Credit: Twitter @isaiah_buxton

Credit: Thelis Rubin Braswell II

‘Relationship’ is the name of the game in college recruiting. Without fail, every player speaks about feeling comfortable with the staff he plays for. 

In college football and basketball, it is legitimate to question their status as amateur sports. Wherever big business and money flows, snakes are sure to follow. The best way high school athletes and their families have to protect themselves from being taken advantage of is by forming a great rapport with their future coaches.

Unfortunately for the players, this defense is not a secret, and relationship building is one of the chief techniques programs use to attract players. As the sharks in the industry are growing better at showing pretend interest in their recruits’ lives, it is increasingly more difficult to differentiate the counterfeits from the real deal. This is one of the main reasons SDSU says their players are their best recruiters. As a program built on authenticity, the coaching staff’s honesty can be missed amongst the noise recruits are bombarded with.

Credit: Twitter @isaiah_buxton

Isaiah Buxton, a sophomore at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista, is stepping into the middle of this recruiting storm. Already with seven offers from teams in four different conferences spanning every time zone in the continental United States, Buxton is a national recruit. Showing wisdom beyond his age, he understands the game colleges play.

“As I head into my junior year, mainly I’m looking to build a relationship with the coaches to see where I fit best at,” Buxton told EVT. He added that he is looking for a “school that puts you in a position to be successful in life, beyond football.” On the football side, he desires a program where he feels wanted and runs a scheme that allows their defensive backs to be playmakers.

The young corner burst onto the national scene with an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown in last year’s Division 2-AA State Championship game. With that game-changing play, Buxton entered the conversation as the top California cornerback for the class of 2024. 247 ranks him a 3-Star athlete, the 32nd best CB in the nation, with only four players in the Golden State ranked above him. His thin frame is the main aspect that separates him from the players higher on the list. 

On tape, it is easy to see his next-level skills. He plays with tremendous instinct. Young players often are so focused on their assignment that they are only able to make plays if the ball is thrown in their area. Buxton is a playmaker beyond the scheme. He is tall, already shows some closing speed, and does a good job making sure his eyes are where they need to be. 

The only knock on his game is his physicality, but that likely has as much to do with his age as anything else. He is a willing tackler on defense and a blocker on special teams. Age and weight training should do the rest. 

“For me, I’m looking on putting on some weight but also improving my technique to better my game,” Buxton responded when asked what he is working on to improve as a player. “Mainly learning the game beyond the physical stuff such as releases, the depth of routes, eye discipline, and stuff like that.”

Blessed with an incredible support structure, Buxton is one of the few people who should be able to navigate the minefield that is college recruiting. Both of his parents are in the military. His dad is an officer. Buxton is also part of two incredible organizations, Mater Dei Catholic High School and Team Makasi. On both teams, his position coach is Thelis Rubin Braswell II.

Credit: Isaiah Buxton Hudl

“I wasn’t blessed to have a son, so I treat all the boys like they are my sons,” Braswell said. “(Buxton and I) talk all the time. I give him rides to practice. I give him a ride home. We’re about to start up again. Whether we are discussing life or football, I tell him, ‘trust your instincts. There’s a lot of shiny objects, but everything that glitters isn’t gold. (Colleges) are going to offer you a lot of things, but if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right for you.… college football is a multi-billion dollar business. Those coaches have mortgages. They may not tell you an outright lie, but they’ll tell you something that isn’t true.”

Braswell first met Buxton when the latter was 11 years old. Part of a rival team, Braswell recognized in one game what college coaches now see. Even back then, Buxton was a smooth athlete, intelligent on and off the field, and someone unafraid of the moment. When the time came for Braswell to assemble an all-star team, he chose Buxton to play for him and has been coaching ever since. 

San Diego State entered the fray for his services on March 28th. Among all of his offers, SDSU stood out in the way it delivered the scholarship opportunity.

“I went with my 7on7 team, Team Makasi, on a visit to SDSU,” Buxton said. “We got to see the campus and watched the practice. At the end, I had a good conversation with Coach Sum(ler), and he told me he likes what I do and wanted to offer me. … It was pretty cool to get an in-person offer, it’s different rather than on the phone. … I like SDSU and what they stand for. Can’t wait to build a relationship with the coaching staff.”

Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

Buxton’s recruitment is a perfect case study to answer a question that is on everyone’s mind as the Aztecs move into their home. Will Snapdragon Stadium help keep the top local high school players in San Diego for college? 

There is a good chance Buxton’s recruiting takes off to the level that usually excludes SDSU’s participation. With a few notable exceptions, when the top schools from the Power Five put the full force of their recruiting power to attract a San Diego player, America’s Finest City loses out on watching that athlete in college. There is hope the new stadium will change that; Buxton believes it will.

“Yeah, of course,” Buxton said when asked if Snapdragon will help keep more kids home for college. “I believe the new stadium is going to bring a lot of buzz because who wouldn’t want to play in that stadium with lots of fans.”

Along with a lot of other universities, San Diego State checks all the boxes Buxton is looking for in a school. As with all other kids who grew up in the area playing football, SDSU is the only institution that can allow him to continue to play in front of his support network. While no one around him would push him in any direction, Buxton is surrounded by people who love the Aztecs. Among other connections, SDSU LB Michael Shawcroft’s dad, Tom Shawcroft, is a coach with Team Makasi. Former Aztec Ron Smith is the Athletic Director at Mater Dei.

Though Braswell did not attend SDSU himself, you can count him among the Aztec supporters. “I bleed Red and Black,” he said. Braswell’s mother, sister, and niece received advanced degrees from the university. When Greg Bell was in the transfer market, he asked Braswell what he should do. Braswell’s answer was simple, “Come home. Go to State if they’ll let you.”

“I’m all for San Diego State,” Braswell explained. “I won’t try and force a kid to go anywhere. It’s a viable option. … We love San Diego State. If we had our druthers, most of our kids would go there, not just so we could go see them, but to watch them flourish and the whole town could benefit being that the Chargers left us.”

The reality is that over the years, many kids have had the same roots in San Diego as Buxton. Reggie Bush visited SDSU before taking his ‘619’ eye black to USC. Tony Jefferson nearly became an Aztec before heading to Oklahoma. Time and again, athletes who love San Diego left because the gap between the Power Five and SDSU was too big for the local program to overcome.

By the time Buxton is making his decision, the beginning of the benefits of Snapdragon will be known. The gameday atmosphere will be established. The increased revenue will allow for more bells and whistles inside the program. It will be known if local companies step up to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the new stadium by offering more lucrative NIL deals to the players. Over the next five years, if players of Buxton’s high school status continue to leave San Diego at the same pace, Snapdragon’s impact will not be as great as Aztec Nation hopes it will be.

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There are still a few years to wait before America’s Finest City finds out if they get to enjoy Buxton’s college career up close or from a distance. For now, the entire city can be proud of the person and player he is. They can follow him, Team Makasi, and Mater Dei Catholic as they look to build off their incredible 2021. Buxton and Braswell will be on campus in June for SDSU’s Summer Passing Camp as part of that drive for success. 

Having learned the importance of relationships from people like Thelis Rubin Braswell II, Buxton is equipped to see through any charade college programs present to him. He is, undoubtedly, ready to make the best decision for himself.  If you have not already, learn the name, Isaiah Buxton. 

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