Eastlake High School assistant football coach Mark Mendillo has been compiling an annual list of former Titans playing at the next level for several years now. It’s become very popular reading material.
The list grows longer each year.
Prominent on this year’s list are EHS grads Isiah Olave (UC Davis) and Aedan Johnson (North Carolina Central University).
Johnson (also a Southwestern College alumnus) led North Carolina Central University in scoring with 56 points (29 extra-point conversions and nine field goals) this past season. He was among 12 Eagles who earned All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference honors for the 2017 season.
Johnson earned second team all-conference honors. He ranked third in the conference with nine field goals (.643 conversion percentage), topped the league by making all 29 extra-point kicks, and made the longest field goal in NCCU history with a 52-yard blast at North Carolina A&T.
The Titan alum earned the MEAC Specialist of the Week award three times (Sept. 11, Sept. 25, Oct. 9) during the season. North Carolina Central finished the season 7-4.
He handled kickoffs, punting and place-kicking for Eastlake during the 2014 season.
Olave recorded 47 tackles, including 34 unassisted tackles, 2.5 sacks and one interception for UC Davis this season. He enjoyed a homecoming game Sept. 2 when the Aggies served as the visiting opponent for San Diego State University.
UC Davis finished the season with a 5-6 overall record, 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference.
A member of Eastlake’s 2013 CIF championship team, Olave collected 1,565 all-purpose yards during his senior campaign, made 36 total tackles, including 28 solo stops. Eastlake compiled a 29-8 record during his three varsity seasons on the team.
Mendillo feels football provides young players the necessary building blocks for life.
It starts with his own story in his hometown of Santa Barbara, a definite football town at the time, he said.
“Kids growing up dreamed of becoming a Santa Barbara High School Don,”Mendillo recalled. “We didn’t have Pop Warner there then but the Boys Club was the feeder program.
“Football taught toughness and teamwork, and that the team concept is more important than the individual. I learned how to play/practice through pain and exhaustion, how to positively react when coaches were admonishing and challenging us, and how to succeed in a hostile environment on the practice field as well as the game field when others were attempting to deny our success.”
Mendillo would draw on those life lessons learned when he entered the Naval Academy.
“Although I had taken the highest upper level academic classes offered in high school, it was my football experience that best prepared me for the rigors of Plebe Year at the Naval Academy,” he explained. “Diligence, persistence, intelligence and preparation — all essential ingredients for success in football are also needed in life.”
Mendillo said perhaps the most important life lesson that is available to learn through football, as well as other competitive endeavors, is how to rebound after a loss.
“As the Bible teaches, a quality character can develop through trials, tribulations and defeats as well as through victories graciously and humbly appreciated,” Mendillo duly noted.
There was much talent in the Santa Barbara region. Mendillo played alongside future College Hall of Fame inductee Sam “Bam” Cunningham on Santa Barbara High School’s state-ranked 1967 team.
Cunningham would go on to win the 1972 national championship with the University of Southern California and later piled up 5,453 rushing yards, 210 receptions for 1,905 yards and 49 touchdowns during a long career with the New England Patriots (1973-1982).
Cunningham was a 1978 Pro Bowl selection.
Mendillo went on to play on Navy’s freshman team in 1968.
He continued to play on and coach several championship teams while serving as a helicopter pilot in the Navy while stationed in San Diego, Guam and the Philippines from 1972-92.
He started coaching football at Eastlake High School in 1993 and has continued to do so through 2017. He said he is privileged to have coached under all five stellar head coaches since joining the Titans program.
He was on the coaching staff for two CIF championship titles and helped coach the team to last month’s Division I championship game appearance at Southwestern College.
He said he enjoys a role promoting and posting articles about all Eastlake High School athletes’ accomplishments.
Since his Navy days, Mendillo has become an active participant in the Eastlake community’s youth sports scene while raising three football-playing sons.
The elder Mendillo helped establish the Eastlake Panthers youth football program while serving on the board of directors as PR director. He coached in the Eastlake youth program and also at neighboring Otay Ranch youth football program from 2001-07.
