At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dennis Ellis, his fiancé and his three kids shuffled aboard their minivan and began a 14-hour trek from Boise, Idaho, to Santa Clarita.
Stops were minimal, just for the bathroom or snacks.
They rolled into town around 8 a.m. Thursday and that night strode into the Hyatt Regency Valencia for the 2017 College of the Canyons Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Ellis, a defensive end on COC’s 2004 national championship football team, which was inducted along with four individuals as part of the school’s seventh hall of fame class, felt he couldn’t miss the ceremony.
“It was like a big family. That’s what made it so special,” Ellis said. “I came back (tonight) and it was like we didn’t miss a beat.
“…You start talking about old times and all the feelings come back.”
— COC Athletics (@COCAthletics) January 27, 2017
Twenty-seven players from the 2004 team, some who traveled from as far as Florida, Texas and Ohio, had arrived by 6:30.
That was about the time Jessica Gomez arrived. Inducted for her feats in track and field and cross country, Gomez drove up from Santa Monica on Thursday.
It took two hours.
The traffic, though, hardly soured the bubbly JC All-American’s mood.
“I’m excited and nervous and looking forward to it,” Gomez, a Saugus High graduate who now works as a personal trainer, said.
The night’s other inductees included former NFL player J.J. Arrington, who unexpectedly wasn’t in attendance, women’s basketball star Sha’Tasha Allen and longtime assistant track and field coach Ulric Grigsby.
Grigsby, who died in 2014 at the age of 87, was inducted for meritorious service after 20-plus seasons as a Cougar assistant coach.
Honoring Grigsby on Thursday, COC track and field/cross country coach Lindie Kane quoted Salt-n-Pepa lyrics.
“What a man, what a man, what a man,” she told a crowd of 265. “What a mighty good man.”
Arrington — who set program records for career rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns at COC in the early 2000s before starring at California, Berkeley and playing for the Arizona Cardinals — became the first Cougar alumnus to play in a Super Bowl in 2009.
Gomez represented a first, too: the first cross country runner inducted into COC’s Hall of Fame after she finished fourth at the 2005 state cross country meet, the best finish in program history.
Allen, 17 years removed from her time at COC, is still the program’s all-time leading scorer.
For the first 30 minutes at the Hyatt, it was all about the team that went an unprecedented 14-0. Players piled into the ballroom foyer, hugging, backslapping and laughing.
“The great thing is they walked in the door, and I knew their names,” said COC Athletic Director Chuck Lyon, who coached the 2004 team. “It’s a long time and people’s looks change.
“…. It’s good to see them hug each other. It’s like they haven’t missed a beat.”
Notes: Lyon announced COC will field a women’s tennis team in spring 2018 … Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle and COC alumnus Domata Peko gave an emotional speech about COC changing his life.