On a forty-yard field with the championship hanging in the balance, Helix Charter High School took possession of the football down 19-14, needing a last-second score to upend Long Beach Polytechnic High School.
Using the passing-tournament equivalent of a two-minute hurry-up offense, the Highlanders lined up just beyond midfield with about ten seconds remaining. QB Ryland Jessee took the snap and delivered a jump ball to WR Jackson Daniels. Daniels elevated for the reception, giving Helix the 20-19 lead and the First Weekend Championship at SDSU’s Passing Tournament.
“It came down to the last second,” Helix head coach Damaja Jones told EVT. “It was, like, 10 seconds, ticking down. We got it off. We threw it up. Our guy came down, made a good play, and we won it. Our kids celebrated and had a good time. It was special for those kids.”
Following an undefeated pool play, Jones and his squad earned the number three overall seed out of the 36 teams represented. Except for a 19-12, second round, nail-biter against Oceanside, Helix breezed to the title game. They defeated Calexico, Fountain Valley, and Upland by a combined score of 109-34.
SDSU’s tournament came at a unique time in the calendar as high schools prepare for their upcoming seasons. Jones said multiple players, not accustomed to the rigors of playing both ways, cramped up over the weekend. It provided the coaches with a teachable moment about the benefits of off-season conditioning and nutrition.
In preparation for the tournament, Jones dedicated a portion of his recent practices to competing in 7-on-7 drills according to SDSU’s unique rules. As the title shows, the preparation paid off for Helix.
“If you could take anything out of it, I think just the confidence and the ability to compete and our kids have fun,” Jones said. “They have fun playing together and celebrating. I was happy for them in that regard.”
More than just a confidence builder, the event also was an opportunity to play in front of SDSU’s staff. During the championship game, the chaos and movement, characteristic of the two-day event, stopped with all eyes on Helix and Poly. The Aztecs had already offered a few of Poly’s players, including QB Darius Curry.
According to Jones, Curry played well in the final contest, but he was upstaged by Jessee’s heroics. Shortly after the championship, Jessee announced on Twitter that SDSU had extended an offer. Four hours after the offer became public, Curry announced his commitment to Colorado State.
“The ironic piece is the Long Beach Poly quarterback also had an offer from San Diego State, and they kind of dueled at the end,” Jones explained. “The Long Beach Poly kid played really well too. You cannot take anything from him, but it was just kind of interesting how all (SDSU)’s coaches were able to see them go versus each other in this kind of environment. Obviously, Ryland made the play at the end, threw a good ball, and he kept his composure.”
Jessee injured his knee last year and was unable to participate in any of the summer events around the country. He returned to the field before the season and did not miss a game. Breaking in a new offense that switched from a run-oriented scheme to an Air-Raid type system, Jessee threw for 1,814 yards and accounted for 27 touchdowns.
He has been busy this summer, making up for lost time. He has unofficially visited Utah, Utah State, and Nevada while competing in camps at the Universities of West Virginia and North Carolina. Jessee is also a finalist for the Super 7 Elitle QB Competition, where he is vying to earn recognition as San Diego’s top prep signal caller.
“(SDSU)’s been pretty transparent with Ryland,” Jones explained. “They’ve been recruiting him pretty hard this spring and this summer. … Ryland he’s a San Diego kid, (who) lives by the beach. This is one (offer) that he’s really happy that he’s gotten. I’m hoping that it will continue to open up doors for him because he’s going to be our guy this year.”
Jessee was not the only Highlander who benefitted from this weekend’s tournament. Jones mentioned Daniels and Kevin Allen as players who helped themselves with a strong tournament. Daniels, in particular, opened eyes for his work at wideout. Prior to the tournament, most colleges saw Daniels as a DB. He had a few offers coming into the event. Jones expects SDSU will take a closer look after the plays Daniels made last weekend.
HEEELIXX!, Had a great time and the @SDSU 7on7 passing league with all my boys🤝🏽, Clean Sweep, 8-0 across the 2 days and came out on top weekend 1🥇
Here are some clips:@Daygofootball @sdsufootbal @CoachSumlerSDSU @Coach_Mattix @rubenpena_2 @CoachHortonSDSU @AztecRecruits… pic.twitter.com/VURIyye8F9
— Jackson Daniels (@Jackson2Daniels) June 12, 2023
SDSU put on a passing tournament this weekend that matched its standing as San Diego’s premier collegiate athletic department. Well-run and organized throughout, Jones offered high praise for the event. He singled out the tournament’s organizer, SDSU’s Director of Football Operations, Ruben Pena, in particular.
“It’s the best tournament down here,” Jones said. “A lot of high schools put on tournaments, and some of the JCs put on a couple of tournaments, and even USD (I know they are not doing it this year), but the San Diego State tournament is the best tournament. … San Diego State just does a really good job of putting on a good tournament, and they get good competition. …Obviously, they’re the hometown team. We’ve had players in the past that have gone to them. Hopefully, our players in the future will go to them. They got excited about that as well. So that’s why San Diego State is important. As long as I’m head coach, we’ll go to one every year.”
Helix won the first of two tournaments SDSU will be holding. This weekend another school will look to join the Highlanders as champions.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.