His first son, Marcus, graduated from Eastlake High School in 2010. The younger Mendillo was All-CIF linebacker and teammate of future Oklahoma and NFL star Tony Jefferson on the Titans’ first CIF championship team in 2009. He then played four years at Azusa Pacific.
His second son, Mathias, graduated from EHS in 2012 and was a two-time Metro Conference championship wrestler. He recently completed his fifth year in the U.S Army.
His third son, Micah, graduated from EHS in 2017. He was All-Mesa League strong safety as a junior. He led the county (third in California) in tackles through five games before a knee injury ended his senior season.
He returned to the playing field this past season as a starting safety at Southwestern College. The Jaguars went on to win the American Mountain Conference championship and American Division Bowl championship.
The Jaguars had five starters from Eastlake High School on this year’s roster. Besides the younger Mendillo (who is now a medical redshirt in the SWC program), they included center Francisco Aguilar, running back Isaiah Strayhorn, cornerback Tommy Lopez, punter Dean Smith and special teams holder/receiver Michael Holt.
Strayhorn earned the team’s MVP honor and is on his way to the most dominant Division ll program in the country over the last decade, Northwest Missouri State. His SWC position coach, Jose Baez, also an Eastlake grad, incidentally, just won first place in a major powerlifting competition.
Numerous EHS alumni have found success on the college playing field — and even beyond —over the years. In fact, Mendillo added a new category — Titans playing in the NFL — after 2010 EHS grad Tony Jefferson signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
Jefferson remains Eastlake’s most famous football alum.
Jefferson played three seasons at Oklahoma before foregoing his final year to turn pro. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals and played there four years before signing a free agent contract over the offseason with the Baltimore Ravens.
Jefferson, a strong safety, compiled 79 tackles, including 56 solo stops, two pass deflections and one interception for the Ravens, who were eliminated from the upcoming NFL playoffs on the final day of the season.
Jefferson’s career totals include 356 tackles in 79 games with three interceptions for 39 yards and one touchdown (on a 26-yard interception return in 2015).
Prominent on last year’s Titan alumni list were EHS grads Aaron Baltazar and Gabe Casillas.
A starting offensive lineman at the University of Texas San Antonio, Casillas helped lead Southwestern College to 19 victories and a pair of bowl wins prior to transferring to the Texas school in 2015. He earned first-team All-California Region IV and unanimous first-team All-American Mountain Conference selection as a sophomore.
The Jaguars averaged 42 points and 450.2 yards per game while posting a 10-1 record, including a victory in the season-ending bowl game against Santa Monica College, during the 2014 season.
Baltazar, in the starting running back rotation at Azusa Pacific, was a member of the school’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship team in 2016. The Cougars finished 8-0 in GNAC play, 9-2 in the regular season, en route to earning the school’s first invitation to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Baltazar recorded 207 net rushing yards and six touchdowns (one on a pass reception) during the season. He gained considerable notoriety as a Titan, rushing for 1,855 yards and scoring 24 touchdowns as a senior. He earned all-league, all-section and all-state honors.
He started five games for Boise State in 2013 before incurring a knee injury. He ranked second among Broncos running backs at the time of the injury.
Titans Playing College Football
- Arturo Hurtado (Fort Lewis College)
- Ty Stevens (Dixie State University)
- Travis Gardner (Fort Lewis College)
- Isiah Olave (UC Davis)
- Aedan Johnson (North Carolina Central University)
- Justin Scott (Capital University)
- Isaiah Strayhorn (Southwestern College)
- Francisco Aguilar (Southwestern College)
- Tommy Lopez (Southwestern College)
- Jake Suggett (Central College)
- Micah Mendillo (Southwestern College)
- Michael Holt (Southwestern College)
- Dylan Teller (Dakota State University)
- Dean Smith (Southwestern College)
- Jae Vitin (College of Idaho)
Titans Playing in the NFL
- Tony Jefferson (Baltimore Ravens)
List compiled by Mark Mendillo, September 2017