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Griz helmets

Football helmets line the sidelines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium before Saturday's spring scrimmage.

Vista High coach Dan Williams jokes that the San Diego-area school might need to move closer to Missoula.

It's not likely that the Panthers will ever make the move, but the relationship between Williams' program and Montana has been a fruitful one. Jeremiah Kose, Montana's starting middle linebacker was a Panther before attending Palomar Junior College.

Earlier this year, Montana signed Vista product Mau Ena, a 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackle who was one of the program's most highly prized targets, to its 2015 recruiting class.

Thursday, the pipeline generated its latest product as Vista linebacker David Fa'atuiese committed to Montana, adding to first-year coach Bob Stitt's seemingly ever-expanding initial recruiting class.   

"He’s stoked. He’s really happy to be going up there," Williams said of the 6-foot-3, 235-pound inside linebacker.

Fa'atuiese became the 30th member of Montana's 2015 signing class, seven of whom have been added since the class was announced as a 23-member unit on National Signing Day on Feb. 5. The addition of Fa'atuiese, however, almost did not happen.

A standout performance at the Colorado Buffaloes camp in June 2014 led to a scholarship offer from the coaching staff. After careful discussion with Williams, who with his wife took in Fa'atuiese after family issues left him without a place to stay, the 2-star recruit committed to the Pac-12 school. 

"I pushed him to commit, commit, commit and his thing was he wanted to see the facilities and see what it’s like, to go up there and understand," Williams recalled. "I said, ‘David, there is nothing wrong with that, but you have to understand in today’s day and age, man, people commit and once they fill they don’t have anything available.’"

Following the verbal commit, Fa'atuiese shut down his recruiting and anticipated his official visit to Colorado in December. The decision to focus on Colorado essentially turned down a scholarship offer from Sacramento State and was a signal to San Jose State, San Diego State, UNLV, San Diego and Montana that Fa'atuiese had decided where he would play his college football.

As Fa'atuiese's visit to Boulder neared, Buffaloes defensive coordinator Kent Baer left his post on Dec. 22 to accept the same position at UNLV on a newly formed staff under Tony Sanchez, who the Rebels hired on Dec. 8 to replace former Montana coach Bobby Hauck.

Two weeks before signing day, Colorado informed Williams and Fa'atuiese that it filled the linebacker's scholarship with another recruit and cut off communication. 

"When the time came, the communication broke down. A poor, poor job by Colorado in my opinion," Williams said. "When the end came and he was supposed to take his recruit trip there was nothing there."

Williams called around to the schools who recruited Fa'atuiese, but it was too late. Sacramento State filled its scholarship offer and Montana, which had been in contact throughout the season, informed Williams it had shifted gears and was in pursuit of more offensive talent to fit Stitt's wide-open scheme. 

"I was just kind of out there so I didn’t really have anywhere to go," Fa'atuiese remembers. "I was kind of lost for a bit. It was upsetting, but stuff happens. I was just going to go to a junior college and work my way up because I was a qualifier."

Without a Division I offer to accept, Fa'atuiese was set to follow in Kose's footsteps and join the program at Palomar, a junior college just down the road from Vista in San Marcos. 

"Then out of nowhere I got lucky with Montana and they picked me up," Fa'atuiese said Friday. 

After the Grizzlies had a scholarship open, running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Justin Green and defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa rekindled discussions with Fa'atuiese. Without a scheduled visit the coaches told Fa'atuiese about the campus and the program's tradition, which he was vaguely familiar with. 

"They’ve got like 12 players in the NFL," said Fa'atuiese, who will sign his papers this week and accept a full-ride scholarship. "Last year they got like their three starting linebackers (drafted). I know their teams do well each year."

Now, Fa'atuiese will join Kose and his good friend, Ena, as the latest product of the Vista High pipeline. 

"When I got lost Mau was saying hopefully Montana picks me up or when he goes to Montana he would try to help me get up there," Fa'atuiese said before adding, "I got lucky I guess because I got picked up."

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