’s biggest games, racking up 121 yards and two scores against Corona Centennial before busting out for three touchdown grabs against Wilson.
“It means a lot. Coming from my family and going D1, it means everything to us,” Lanier said. “It’s a dream come true. I’m just blessed and thankful for it.”
Parham will be joining Lanier in the Mountain West Conference, heading to a San Jose State program that’s in the middle of an unbeaten season and that recently entered the Top 25 rankings. Parham said he’s been watching all of the Spartans’ games and is excited to join the program next season and compete for a starting spot.
A hard-hitting linebacker with a nose for the football, Parham traveled a proven pathway in Long Beach youth football, playing in the famous Snoop Youth Football League. He grew up playing with the Long Beach Browns, then in 2013 played for Snoop Dogg and the Pomona Steelers before joining the Long Beach Patriots, a program overseen by Willie McGinest. Over the past decade-plus, the SYFL has been a pipeline to several area high schools, especially Poly, with a number of alumni going on to sign Division I scholarships and reach the NFL.
“I felt like that was my goal, I wanted to do everything that the people before me did that played for the Browns and Poly,” Parham said. He was excited to finally become a scholarship football player despite not having a senior season (so far) with the Jackrabbits. “It felt really good. I’ve been waiting a long time for this and I’m just proud of myself.”
Last season as a junior, Parham led the Jackrabbit defense with 102 tackles, 77 solo tackles and 24 tackles for loss. He also added eight sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt.
Tuioti was a force on the defensive line for Poly, finishing second on the squad with 45 solo tackles and 22 tackles for loss. Listed at 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, he’ll head to West Point to play for the Army Black Knights. Tuioti was tied for third on the team last year with five sacks, and added 10 quarterback hurries and a pair of forced fumbles.
While this quartet signed during football’s early signing period, there will still be another opportunity for more local athletes to sign scholarships. The regular signing period for football begins on February 3, 2021.