On October 3, 1998, down two games to one in the National League Division Series (NLDS) with their season hanging in the balance, the favored Houston Astros sent their ace, Randy Johnson, to the mound. Johnson, the prize of the trade deadline, was acquired for moments like this. Across the diamond, Padres manager Bruce Bochy countered with Sterling Hitchcock, who was nine and seven on the year with an ERA just under four. San Diegans know the rest of the story. Behind Hitchcock’s eleven strikeouts over six innings of shutout baseball, the Padres clinched the NLDS with a 6-1 victory.
Hitchcock’s pitching was not the only magic in Qualcomm Stadium that day. Meeting for the first time in the stands were John Leatherwood and Leyla Goldsmith. The two would eventually marry. On Monday, poetically, their son, Jax, was offered his first college scholarship by San Diego State. If the Aztecs have their way, Jax’s home beginning in 2023, will be on the same property where his parents first met.
Early on President’s Day, Scripps Ranch High QB Jax Leatherwood received a text from SDSU Defensive Coordinator Kurt Mattix. Mattix is SDSU’s lead recruiter for San Diego. He asked Leatherwood to give him a call. Ten minutes later, Mattix laid out coach Hoke’s vision for the program, where Leatherwood could fit into that, and then offered the young signal-caller a full ride to the local university.
“I gave each of my family members a hug, called my girlfriend, and teared up a little,” Leatherwood told EVT when asked what he did after hanging up with Mattix.
“My husband and I were very excited for Jax to receive his first offer this morning. He’s worked so hard for this,” Leyla Leatherwood added.
Leatherwood’s love affair with football started early. He is a multi-sport athlete, but even as a preschooler, it was football that won his heart. He would ask his mom to stop at the park to play catch nearly every day. He grew up attending Aztec games and vividly remembers watching SDSU destroy Hawaii 52-14 behind a five-touchdown performance by QB Ryan Katz. As the KGB Sky Show 37 lit up the night sky following the game, the young Leatherwood imagined playing for the Aztecs one day.
“It means a lot because I’ve been to quite a few Aztec games growing up and have always wondered what it would be like to play for SDSU,” Leatherwood said.
For years, Aztec Nation has hoped that the success of the team would pay dividends in recruiting local players to the program. After all, for more than a decade, kids have made their way to Mission Valley and, more often than not, left following an SDSU victory.
“I love that SDSU is my hometown school and that I know so many people who go there,” Leatherwood added. “I also love that the football program is great and will only continue to get better.”
When he posted news of the offer on social media, he included a photo of Aztec great Dan McGwire. Leatherwood is often compared to the former first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks because they are similar in height. McGwire roamed the Halls of Montezuma long before Leatherwood was born. Including him in his announcement shows how deep Leatherwood’s SDSU roots run.
I am extremely grateful and excited to have received my first offer from San Diego State University! Thank you to everyone who has helped me to get to this point! @Coach_Mattix @JeffHecklinski @GregBiggins @CoachDanny10 @CoachDougBrady @_srfootball @ToddDurkin @CoachGardinera pic.twitter.com/DxecNTI3Df
— Jax Leatherwood (@JaxLeatherwood) February 21, 2022
His athletic success comes as no surprise. His mother was a star volleyball player for Brown University. She picked up the game late, waiting until her sophomore year to start playing. Even though she was new to the sport, she was recruited by the Ivy League institution along with an incoming class of six other players. The only one of them to finish all four years at Brown, she still holds the school record for most career blocks and ranks in the top five in four other categories. She is most proud of the Ivy League Championship Brown won in 1996.
Though he did not fall from the tree athletically, what sets Leatherwood apart from many of his peers is a quality all elite quarterbacks possess: great decision-making.
“Although we’ve tried to guide Jax along the way, he is one of those kids who always seems to make the right decisions for himself,” Leyla Leatherwood said. “The San Diego State coaches and fan base has been extremely supportive of him this past year, and we are very thankful. After seeing what the right mix of players and coaches can create at the high school level, we are excited for Jax to find a home where he feels just as supported, challenged, and happy – both academically and athletically.”
EVT first met Leatherwood this past October after his unofficial visit to watch SDSU play Towson. Leatherwood’s recruitment was presented as the perfect case study for how the recruiting process progresses. Only five games into his career as a varsity starter, Leatherwood was a zero-star prospect with no offers. The article opined that if he continued playing at a high level, offers would come “in bunches.” True to the prediction, only a few hours after the Aztecs offered, the University of Nevada extended one too.
With the season Leatherwood had in 2021, these will not be the last. He finished the year with 3,915 yards, 52 touchdowns, and only 2 interceptions. Astonishingly, he averaged 16.1 yards per completion. More importantly, he led Scripps Ranch to a state title. He threw for 372 and four touchdowns in the championship game, including tossing the winning score in the final minute of the contest.
“For any San Diego team, to win a state championship is incredible, but it’s even more amazing when it’s a public school such as Scripps,” Leatherwood told EVT in December. “Scripps Ranch’s win showed everyone that a team that’s smaller and doubted by many can play with enough heart to win in big games.”
Since the title game, Leatherwood has been elevated to a three-star recruit. It will be difficult to be awarded a higher ranking because he received his current status late in his career. Make no mistake, however, Leatherwood is underrated.
He is currently working on “quick twitch” in his mechanics, which will improve all of his game by making him a more explosive athlete. With one state title under his belt, the mindset of the Scripps Ranch star is to win back-to-back championships. Anything less, he admitted, would be a disappointment.
Leatherwood has not given much thought as to when he would like to commit, but if all goes to plan, he could see himself deciding late in the summer, just before the football season kicks off. Working in SDSU’s favor is a pair of Leatherwood’s former teammates, Nick Gardinera and Tyler Fields, are already students there. Gardinera is a running back on the football team.
If Leatherwood chooses to become a Hometown Hero, every time his parents make the short trip down the Interstate 15 to watch him at Snapdragon Stadium, they can reminisce about the fateful day in October 1998 when they first met.