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Crater duo make it official

The decision was made separately but it's still a nice feeling to know your best friend will remain by your side as you continue your football career.

Crater High seniors Derrick Turituri and RJ Morgan made official Wednesday what had been in the works since last summer when they signed their letters of intent to play football at the University of Arizona to highlight the day's local signings.

"It was a big plus to have RJ come along with me," Turituri said. "Being able to play football with my best friend for another four years, it's a very fortunate situation."

Both Turituri and Morgan were labeled two-star recruits by Rivals.com and each possess the kind of versatility that should help them fit in with the Wildcats and head coach Rich Rodriguez. Turituri, at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, is a standout linebacker and tight end who also ran the ball on occasion for the Comets. Morgan, 6-1 and 210, served as a safety and wide receiver for Crater and expects to fill a hybrid linebacker/safety role for Arizona.

"This is a big moment for our school to have two kids sign to a Pac-12 school, especially in one year, and it couldn't happen to greater guys," Crater football coach John Beck said during Wednesday's school ceremony. "RJ and Derrick are just good, quality, character individuals and they've worked really hard to get to where they're going to go."

Also officially finalizing their football college plans on Wednesday were South Medford's Ben Casebier (Azusa Pacific), North Medford's Evan Hisey (Western Oregon) and Fou Polataivao (New Mexico-Highlands).

As the focal point of the Black Tornado's attack, Hisey amassed 961 yards and six TDs on 173 carries during the regular season and was also a standout linebacker. Polataivao was at the heart of the trenches for North Medford on both sides of the ball, while Casebier was a leading rusher for the Panthers and second-team all-SWC pick to go with his safety duties.

In soccer, former South Medford High standout goalkeeper Mitch North signed with Oregon State. North left South Medford during his senior year to play for the Portland Timbers' U18 Academy team.

Turituri also had offers in hand from Oregon State, Colorado and Hawaii, while Arizona was the lone offer for Morgan, who effectively recruited himself to the school and was the first to commit to the Wildcats. Turituri's commitment came a few weeks later.

"I was in his ear a little bit but he had more stuff going his way and more decisions to make," Morgan said of the recruiting process. "I knew whatever choice he made would be right for him. If that meant playing against me on another team I'd still be happy for him, but when he decided to go Arizona, I was 100 percent happier."

Both expressed relief to finally have a bow tied to their recruiting process and excitement over what's to come as a member of the Arizona program.

"I've been waiting for a while for this day, to get all the stress off my back," said Turituri, who will compete at heavyweight this weekend in the Special District 4 wrestling championships at Crater High. "I've really enjoyed all the people here supporting me and RJ through it all, though. That's been great."

Turituri and Morgan each were able to speak with Arizona defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jeff Casteel after faxing in their letter of intent earlier in the day and were welcomed into the Wildcat program with open arms.

"He talked to us and told us that now he can get a hold of us all he wants and we'll be getting our workout plan and defensive playbook to be able to hit the ground running when we go down there," said Morgan.

That's music to their ears, with both priding themselves on their work ethic and desire to make an impact on the field. Turituri has primarily played alongside the line of scrimmage as a linebacker in Crater's system, earning first-team all-conference honors the past two years, and is being considered for either outside linebacker or middle linebacker by Casteel.

"We're just going to see how I fit in once I go over there for summer camp," said Turituri, who led the Comets in tackles this past season. "Their strong outside linebacker is pretty similar to how Crater does it so I feel pretty comfortable going into their defense and learning things they do over there."

The adjustment will be a little different for Morgan, who has primarily played in the secondary but has the size to move down toward the line of scrimmage. In the Wildcats' 3-3-5 system, Morgan said that fifth player is a hybrid position, blending safety and linebacker responsibilities, called the "spur" and that's where they see him fitting in best.

"I love having the opportunity to do that," Morgan said of going in coverage one moment and crashing the trenches the next. "Defense has always been my favorite. I love going down and hitting the guy who thinks he's all pretty and likes to make moves and thinks he's the hot shot. I'm very happy at the position they project me to play and how they want me to play."

Morgan was named honorable mention all-Southwest Conference as a receiver and defensive back this past season. He, too, said having such a good friend alongside him in Arizona should ease the transition to the college level.

"I think it makes it special because you don't ever hear a lot of these guys coming from the same high school or are best friends," said Morgan. "It'll be nice to know if something goes wrong or I get homesick I have somebody who knows me and the area I'm from and somebody I have to talk to who really knows where I'm coming from."

The 18-year-old standouts were also hopeful that their Division I signings will help draw more attention to a southern Oregon area that isn't as hard hit by recruiters as the Portland or Eugene area.

"Crater produces a lot of hard working kids and I think Crater deserves more recruiting so hopefully that will happen now," said Turituri.

Added Morgan: "It's amazing to be able to have two guys go from southern Oregon to a Division I school like Arizona and hopefully be able to help promote other future guys in their area to get noticed."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Crater's RJ Morgan, left, and Derrrick Turituri sign their letters of intent to play football next season at the University of Arizona. - Jamie Lusch