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CV grad chasing dream
Former Hawk receiver Jaquel Pitts signs contract with AIFLs Cleveland Patriots
A bench player with Central Valley High Schools varsity team during his senior year, Jaquel Pitts recently had a successful tryout with the Cleveland Patriots of American Indoor Football League. - photo by DALE BUTLER/Courier file photo

Central Valley High School graduate Jaquel Pitts flew from Chicago to Cleveland on Dec. 8 to attend an open workout for the Cleveland Patriots of the American Indoor Football League.

"The head coach offered me a one-year contract immediately after tryouts," said Pitts, a 6-foot-1 180-pound receiver. "I'm very excited to get an opportunity to play pro football."

The Patriots held their open workout at the Multiplex Sports Dome.

Pitts participated in one-on-one and team drills.

He scored two touchdowns.

He ran the 40-yard dash on carpet surface in 4.27 seconds.

"That's a fast time," Cleveland owner/CEO/head coach Brandon Ikard. "It definitely caught our eyes. He's got really good hands. His route running's crisp. He was in the best shape of anybody at the workout. He's a quick learner. That's one of the things important coming into the indoor game. He seems very hungry."

Cleveland will stage a two-week training camp in March.

About 40 players will be vying for 25 roster spots.

Twelve players are currently under contract, including Pitts.

"It will consist of fundamentals and learning the playbook," Ikard said. "We want players that give us the best opportunity to win the game we're about to play. Jaquel's contract is valid for the season but it can be terminated at any time. He has to make it through camp. We're hoping he makes our cuts. I think he definitely has a good shot."

Eight players start on each team in Indoor Football.

Games are played on 50-yard fields that are 85-feet wide.

"I'm familiar with the game," Pitts said. "It's fast-paced. I don't have much experience in the slot. I've always lined up outside. It's going to be a great experience. I believe I can be an asset to their offense. I just want to improve on a daily basis. That's my main focus. Hopefully, next year I can attempt to make an NFL or CFL roster."

Jaquel was supposed to suit up for Trinidad International University's football team in 2013. He suffered a season-ending collarbone injury during the summertime.

"It was a learning process," Pitts said. "Even though I didn't play, I stayed driven. I believed in myself. I knew I'd achieve my goals."

Jaquel graduated from Central Valley in 2012.

The majority of high-school football players do not go on to play the sport at the NCAA level.

"Before one of my games during my senior year, one of my coaches said, ‘Most of you will never put on a helmet again.' I was determined to make that a false statement," Pitts stated. "You can do anything if you believe in yourself. I never let anything negative sway me. I received limited playing time in high school. It was a motivating factor. I always knew I could play the game at an elite level."

Pitts lived in foster care for 14 years, starting at the age of five.

He just recently found out who his biological father is.

"I've always kept a great attitude," said Jaquel, who will move back to Modesto on Dec. 20 to train at Bonsu Elite Athletics. "You can't dwell on the past. I'm determined to make something out of nothing. I want to inspire people."