Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Safford 2018 graduates, from left, JoPaul Arbizo Jr. and Manny Aparicio sign to play football at Doane University in Nebraska.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – Come Aug. 7, former Safford standout athletes JoPaul Arbizo Jr. and Manny Aparicio will take their talents to Crete, Nebraska as members of the Doane University Tigers’ football team.
Arbizo Jr. and Aparicio held a celebratory signing at the high school Tuesday. Arbizo Jr. will head to the team in a defensive lineman position and Aparicio will arrive playing outside linebacker.
The Doane coaching staff reached out to Aparicio back in February, and after an official visit in early June he was sold. Both look to be immediate contributors to the team.
“I just liked the atmosphere,” Aparicio said. “Because I grew up in the Solomon school, I’m used to a small school.”
Arbizo Jr. concurred and said he really enjoyed his visit are well.
“It’s a beautiful campus,” he said. (There are) trees everywhere and grass. It’s humid, but it is really nice . . . I’m real excited to go play college ball.”
Doane University has a student body of about 1,300 and is part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and plays in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
JoPaul Arbizo Sr. said it was exciting to see his son rise to a new level and that all the hard work he has put in since he starting playing the game at 8 years old will now pay off with having his education covered.
“It’s exciting to see a different level out of him,” he said.
Arbizo Sr. also said the players are tight friends and relatives and having both of them at the same school and rooming with each other will help them in their growth both on and off the football field. He added that Arbizo Jr. also enjoys playing baseball and might try to become a two-sport athlete for the Tigers. He said his son was a big hitter who could fill a designated hitter role or spend time at first base.
Aparicio’s grandfather, Robert Merino, said the family was extremely proud of his accomplishments.
“I think he’s going to do good,” he said. “He’s looking forward to it.”
Former Safford head football coach Mike Alba was at the signing and was beaming at having two more of his players sign to play at the next level. In December 2017, Ralph Frias signed to play for Arizona State. Alba said the school could have had a fourth as the University of San Diego wanted receiver Cameron Abril, but he decided to go to the University of Arizona for academic reasons instead.
“It’s just exciting,” Alba said. “As a coach, this is what you really want to have them further their education and have somebody else pay for it.”
Alba said by going to a smaller school, the University will also help Arbizo Jr. and Aparicio on their development as players rather than being lost in the shuffle at a larger school.
“We’ve had some kids go on to some smaller schools and I’m excited for their development and to transition to the college game, which is all about speed . . . I’m extremely proud to have been able to coach two outstanding college-level athletes . . . I’m truly excited for their opportunity. I’m proud of them.”