Isiah Chala will never forget where he was on his 18th birthday.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive end spent the day with his family on an official visit to Fresno State. Two days later, the Riordan senior announced his commitment to the Bulldogs.
“It just felt like home,” Chala said. “The coaches showed that they really wanted me.”
Chala acknowledged he had only started taking football seriously as a high school junior. He mainly focused on basketball growing up, but realized as a freshman that his Division I aspirations on the hardwood were unrealistic. Midway through his junior year, he realized he had a legitimate chance to play D-I football.
Adhir Ravipati was announced as Riordan’s new head coach in February, and his connections instantly benefitted Chala. An offer from Cal on May 19 started a wave of interest from Pac-12 and Mountain West schools, and interest only grew as he attended camps at both Cal and Sacramento State. He received offers from both Oregon State and San Diego State, plus FCS (formerly Division I-AA) offers from Northern Arizona and Idaho.
Ultimately, it was the experience of the Fresno coaches that helped him decide to spend his college years in the Central Valley.
“I met (defensive line) coach (Jethro) Franklin at the Sac State camp, and he knew what he was talking about,” Chala said. “All the coaches have playing experience, they all get along with each other and most of them are alumni.”
It’s a similar environment to the one Chala was in during his senior year at Riordan, where he had developed close bonds with assistant coaches Jay’Sen Morris and Kenneth Walker.
“You don’t have to filter yourself,” Chala said of his relationship with the Fresno coaches. “They want you to be you, but you also have to mature.”
He joins a Bulldogs roster that already has a significant Bay Area presence. Outgoing running back Jordan Mims played for Ravipati at Menlo-Atherton, and freshman wide receiver Jalen Moss also played at M-A. Star safety Evan Williams played at St. Francis, and junior defensive back Bralyn Lux prepped at King’s Academy in Sunnyvale. During practices, Chala will square off with offensive lineman Mose Vavao, another St. Francis alum, and Carlmont grad Daniel Taumalolo. Fellow defensive lineman Jahzon Jacks was born in East Palo Alto before moving to the Central Valley and playing his high school ball at St. Mary’s-Stockton.
Chala won’t be the only San Francisco native on the Fresno State roster. Safety Julian Neal attended Mission, and Sacred Heart Cathedral senior RL Miller has an offer from the Bulldogs. Miller was initially committed to Arizona State, but reopened his recruitment after the Sun Devils brought in a new coaching staff.
“I’m recruiting hard for him to come over,” Chala said of Miller. “They could use him well at nickel.”