July 12, 2006

Into the heart of Texas

What's with all the Cal football recruiting racket in Texas? With only one former Texas prep player on the roster, you wouldn't think much of the clamor. Historically, Cal hasn't been an out-of-state "terror" in the recruiting world. However, as BearTerritory has been tracking, Cal's out-of-state recruiting has picked up significantly. No state has been targeted more than Texas - and for good reason.

Between 2003 and 2006, Cal has brought in a total of 90 scholarship football recruits. Of the group, only 12 percent came from programs outside California. Though there were a few players who started out of state, as in the case of former 2,000 yard rusher J.J. Arrington, most came to Cal from the Cal JuCo ranks or California based high school's.

However, early on in the 2007 class, Cal has been linked to numerous out-of-state prospects. Most of the out-of-state recruiting work has been done by new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, one of the top offensive minds in the college game today. Coming from Northwestern, and despite not having coached a game for Cal yet, Dunbar has made inroads at schools across the country - programs that the Bears had never thought of going.

But for fans who thought Cal football recruiting is staying in the Golden State, think again. The word out of Texas is that Cal is sparking major recruiting news in the Southwest. While going against the historical in-State grain of Cal football recruiting, the Bears are using their Top 10 national preseason ranking, status among the academic elite, a balanced pro-style offense that is one of the nation's best, along with the pending construction of a top-notch west coast facility have Coach Dunbar pushing the University of California to the nation's top football student-athletes.

So why are the Bears specifically messing with Texas?

The state is ripe with talent. In fact, ripe might not even be the right word. As one of the "Big Three" prep football states in the country, alongside Florida and California, Texas mines out football prospects like they were crude oil. There is so much talent that the label "hotbed" might as well be "breeding ground". Sure, there are already 10 Division 1 NCAA football programs in the Lone Star state, ranging from Baylor to UTEP, including the reigning national champion Longhorns. The state of Texas accumulatively hands out approximately 200 Div. 1 football scholarships each year - mostly to in-state players. There are also a number Div. II and Div. III schools that hand out scholarships. But as programs as far north as Michigan have found out over the years, Texas simply can't keep them all in-state. There's a group of high-major players that do not slot into the University of Texas's overall plans, and despite heavy interest from the others, want a different scene.

Which, in part, is why the door has opened for Cal. Obviously, the Bears haven't been hurt by the success of former Grace Prep running back and current Cal junior tailback Justin Forsett. The Bears lone Texas presence on their roster, Forsett ran for 1,000 yards as a sophomore primarily in a reserve role. And though he'll share rushing duties once again with fellow junior and close friend Marshawn Lynch, his senior year in 2007 should showcase his sensational talents with Lynch possibly headed to the NFL. And like Forsett, who had a scholarship from Notre Dame pulled just before national signing day in 2004, the Bears are targeting players a lot like the former Arlington area standout.

The "overlooked". Some are players that Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech looked at but just had someone else on the board. It happens a lot.

Like in every other state, including California, the Bears staff is targetting student-athletes at the prep level who fit the high-academic, extremely skilled, and hard-working football type. Early on in 2007, the first such case came in the mold of Cal's future quarterback, Episcopal School of Dallas (ESD) signal caller Brock Mansion, whom we chronicled in our June 7th story titled "Two rise to the top for Brock Mansion".

As a 6-foot-5, 229-pound prep quarterback who attended his local high school in Plano and tried his best to the run option, Mansion's future as a solid Div. 1 QB looked bleak. There was no changing his high school's preferred offensive system - something they'd had plenty of success with. Though Mansion's dad was a former Plano high school football star, and Brock himself was born on the eve of a Plano high school football championship, changing the system that meant so much to them didn't make any sense.

In the sometimes surreal events of high school football in Texas, where winning is king, the system is No. 1. Mansion spent three full seasons in a vain trying to run the option, finally coming to the conclusion that he was a fish out of water. The feeling was that he might have an NFL arm, but since he doesn't cut like an option QB, there was little in his future at Plano high.

So he transferred.

After leaving Plano high for Episcopal School of Dallas (ESD) and reclassifying as a junior, Mansion spent last year blowing up in a pro-style system. In fact, his story might remind some Cal fans of former Golden Bear star and current Green Bay Packer QB Aaron Rodgers, who went undiscovered in Northern California till a tape of his TE got out - with his throws being featured.

Just like with Rodgers, had it not been for Brock's tape being sent to Cal (one of only a handful of west coast programs that received the tape), a recruiting match between Mansion and Cal would have never materialized.

Mansion has taken the momentum from his outstanding junior season at ESD into the recruiting season, landing over 15 collegiate offers and a spot in the prestigious Elite 11. Of course now his future will be quarterbacking the Golden Bears under one of the nation's best QB coaches, California's Jeff Tedford, who has guided numerous quarterbacks, including Rodgers, to the NFL. Tedford has already likened Mansion to his former Fresno State protégé Trent Dilfer, who went on to win a Super Bowl Title and Super Bowl MVP award with the Baltimore Ravens.

Though Mansion is the most talked about Texas prep surrounding Cal football, there are a number of other prep players around Texas who fall directly into Mansion's situation.

