There were times when Christian Quirarte had doubts this day would come.
There was the ankle injury that wiped out his junior season at Buhach Colony. National Signing Day came and went and the Thunder senior didn't have a scholarship offer from any Division I or II schools.
Quirarte thought he may have to choose between going to an NAIA school or the junior college route.
"He had six D-III offers, but Christian really believed he was a D-II talent or small Division I," said Buhach Colony football coach Kevin Navarra. "Thankfully, Humboldt State gave him that opportunity."
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Quirarte couldn't stop smiling as he posed for pictures with family, teammates, coaches and classmates at a signing ceremony on campus on Thursday afternoon. Quirarte made his college choice official by signing a national letter of intent to accept a football scholarship to Humboldt State.
One of the many people in the crowd packed into the dance room at Buhach Colony was Ja'Quan Gardner, the former Central Valley High star, who just wrapped up a record-breaking career as a running back at Humboldt State.
Quirarte thought he was going to have to make a tough decision between an NAIA school or a junior college.
"I talked to my parents, friends, coaches," Quirarte said. "I wanted to weigh all my options. Then Humboldt came along and I knew that was it."
There's a lot to like about Quirarte.
He's a kid who showed a lot of heart and determination coming back from a fractured ankle that sidelined him his entire junior season.
"He got hurt on the first or second play in our first game against Manteca," Navarra said. "He missed his entire junior year. It was frustrating for him, but he's one of those guys who learned how every play, every game is important because it may be your last."
It was hard for Quirarte to sit out the whole season. Especially for someone who had always dreamed of playing football beyond high school.
"I know how important your junior year is recruiting wise," Quirarte said. "I was down on myself, but I know how to stay positive."
Quirarte returned for his senior year and rushed for 608 yards and 11 touchdowns in a Buhach Colony offense that doesn't feature any one player. The Thunder had five players carry the ball more than 50 times this past season.
Navarra says Humboldt is getting a special kid.
"Character, work ethic, he was our team MVP and a team leader," Navarra said. "All these things are who he is. The Humboldt coaches were excited with what they saw on film. I think meeting him in person is what sealed the deal."
Quirarte excels in the classroom as well, compiling a 4.2 GPA. He plans to major in criminal justice.
"I'm super excited," he said. "I'm excited to represent my community, my family and my school. I'm ready to ball."