The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

College of San Mateo offensive lineman Hanitelli Lousi sat in a chair in Building 10, Room 195 on the CSM campus holding on to his dream.

He kept looking at it, holding onto it, like it might actually vanish.

There was hustle and a bit of bustle all around him as joy filled the classroom-turned-cloud nine, but for a couple of minutes, it appeared that nothing in the world existed to Lousi other than him and a piece of paper he had just signed.

His dream was coming true right before his eyes.

Room 195 in Building 10 was filled to the brim with family, friends, Bulldogs and emotion as seven members of the latest CSM transfer classed signed their letters of intent and scholarships to play college football at the next level. What might have appeared as just a couple sheets of paper and a few ounces of ink to most symbolized a ton to the Bulldogs on hand. And throughout the afternoon’s festivities, each one chose to express their gratitude in different ways. What didn’t change though, was the overwhelming sense of community and brotherhood that emanated from that classroom — on Wednesday afternoon, the tears that flowed from some of the biggest, baddest junior college football players on the planet were proof of that.

“I’m gonna tell you like this,” said former South City lineman turned California Defensive Player of the Year Rika Levi, “All those years in the hood playing football as kids in the parking lot, I never thought it would take me this far. I’m going to take this and run with it. This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.”

Levi signed to play football with the Texas Tech Red Raiders and will be taking off in April to enroll in school. He was joined at the front of the classroom by Lousi, Dominick Jackson, Sam Atoe, Deshane Hines, Semisi Mataele and Viliami Fukofuka.

More often than not, as the players rose from their chairs to speak to the 100 plus in attendance, they were overcome with emotion and tears.

“I wish my dad was here to see this, because all I do is for him,” Lousi, whose father died while he was still in high school, said. “It’s crazy, two years ago, this dream didn’t exist. Out of high school, I had nowhere to go, I had no options. And now, the next dream is just two years away.”

Lousi will suit up for the University of Oregon. Joining him in the Pac-12 is Sam Atoe, who is headed to Cal-Berkeley after originally committing to Texas Christian University. Hines, a fellow defensive back, will suit up for Utah State University. While Mataele (of Menlo-Atherton) and Fukofuka (of Aragon) will remain teammates and play for the Grey Hounds of Eastern New Mexico.

Still, the highlights of the afternoon came from the speeches by Levi and Jackson — arguably the two best players of last season’s 10-1 CSM football team that fell a victory shy from appearing in the Northern California championship game. Both succumbed to tears while speaking.

“It ain’t easy,” Levi said, “A lot of us come from the same background. Not too many people from the hood can say they have a scholarship. It’s kind of hard to believe. Right now, y’all have to do whatever you can to build that foundation. I love everyone of y’all. Everyone that I played with. Every down. Y’all know me, every down, we’re gonna get it. Every down. I don’t care who it is. Anyone who got that wrong color on is going to get hit, right? We ain’t ever going to replace that — that ’13 season.”

Jackson, sporting a University of Alabama jacket, acknowledged his family, teachers and coaches, before focusing on his CSM teammates who were with him through personal hardships.

“Two years ago, anyone at this table can tell you, this was just a dream. Coming out of high school, thinking we all that, to coming here and realizing we were just getting started. Words can’t even explain how I feel. You guys know me, this (Alabama) is the best school in the country. A kid from California, from JUCO, people never even heard of me to go to the best school in the country, to play with the best, the best of the best. For a kid like me, raised by a single mom. Man. Man.”