Bringing back the whole band

Players with local ties find home in San Luis Obispo



OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY—Daniel Fox, center, runs for Westlake High’s football team against rival Oaks Christian on Nov. 6, 2015. Fox is an incoming sophomore cornerback for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY—Daniel Fox, center, runs for Westlake High’s football team against rival Oaks Christian on Nov. 6, 2015. Fox is an incoming sophomore cornerback for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Stars have aligned above Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

Six former prep football standouts from Acorn country will represent the Mustangs this fall on the gridiron.

Alex Egurbide, an incoming senior receiver and tight end, graduated from Westlake High. Daniel Fox, a sophomore cornerback, also starred for the Warriors. Daniel Prieto, a junior quarterback, prepped at Newbury Park. Nicolo DiFronzo, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman, suited up for Oaks Christian.

Kevin Howell, a Thousand Oaks graduate who spent the past two seasons as a cornerback at Nevada Reno, and Richard “Reno” Watkins, a Newbury Park graduate who excelled at defensive tackle and nose guard for Moorpark College the past two autumns, are Cal Poly newcomers.

“It sounds like they’re getting some good productive players out of this area,” said Mike Leibin, Westlake’s first-year offensive coordinator and former Thousand Oaks head coach.

Nicolo DiFronzo

Nicolo DiFronzo

Fox said he’s trying to earn a starting spot after working with the first and second teams during spring ball.

“It’s always the most fun because it’s straight competitiveness,” he said of the spring.

Fox has spent part of his summer home in Acorn country; he’ll return to Cal Poly in mid-July.

Fox, who earned most of his reps on special teams last fall, said it took newfound maturity to adjust to not being in the starting lineup.

“It was different after being a star player most of my life,” the 20-year-old said. “I was using a year of my eligibility and I wasn’t on the field nearly as much as I’ve been my whole life. It was interesting to play a role as a good teammate, to talk to the guys on the field and helping them see what I see.”

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder used his time on the sideline wisely. He helped relay messages from coaches in the press box to cornerbacks on the field.

Daniel Fox

Daniel Fox

“It taught me how to be a better teammate,” Fox said. “It’s not about me. You have to work hard to get your spot. In the lower levels, my athleticism got me to wear I needed to go, but football is bigger than that at this level. You have to be more of a master of your craft.”

Fox said he’s glad to see so many familiar faces from Ventura County in San Luis Obispo. The sociology major, who is also minoring in psychology, said the players remain loyal to their high schools.

“We all still talk about our high schools’ performances weekly,” Fox said. “It’s a friendly rivalry, for sure.”

He’s eager for Mustang fall camp to start on Aug. 3.

“I’m looking for my role to grow as I get older,” Fox said.

Watkins, known as “Reno,” played three seasons at Calabasas before transferring to Newbury Park. The Anchorage, Alaska, native got his nickname from his grandfather, Tupou Manumalo.

The lineman was a handful for opposing coaches in high school, and now he’s a 6-foot, 320-pound force in the trenches.

Alex Egurbide

Alex Egurbide

Watkins will visit Anchorage before reporting for fall camp. He’ll study psychology at Cal Poly while filling the running lanes on the Mustang defense.

“I’m hoping to come and make an immediate impact,” he said. “They want me to be a vocal leader, and I’m ready to take that role on.”

He’s looking forward to suiting up for the Mustangs.

“For me to go to Cal Poly and fulfill my dream of playing Division I football is definitely a blessing,” Watkins said. “I’m happy they gave me an opportunity to go out there and do what I do best.”

Egurbide, a 6- foot- 5, 215-pounder, has played in 23 games the past three seasons for the Mustangs. The 2014 Westlake grad redshirted his freshman season at Purdue before moving back to California. Egurbide, an aerospace engineering major, won the Cal Poly Aerospace Rocket Competition in 2015.

Kevin Howell

Kevin Howell

Prieto, who guided Newbury Park to a CIF-Southern Section Northern Division championship game in 2015, is entering his second season with the Mustangs.

The 6-foot, 180-pound gunslinger spent his freshman season completing 161 of 288 passes for 1,514 yards and 15 touchdowns as the team MVP at El Camino College-Compton Center before redshirting at San Diego State in 2016. Prieto had one incomplete pass attempt last season for Cal Poly, which finished 1-10 overall in 2017.

DiFronzo, who is 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, redshirted last season. This summer, he’ll try to earn reps on the offensive line.

Howell, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound corner, left Nevada for an opportunity to play. He redshirted his first season and didn’t see the field in 2017.

Leibin said Howell reached out when he knew it was time for a change. Howell had a 10- week hiatus after his release from Nevada. The former Lancer made the most of his free time.

“A lot of kids would have just taken 10 weeks off and enjoyed it,” Leibin said. “He was in the weight room getting ready for the season. He got even bigger and stronger than he already was.”

Daniel Prieto

Daniel Prieto

Howell, a two-way superstar in high school, racked up 201 catches for 3,005 yards on offense with 126 tackles and 12 interceptions on defense with Thousand Oaks. The Lancer ranks second all-time in career catches at Thousand Oaks, one snag behind former Alabama receiver Richard Mullaney.

Leibin said he believes Howell can make an instant impact.

“Kevin was arguably the most productive two-way player that played for me at T.O,” Leibin said. “When you look at how he played on both sides of the ball, if guys did just one of those things, that would have been a great high school career, but he did both.”

Locals now at Cal Poly

Richard Watkins

Richard Watkins

Six players who played high school football in Acorn country currently suit up for Cal Poly, a Division I outfit:

Daniel Fox (Westlake)

Alex Egurbide (Westlake)

Nicolo DiFronzo (Oaks Christian)

Daniel Prieto (Newbury Park)

Richard “Reno” Watkins (Newbury Park)

Kevin Howell (Thousand Oaks)

SPIRAL—Cal Poly QB Daniel Prieto will be a junior in the fall. Courtesy of Cal Poly Athletics

SPIRAL—Cal Poly QB Daniel Prieto will be a junior in the fall. Courtesy of Cal Poly Athletics