The smile never left Jovan Prado's face.
The Merced High senior got up to thank the 60 people who came to a midday ceremony to watch him sign his national letter of intent to accept a soccer scholarship to California State University, East Bay.
Prado looked out at a room full of family, friends, teammates, classmates, coaches and administrators as he thanked everyone for their support.
"This means everything to me," Prado said. "It's a dream come true. This is something I've been wishing for since I got to high school."
Never miss a local story.
Prado will turn in his signed letter of intent early next week. The center midfielder had drawn interest from San Diego State, West Virginia, San Francisco State and Sacramento State.
However, he felt quickly felt comfortable at Cal State East Bay.
"I liked everything about it," Prado said. "The coaches were great. It's a great soccer field. The players were already treating me like a teammate. It's just a great atmosphere."
Prado was named to the all-Central California Conference team both years at Merced. This past fall, he scored 12 goals and recorded 10 assists to help the Bears reach the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 semifinals.
"They're getting a really hard worker," said Merced coach Aaron Ruiz. "Jovan isn't the biggest guy out there, but he makes up for it with his attitude of wanting to be better than everyone else on the field.
"He has a big heart. He loves the game. He loves the players and it shows. This year he was hurt for some of the games and was still near the top of the conference leaders in goal scoring."
Standing 5-foot-5, Prado has never let his lack of height hold him back on the pitch.
"It doesn't matter how tall you are, some of the best soccer players in the world are short," Prado said. "You just have to play smarter. If you can do that it will get you far."
With his college decision out of the way, Prado can now enjoy the rest of his senior year.
"That's a big weight off my shoulders," he said. "I have something to look forward to now. I don't have to worry about where I'm going or what I am going to do after high school."
The future also is a little clearer for two other Merced High seniors.
Rocky Hogue and Justin Maxwell have been invited to Sacramento State as preferred walk-on football players.
As preferred walk-ons, Hogue and Maxwell have been guaranteed roster spots and can begin competing when the Hornets start camp as opposed to waiting for the first day of school like other walk-ons.
"It gives them the opportunity to compete and not falling behind the rest of the group," said Merced head coach Rob Scheidt.
Maxwell will try to work his way up the offensive line depth chart. Hogue is going to Sacramento as a tight end-long snapper.
Both players will earn some academic money and be able to compete for athletic money next year.