When Jackson LaDuke was a middle-schooler in Sparks, he said he was extended a scholarship to play football for Bishop Manogue, the private school in south Reno. And prior to beginning high school, he had the option to move to Folsom, the Sacramento suburb that was building a football dynasty with Northern Nevada’s most talented players.
On both occasions, LaDuke turned down the offers. Some of his friends did head to Manogue. Others crossed state lines to play in California. Both sought more exposure that could lead to bigger college scholarship offers. LaDuke stayed in Sparks to play for his zoned school, Spanish Springs High, and a few years later that decision has paid off. He didn’t have to go anywhere. The college recruiters have come to him.
“We talked about it a whole lot, me going down to Folsom and playing, starting there my freshman year,” LaDuke said. “I didn’t want to leave my family here and my parents didn’t want to miss out on a big four years of my life. I stayed here. It was definitely the right choice. No matter where you are, if you have the talent and you promote yourself, they’ll find you. If you do enough, they’ll find you.”
LaDuke, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker, took an unofficial visit to UCLA last month. Last Thursday, he took an unofficial to his home school of Nevada, the first college to offer him. This weekend, LaDuke will take an unofficial to Arizona State with trips to Oregon State (April 13) and Oregon (April 20) later this month.
In all, LaDuke has 16 FBS offers, including from eight of the 12 Pac-12 schools; five Mountain West teams; two Big 12 teams (Nebraska; Kansas State); an SEC school (Vanderbilt); and an Ivy League school (Yale).
“I know it can be stressful a lot of time for some kids trying to make a decision,” LaDuke said. “People are calling you every night and it’s a big decision to make. It’s probably the biggest decision I’ll make in my life so far. But I’m just trying not to stress and trying to enjoy it with me and my family and trying to play as well as I can and trying to put it all aside when it comes time to play with my teammates.”
LaDuke said he loved his visit to UCLA and is excited to see each of these schools in person. Recruits are allowed up to five official visits, which are paid by the hosting school. LaDuke is trying to knock out as many schools on the West Coast with unofficial visits, which are paid by the recruit’s family. USC and Oregon have both offered scholarships and those were originally his dream schools. But he’s keeping an open mind.
“USC and Oregon, almost every kid, at least on the West Coast, grew up watching the Ducks and the Trojans and saying, ‘Man, I want to play for them one day,’” LaDuke said. “You’re playing NCAA Football and you want to be a Duck or a Trojan. Getting those offers, it was like I was really living a dream. But after going to UCLA, they each have different things they can present and the other ones might have been your dream schools growing up but now you have these options and it’s exciting to look at all of them.”
LaDuke was named USA Today first-team all-state last season, one of just four kids from Northern Nevada to make the first team, which slanted heavily to the south. (The three other all-state players from the North earned FBS scholarships: QB Cade McNamara, Michigan; RB Peyton Dixon, Fresno State; and OL Ben Dooley, Boise State). LaDuke was one of just four juniors to make the all-state first team, including the only junior from Northern Nevada.
In 12 games last season, LaDuke had 101 tackles, including 22 for loss, seven sacks, five passes defended and one interception. He has 43 tackles for the loss over the last two seasons, and also accounted for 448 yards and four touchdowns on offense in 2018, although his future is at outside linebacker.
For the third straight season, Northern Nevada has a big-time football recruit, with Reno High linebacker Brandon Kaho heading to Alabama in 2018, McNamara heading to Michigan this season and LaDuke filling that role heading into his senior season at Spanish Springs.
“I think it’s just the way I play,” LaDuke said of his offers. “I can pass rush, I can cover a back or cover a slot and I can open-field tackle. I think there’s a lot of talent in Reno. It’s just about finding it. With Kaho and McNamara, they brought a lot more eyes here and it’s only going to get bigger from here.”
Along with LaDuke, Bishop Manogue standouts Vai Kaho and Joey Wright both enter their senior seasons with FBS offers. LaDuke spoke with Brandon Kaho and McNamara about their recruitment. Their advice was to enjoy the process and not allow stress to creep in. They told him to make the best decision for himself and make sure the fit is right rather than just picking the biggest program.
LaDuke doesn’t have a firm timeline for when he’ll select a college but said he expects Nevada to be in the mix until the end. He already rebuffed an opportunity to leave the area once when he turned down the opportunity to go to Folsom and could do the same if he decides the Wolf Pack is the right fit for him.
“I have love for Nevada, too,” LaDuke said. “If I can stay here and be with my family, my parents can come to games and stuff. Also, it’s a program that’s on the rise. They just won a bowl game last year and it’s a place where I think I could jump in and play right away and further my game. I want to be an engineer and they have a really good engineering program. I’d like to play in the NFL, too, but I also care about the academic side. And they were the first ones to really believe in me and I think that also presents a huge upside.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.
Correction: A previous version of this story said LaDuke would get a "full" scholarship to Manogue. It has been corrected to state LaDuke would simply get a scholarship to Manogue.