The West alumnus, Class of 2007, was selected as the No. 40 draft pick by the Carolina Panthers in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday, April 27.
Silatolu, a recent graduate and offensive linemen from Midwestern State University in Wichita, Texas, was high on the list of players expected to be chosen in the first round Thursday or second round Friday.
Silatolu said before the draft that he had been in contact with 11 teams for workouts and meetings, including coaches from the San Francisco 49ers. A week ago, coaches from the team that went 13-3 in 2011 and lost in the NFC championship game visited Silatolu at West High to go over offensive plays, as the team lost its starting right guard from last season to free agency.
Silatolu got attention among NFL draft watchers this year because he comes from an NCAA Division II school, while the vast majority of draft prospects come from Division I schools. After two years at San Joaquin Delta College he first looked at University of Nevada, and then decided that Midwestern State would give him the best opportunity to make an impression.
“I just thought about starting and competing for a starting spot,” Silatolu said. “Going into that school I knew they were a winning Division II team. We did what we had to do in the past year and went undefeated, and we did great, the offensive line as a whole.”
Midwestern State went 10-0 for the 2011 regular season and the Mustangs were the Lone Star Conference champions. The offensive line led the team to 548.2 yards per-game, and 327.2 rushing yards per-game.
Also awaiting a call this weekend is Silatolu's former West teammate, Stanley Arukwe, also from the Class of 2007.
Arukwe attended Troy University in Alabama on a track and field scholarship as a sprinter. He played football only for his senior year of college, but he quickly proved a talented wide receiver.
He listed a half-dozen teams who have brought him in for workouts, including the 49ers, who he visited last week.
“Right now, we’re just playing the waiting game for Saturday,” Arukwe said. “That’s when I’m projected to go.”
In the meantime, he has worked out with De La Salle High School track and field coach John Harvey, who was West’s track and field coach during Arukwe’s high school years.
“I just kept that relationship with him, because he’s been a mentor since high school,” Arukwe said. “He helped me out tremendously during my pro day.”
While most draft prospects were evaluated at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, Arukwe established himself a prospect at Troy University’s pro day in early March. His speed in particular — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.19 seconds — was the fastest at Troy’s pro day and faster than any of the prospects at the combine.
“He definitely has the speed, and that’s what opened the door for this opportunity,” Harvey said, adding that he saw Arukwe start as a teenager with outstanding athletic ability who became more focused and disciplined as he pursued his goals.
“The biggest difference would be that he has learned a lot of what it takes to be competitive and move to the next level,” Harvey said.
Former West High football coach Steve Lopez said that other alumni have moved on to different levels of pro football, but he’s looking forward to seeing two NFL draft picks come out of his program.
Lopez, who helped build the high school’s football program from the ground up, added that it’s no surprise they would come from the 2005 and 2006 Wolf Pack teams, both Tri-City Athletic League champions.
The 2005 team went to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game in 2005 and finished as runner-up, and in 2006 the Wolf Pack got as far as the section semifinals.
Silatolu and Arukwe were juniors in 2005 and seniors in 2006, Silatolu a lineman on both sides of the ball and Arukwe a defensive back.
Lopez added he could see that even the championship level of high school football was a lesser challenge to these players.
He noted that Silatolu, in particular, was bigger and stronger than any other linemen and didn’t really get motivated until his freshman year at San Joaquin Delta College.
“At Delta he got a lot better, because he was playing with guys as strong and fast as he was,” Lopez said. “That was the level from where he could have gone anywhere he wanted.”
Lopez added that while Arukwe grew into his role as a wide receiver while at Troy, he showed the speed and determination to be effective as a defensive back while at West.
“Everything was a competition for him. He always tried to be the best and had a lot of guys on the team, who also tried to be the best,” Lopez said.