Newport Harbor High's Ramsey Hufford (77) has verbally comminted to play at UC Davis.

Newport Harbor High's Ramsey Hufford (77) has verbally comminted to play at UC Davis. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot / January 8, 2014)

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Ramsey Hufford's dream is to play in the NFL. If that doesn't pan out, he wants an education to fall back on.

Hufford, Newport Harbor High's 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman, said on Tuesday he verbally committed to the UC Davis football program. He said academics played a key role in his decision to join the Aggies, an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision program, instead of Fresno State, which competes in the higher NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.

Fresno State and UC Davis each gave Hufford offers before his senior season at Newport Harbor, where he went on to excel at left tackle and defensive tackle.

Fresno State's attempt at an undefeated season intrigued Hufford. Then a week before Hufford paved the way to the Sailors' CIF Southern Section Southwest Division finals appearance, the Bulldogs' perfect season ended. In the regular-season finale, Fresno State suffered a 62-52 Mountain West Conference setback at San Jose State.

"It did weigh into it," Hufford said of the Bulldogs' 10-0 start to the season, before they finished 11-2, with a 45-20 loss to USC in the Las Vegas Bowl. "I was thinking about how Fresno State had a really good season and how [it] had a lot of televised games, but in the end I saw myself at Davis, more so than Fresno.

"For me and my family college is about [the quality of] education. If I take football out of the equation, which place is better?"

Hufford said he plans to sign his national letter of intent with UC Davis on Feb. 5, the first day high school football seniors can sign with a college. Hufford said the Aggies plan to use him on the offensive line, at either center or guard. Hufford has limited experience at guard and none at center.

The Sailors lined up Hufford at left tackle the past two seasons. He protected quarterback Cole Norris' blindside, allowing Norris to throw for a Newport Harbor single-season record 27 touchdowns this past year, along with 2,959 yards, the second-best total at the school.

Hufford earned All-CIF Southern Section Southwest Division and first-team All-Orange County honors, and shared the Sunset League Defensive Lineman of the Year award. As a defensive tackle, he finished with 51 tackles and three sacks.

"He had a great three-year varsity career for us and he did everything he could to maximize his potential on the field, in the weight room, and in the classroom," Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley said of Hufford, the only member of the school's 1,500-pound club. "I thought both schools were good choices. He couldn't go wrong either way. UC Davis has a little stronger academics and Fresno State a little stronger athletics. I know they really wanted him and I always say it's important to go some place where you're really wanted."

Hufford is happy to land at UC Davis, which is coming off its second season in the Big Sky Conference. The Aggies finished 5-7 overall, 5-3 in conference, sharing fourth place with three other schools.

While the stadium UC Davis plays in sits 10,743 fans, a quarter of the size of Fresno State's capacity, Hufford is looking forward to competing for the Aggies and fulfilling his ultimate goal.

"My dream is to go to the NFL," Hufford said, "and if you're good enough, scouts will find you, no matter where you play."