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Casey Christie / The Californian

Liberty High's Cole Mazza gets a congratulatory hug from classmate, Maci Feliz, after signing his letter of intent to play football at the University of Alabama, Wednesday, at Liberty.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Liberty High's Dakota Baze signs her letter of intent to play soccer with the University of Hawaii, Hilo, Wednesday, in the school library.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Ridgeview High student Kamari Cotton-Moya gives credit to his parents Vontay and Ahmad Moya and many others after he signed Wednesday to play football for Iowa State.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Ridgeview High student Kamari Cotton-Moya signed Wednesday to play football for Iowa State.

The two-time defending national champions don't ask just anybody to come play for them, so Liberty senior Cole Mazza wasn't taking anything for granted.

He filled out his national letter of intent carefully Wednesday morning, put it in the fax machine, and punched in the number for the football offices in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Then Mazza breathed a sigh of relief. He was officially a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.

"Pretty much up until now, anything could have happened," Mazza said later Wednesday. "I could have gotten hurt, they could have had a situation with who they were offering scholarships, you never know. But this morning it finally set in: It's set in stone. I'm kind of married to them."

You last saw the Crimson Tide dismantling Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game in South Florida. It was Alabama's second consecutive national title and third in four years.

Should the Tide make it back for another go next January, it'll be at the Rose Bowl, and the guy who could be long-snapping for them will be back in his home state.

"They said the starting spot is open for me to take," Mazza said. "They said it was there for me to take as a true freshman."

That's a big step for a freshman, but Mazza has long been rated the top long-snapper in his class by special teams instructor Chris Rubio and various other recruiting services. His secret? A lightning-quick release that averages 0.58 seconds from the moment his hand moves to the moment the ball hits the punter's hands.

It's a crucial job that's not often noticed in a football game until someone makes a mistake -- one that quite a few people would notice on a national championship contender. But Mazza said he's ready.

"I've worked for this for two years nonstop," he said. "I'm totally confident in myself."

Mazza had originally given a verbal commitment to UCLA but wavered when Alabama came calling. That's a story familiar to another of Bakersfield's football signees on Wednesday's National Signing Day -- Ridgeview senior Kamari Cotton-Moya.

After taking an official visit to Fresno State in December, Cotton-Moya said he was leaning toward becoming a Bulldog, but he stopped short of giving Fresno State a verbal commitment. A January trip to Iowa State meant he never would; Cotton-Moya was sold on his visit to Ames, Iowa, and gave the Cyclones his word before he left town.

On Wednesday, decked out in Iowa State cardinal and gold, Cotton-Moya made it official.

"I'm emotional right now," he said. "I get a different view of things. I've never lived out of California, so this is going to be a new experience. It's also further away from home, so I can focus on football and my degree."

Cotton-Moya will play defensive back in the Big 12 after starring for Ridgeview as a quarterback the past two years. He led the Wolf Pack to the Central Section Division III title this past season and was The Californian's Player of the Year.

"I've wanted to play more defense for several years," he said. "I keep asking the coaches, but they keep telling me to sit down and rest. But I like defense."

Now Cotton-Moya will get his chance on a big stage.

"I never knew anything about Iowa State until they offered me (a scholarship)," he said. "I started looking into it and realizing they were in the Big 12, one of the biggest football conferences. And when I got there, I loved it."

Four other local prep football stars signed with Division I schools.

* Centennial wide receiver Andrew Daughtery, who owns a grade-point average above 4.0, had his pick from among several Ivy League schools and service academies. He chose the Air Force Academy, which plays in the Mountain West Conference and gives Daughtery a chance to continue a family tradition.

"My whole family has come from the military," he said. "That's such an added bonus for me. I also know I'll be surrounded by some amazing individuals."

Besides committing to play football, Daughtery signed an agreement to attend basic training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and for five years of duty after college.

"It takes a special person to commit to an academy," said Bryan Nixon, who coached Daughtery at Centennial before recently taking the same job at Liberty. "But everybody who knows Andrew knows he is a special person."

* Garces offensive lineman Keoni Taylor signed with San Jose State. The 280-pound tackle had received mostly Football Championship Subdivision interest before the Spartans and new coach Ron Caragher came calling in the past two weeks.

"I feel really relieved all this hard work has not been for nothing," Taylor said. "It's always been a dream for me. It just seems unreal. It's something that everyone wants but not a lot of people can achieve."

Taylor said Spartans coaches have told him he will likely redshirt his freshman season in San Jose.

* Running backs D.J. Martin of Stockdale and Corbin Jountti of Liberty signed with FCS schools in the Big Sky Conference. Martin will play for Eastern Washington, and Jountti signed with Northern Arizona.

"I was getting a little interest from other schools, but NAU brought four coaches when they came to visit my house, and that was really important to me," Jountti said. "They really showed a lot of interest. It's nice to go somewhere that wants you."

* Many other local athletes from other sports signed along with the football players Wednesday, including several who will compete at the Division I level.

Like Cotton-Moya, Shafter cross country runner Cambria Tudor will compete for Iowa State; her Generals teammate, Nicolette Aldape, will run for Cal State Bakersfield.

Another CSUB signee is Garces soccer player Cassidy Swift. Also signing at Garces was diver Noelle Farrer, who will compete for Fresno State.

At Centennial, baseball player Corbin Burnes will play for St. Mary's College in Moraga.

The spring signing period extends through April. The next local athlete to make a big move will be Independence sprtiner Brena Andrews, who is scheduled to sign with Nebraska on Friday.