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Cota focused in role for South Medford

The demands for his time are far beyond what the regular high school senior may experience, and the scrutiny for every step he takes on the football field is just as intense.

And yet there’s Chase Cota, always with a smile and a laid-back attitude that belies his status as one of the most sought-after college recruits in the nation.

“He’s just a well-rounded kid,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “He cares about other things than just sports. He does great in school, he plays guitar — that’s a real passion of his — and he’s done a good job handling all the attention he gets.”

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound standout has led the Southwest Conference in receiving the past two years and, over the summer, posted the top overall rating at The Opening Los Angeles regional with a score of 127.59 to earn a coveted spot at Nike’s The Opening Finals in Portland. Cota has been invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and the four-star rated receiver has a final list of suitors that includes Alabama, California, Georgia, Oregon, Notre Dame, UCLA and USC.

“He’s a natural receiver and a gifted athlete,” said Singler. “He’s got the size that you look for, he’s got the strength that you look for and he’s got the speed that you look for at the Division I level. He’s had an opportunity the last few years to go to these elite camps where he’s been able to show his skills, enough so that a lot of schools across the country want to recruit him.”

In posting his top regional score, Cota ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, completed the 20-yard agility shuttle in 4.13 seconds, leaped 36½ inches in the vertical jump and tossed the 6-pound power ball from his knees 43 feet. Cota’s rating placed him in the 99th percentile of all the Nike football athletes tested in his class.

All of his exploits have brought about the kind of notoriety that keeps his cell phone constantly going off, whether it’s college coaches or potential interviewers or just friends he’s had the good fortune to make during his travels across the country going to football camps or making college visits.

But if there’s one thing the 17-year-old Panther may do better than play football, it’s his ability to stay grounded and avoid all the hype.

“I kind of try and tune things out a little bit,” said Cota, whose father Chad was a standout safety at Oregon and through eight years in the NFL. “I’m always with my family and people that love me and whenever I’m alone I’m usually not on my phone. I’m just doing all I can to tune it all out I guess and enjoying myself and just realizing how blessed I am with everything.”

So blessed that even Cota has had to do a double-take every now and then, especially the time at The Opening Finals when Jerry Rice was giving him pointers on how to run his routes.

“It was crazy,” said Cota. “He’d walk out like he was playing corner and was telling me to stem him like this, and I was so nervous because I want to do everything right for him.”

Larry Fitzgerald, Jerome Bettis, Justin Tuck … the list goes on and on for NFL greats he’s had the pleasure of meeting in the past few years.

“It’s just special because not a lot of high school kids get to do that,” said Cota, who can also be found on the NFL Network’s Elite 11 television show each week these days.

With all his talents, Cota has been tasked to put the team before all others when it comes to his play for South Medford. Although he set the school record for single-game receiving yards with a 282-yard, 10-catch effort against Sheldon in 2015, Cota’s impact for the Panthers has come well beyond catches and yards per game.

With teams double-teaming him as their defensive focus, and an offensive scheme under Singler that works off quarterback reads and not forcing the ball to any one player, Cota isn’t targeted nearly as much as some might expect.

“Bill Singler will never just feature one receiver,” said Cota, who was a first-team all-state receiver and second-team defensive back last year. “He told me that when I was a freshman, even when in the second half of the season I was kind of the go-to guy. So I kind of know what to expect and some nights, if it’s close and we can’t run the ball, I just know the ball’s going to come out to me and I need to make a play. When I’m going to get the ball I know it’s important and I’m used to it now, for sure. It’s just high school football anyway, it’s supposed to be fun.”

Cota’s receiving teammates have reaped the rewards of the extra attention that comes his way and, in the process, he has been able to fully develop his all-around game.

“Every receiver would love to have every ball thrown towards them but in a team sport, it’s the team that wins, it’s not just the individual,” said Singler. “From that standpoint, I think he’s really worked hard on becoming a total receiver and it’s actually making him a better player, but nobody really sees that. He’s becoming a great blocker for us and we’re starting to utilize that more each game where we get the ball out on the perimeter and let him block.”

Understanding your role and accepting it sometimes aren’t easy to mesh, but Cota has worked hard to see the big picture. He’s also pretty pleased with the versatility he now will be able to provide for wherever he lands once he makes his mind up in December before graduating early so he can enroll early to college.

Still, it doesn’t stop outsiders from throwing out their own input on what he should or shouldn’t be doing on the football field.

“It’s weird because I feel like people have such high expectations for whatever reason,” Cota said of his surrounding hype. “I even used to think like that and I was always like, ‘I have to have so many yards.’ But then I realized that people that know football know what’s going on and know the impact I have on the game when I’m rolling the coverages.”

“Even then maybe some kids at school would be like, ‘Oh, you had like two catches last night, what’s up?’” he added. “I’m used to getting two catches here and there because I’m doing my team a service and I take pride in my blocking and I’m really just building my all-around game. I’ve gone one-on-one against the best kids my age and done very well so in college hopefully it’s one-on-one again for me and maybe everything will translate more into the college game for me than high school. Maybe that’s what everyone sees in me, at least that’s what I’m hoping will happen.”

Until then, Cota will just go about his business, having fun with his teammates and friends and continuing to hone his guitar skills with an ongoing study of all things Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana and just about anything in the hard rock or grunge category.

“No rhythm guitar,” Cota said with pride, “it’s all lead.”

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

South Medford's Chase Cota jumps over a teammate to make a first down during the first quarter against Willamette on Sept. 15. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]
South Medford senior wide receiver/defensive back Chase Cota has played a vital role for the Panthers while drawing major attention from university programs nationwide. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]