Del Norte senior standout athlete Ethan Price officially made his decision about where he plans to continue his athlete career next year, signing a letter of intent to play football for Western Oregon University in Monmouth on National Signing Day on Wednesday.

“You watch his improvement year after year, and the hard work that he did himself to get better — it is a great moment for him and his family, as well as Warrior football,” said Del Norte head football coach Lewis Nova. “When you see kids go on the players following in years to come can sit there and say, ‘Hey, we can get seen, we can get noticed, we just have to work hard to get to the next level.’ I think he is going to do great up there.”

Price said he received some interest from several schools, but Western Oregon really set itself apart through the recruiting process.

“I landed on Western Oregon because of the community that the coaches have with the kids,” Price said, following a short signing ceremony at Del Norte High School. “Coach (Arne) Ferguson, the head coach for Western Oregon, is a good dude. When I was talking with him I kind of bought in with his program because he is really straightforward. He wants you hit the weight room and do all the perfect stuff.

“He sees me as being a great player, which also caught my eye. That made me feel good about myself because not a lot of coaches gave me the opportunity to play at the next level.”

Price said he has developed a particularly close bond with Western Oregon linebackers coach, and Director of Football Operations Jason Slowey, who was Price’s lead recruiter throughout the process.

“He always kept in contact with me,” Price said. “I remember when he first started recruiting me he asked me how my games were going for basketball, asked me how everything was, and asked me how I am doing. I’ve been recruited by a couple coaches and Western Oregon was the only team that really kept up with me and asked me how I was doing.”

Price said he also saw a lot of similarities between the Western Oregon football program and the Del Norte team he has helped to lead over the last four years.

“Looking at their stats and all that stuff I have seen that they have been the underdog in situations, and they have been the top dog, but they always find a way to come through and fight,” he said. “That is kind of how we were (at Del Norte). We weren’t the best team and we weren’t the worse team, but we always managed to do our best and get high seeds and stuff like that.”

Price made his first appearance for the Del Norte varsity team in the North Coast Section playoffs in his freshman year, and has been one of the team’s top starters ever since. Price has started at safety as well as a hybrid linebacker role for the Warriors since his sophomore year, while also starting on offense and special teams. Offensively Price spent two years as Del Norte’s starting quarterback before sharing time at QB this season, while turning himself into one of the top receivers in the league, as well as a threat to run the football.

“He has been, if you want to say the term ‘poster child’ for our program,” Nova said. “He is somebody who has been versatile in his positions, has grown each year, and has matured each year. He wasn’t afraid to take the workload on his shoulders and say, ‘You can run with me.’”

Although Price did a little bit of everything for Del Norte, he said he expects to be a little bit more specialized as he moves on to play Division II college football.

“They want me to play outside linebacker or strong safety — they want me to play defense,” Price said. “I am excited about that because I like to go hit, and I won’t have to worry about throwing the ball or running.”

Although Price is now settled on pursuing football in college, the 6-foot-2 senior said he initially saw himself as more of a basketball player.

“It’s actually kind of funny, when I was a kid I did not like football — I kind of felt like I was forced to play,” Price said. “Once I hit middle school I started to love playing it because I got tougher and I like to hit people. I liked basketball growing up as a kid, but I kind of grew out of it because that is not where I see myself playing. I am better at football, I can handle adversity better in football, and it is a contact sport.”

Price said that his shift in focus from basketball to football really started to solidify for him in his freshman season. After playing junior varsity football the Warriors moved Price up to the varsity roster for the NCS playoffs. Price not only got to practice with the team, but he got significant playing time as well in Del Norte’s first round loss to Piedmont in 2015.

“When I was a freshman on varsity and I was just like, ‘Whoa, I can play football at the next level,’” Price said. “As a 14 year old dude playing against 17 and 18 year old grown men basically it kind of made me realize that I am a better football player (than basketball). I was 14 years old and 140 pounds getting hit by dudes like Chee Shorty. That build my confidence up because if you can take hits from these dudes right here when you are 14 years old, then you can take hits from anybody.

“Also having coach Faz (defensive coordinator Darren Lafazio) and my dad (offensive coordinator Kenny Price) pushed me to hit the weights and come up and hit people. That gave me the confidence to go do my thing, have fun with it, and not back down from anybody.”

Price also credited the Del Norte seniors that came before him with instilling in him the work ethic necessary to continue playing after high school.

“I watched them and the way that they acted in the weight room and I wanted to be different, I wanted to stand out,” he said. “I wanted to be like Ethan King and work hard, hitting the weight room as much as possible.”

After transforming himself from a skinny freshman into a standout senior over the last four years, Price will once again have to prove himself as he joins up with the Wolves.

“He has to get used to now being a bunch of little fish coming into a big pond,” Nova said. “Whatever fish wants to swim the fastest is going to get noticed. So he is right back where he was at three years ago, but at a different level.”

Price said his first goal when he gets to Monmouth will be to find the weight room, and spend as much time there as possible.

“My first goal is that I am going to hit the weight room really hard,” he said. “Right now I feel like I am a little weak because those dudes have been there for a while. I want to find a role where if they need somebody to play special teams I will go play for them, if they need me to do anything I will take the field and do what they need me to do. My main focus early on is to get strong, and get right so I can try to go to the next level after college.”

Although his initial goals are modest, Price wants to turn himself into one of the top defenders in the country by the time he leaves Western Oregon.

“My main goals at Western are to become an All-American defensive player, and to get looked at by NFL scouts,” Price said. “My main goal is to stand out and to be the best that I can be. I really want to listen to everything that coach Slowey has to offer because he in an ex-NFL player himself, so he knows what he is talking about. I just want to get with him as much as possible and try to learn as much as I can from him.”

Although not many Division II football players end up in the NFL, Western Oregon has had three players make that jump during Ferguson’s tenure as head coach. Kevin Boss was drafted by the New York Giants in 2007, and was a starter in a Super Bowl win for the Giants. Slowey was a sixth round draft choice by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. Tyrell Williams also saw some time in the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers in 2015.

Price said he plans to major in business at Western Oregon. If a post-college athletic career doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, he said he is thinking about trying to join the California Highway Patrol.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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