Instead of going to a NCAA Division II football program, Tyler Marona decided to start his college football career at Pasadena City College out of St. Francis High.
"There were people and coaches all over the place telling me I shouldn't do that, [junior colleges] aren't an option," said Marona, a defensive lineman who hoped he'd garner some Division I interest after his freshman season.
The former Golden Knight also started questioning if he made the right decision around winter break when he hadn't heard from any Division I schools, and about three weeks ago Pasadena City College Coach Fred Fimbres sat down with Marona and his parents in an attempt to reassure them.
"I could tell he was a little bit frustrated. I could tell there was some questioning if this was going to happen or not," said Fimbres of the meeting, "and I told them, 'Tyler won't play for us in 2013.' I was certain he was unfortunately not going to be wearing our cardinal and gold in September."
Not long after the meeting and within the past month, when college football teams begin their spring recruiting, the offers started rolling in for Marona, Fimbres said. Marona all of a sudden had his pick of Division I destinations with the University of Maryland, Troy University, University of Miami, University of Colorado, University of Illinois and Syracuse University bidding for his services.
Ultimately, the 18-year-old Marona chose Syracuse over Colorado, where his father attended.
"It's me reaching my goals and seeing my dreams, as far as a football player and as a student-athlete, come true," said Marona of Syracuse. "That's a huge place academically, it's what really pushed it over the top for me."
St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said one of the reasons he coaches high school football is because he loves seeing his players going on to the next level.
"It brings a huge smile to your face because that's why my assistants and I coach at St. Francis because we love the game so much and if we could play today we would go out and play today," Bonds said. "To see a kid like Tyler get a chance to go play at Syracuse, what an awesome opportunity he has before him."
Marona, who plans on officially signing with Syracuse Tuesday, anchored the defensive line at St. Francis. He racked up a team-high 11 sacks and reaped All-Area first team and All-Mission League second-team selections as a senior.
"I always looked at him, even as a young sophomore and junior in the program, as just a great prospect with a huge upside, with his frame combined with his athleticism," Bonds said. "I knew he could play big-time college football someday."
Marona, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, posted 4.5 tackles for a loss, including two sacks, for PCC in 2012.
"He was a good player for us, not only playing on the field but his work ethic," Fimbres said. "He led by example by being diligent and working hard. He took stuff we taught in practice out onto the field, that's just the kind of person he is."
Still, Marona admitted it was tough for him to start his college football career at a community college at first.
"The kids from La Cañada, St. Francis and a lot of private high schools go to a four-year college right out of high school; I had to see my friends and everyone else go," Marona said. "It was me just continuing to believe in myself, sacrificing a year to eventually go on to the next level. I knew I could do it, it was just a matter of time until someone else saw it."
Marona said he learned a lot from the past year at PCC, including patience and never giving up on himself.
"Junior college gave me hope, but it also assured myself once I started playing that I had no doubt in my mind that I could do what I wanted," Marona said.
Now he's off to fulfill the goals he's set for himself at the next level, which include starting at Syracuse, reaping All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors, later receiving an invite to the Senior Bowl — a showcase of the top senior college football players — and ultimately the NFL combine.
"It comes down to me prepping myself best to be the best player I can," Marona said.