"Our academics and our facilities are right at the top," said Mansion's head coach at ESD, Aaron Beck. "I think part of the lure for kids to come to ESD starts in the classroom. Being a college preparatory school, we get kids ready for the next level. It's as simple as that. When they leave ESD, they are ready for college. A lot of the schools in our conference are right there as well. In fact, St. Mark's might be among the top three academic schools in the state."

"When it comes to our football team, our reputation is such that current and incoming student-athletes know that we will change our system to what they do well," Beck added. "If you are getting kids ready for college in the classroom, we sure as heck better be getting them ready on the field. So we find what works best. That's just our style here. We don't have one basic philosophy, or a certain scheme we can't change. Brock is a perfect example of that."

That explains why Mansion has blossomed into such a star at ESD. By finding a flexible school that could develop his skills both academically and athletically, Mansion now has a bright future ahead of him to go along with his talent.

But Mansion is just one of the many players who are being heavily recruited by Cal while playing in the shadows of the Texas high school elite. At St. Mark's, defensive end prospect Sam Acho has seen his stock skyrocket in a similar way to Mansion's after the release of his highlight tape. After attending a USC football camp earlier in the year, the Trojans extended an offer to the talented Texas prep star.

"He's a real special kid," ESD assistant coach Todd Wright said. A former staff member at ESD who coached at St. Mark's last year, Wright is now back at ESD for the 2006 season. "I put together Sam's video and submitted it to a number of schools. And honestly, it might be one of the few tapes I've done that nearly every single play is a highlight. It was just non-stop action."

"Sam is a real impact player," Coach Wright added. "He brings it every Friday night. There are few players like him. He's a leader, works hard, always in the weight room type prospect. Next year, he'll be playing some tight end for St. Mark's and if he didn't get enough attention last year, he will this year. He's an amazing athlete who other players follow."

Coach Beck also chimed in.

"We didn't have an answer for him (Acho)," Beck said in between laughs. "Just look at the tape against us, it was a total mismatch. He's 6-foot-3 and might as well be fast as lightning."

Acho, whose father is Nigerian born, was raised in the U.S along with his younger brother. Along with being St. Mark's top prep athlete, he's one of the top overall academic students at the school too. With Virginia, USC, Cal, and Stanford hot on his recruiting trail, Acho recently picked up a ton of info about Cal. In fact, just this past week, the soon-to-be senior was informed about Cal's extensive list of former Nigerian descent football players, which include Joe Igber and Adimchinobe "Joe" Echemandu (two of Cal's top RB's in the past 8 years), Nnamdi Asomugha (a first round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft), and current 2006 freshman Charles Amadi. Amadi, who was one of the highest ranked Triple Jumpers in the country the past two years, will play DB for the Bears this fall. That's just a handful of the players with Nigerian descent that have played at Cal too. Along with being outstanding Cal football players, all were top-tier students during their time in Berkeley.

"I think Sam is just starting to hear a lot about Cal," Coach Wright added. "With Brock headed there, he's learned a lot about how great the coaching staff is there and how solid the Cal academics would be for him. Academics are very important to him and his parents so he'll have a tough choice between schools."

"I spoke with Coach Littlejohn today (Cal's first-year DB coach) as well as Coach Foster (Cal's LB coach once again)," Coach Wright added. "I've also spoken with Coach Dunbar. And I mean this when I say it; everyone at Cal has been incredibly impressive. They've all spoken very professionally and made sure that we had all the facts about Cal."

"When Coach Dunbar came out here to see Brock the first time, he said 'we don't come out here too often'" Coach Beck said. "And I told him that ought to change, you know? There's 20 schools in the SPC and we got some players here. Plus, the one thing he never has to worry about is our kids' academics. All our kids go to school and are prepared for college."

"Personally, I'm really looking forward to the day where Brock is at Cal and ready to take over the QB spot," Beck added. "One thing I've always wanted to do is check out a De La Salle football game. So on Friday night, I could do that. Then on Saturday, head over to the Cal game. Brock certainly gave me ample reason to get out there now."

Who are some of the other players who are emerging as Cal targets?

Though Acho and Mansion have received most of the headlines, Arlington Heights (Tex.) linebacker Jake Proctor is Cal's next find in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder who runs a 4.6 forty has impressed the Bears staff in a major way. While he only has an offer from Wyoming to date, Proctor might have jumped to the top of Cal's linebacker wish list because of his excellent video, mid-term scheduled graduation, a 92.14 SPARQ rating, great side-to-side speed, and a 3.8 GPA.

On top of all that, the kid is flat out ripped with an incredible work ethic.

"Tell you about Jake? Well, he's a 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker from Arlington Heights," said longtime South recruiting guru Max Emfinger, who BearTerritory recently interviewed. "I didn't know a thing about him before he showed up at our "7 on 7" this past weekend in Arlington. But he sure was impressive. He's ripped, that's for sure. I think he ran a 4.65 at the NIKE combine in College Station but he can run faster than that. He did 29 reps at 185 pounds for us and that was the best of the best."

"I think only Wyoming has offered him so far," Emfinger added. "But as far as Mansion goes, he's just a fabulous story. First of all, I have never seen a year in Texas where there were more solid prep quarterbacks. The three big ones that get their names out there are Ryan Mallett from Texarkana, Jarrett Lee from Brenham, and G.J. Kinne from Gilmer. But there are another 10 or so QB's in Texas that could be better than any of them, and that group is led by Mansion."

"He's a kid who had to transfer high schools just to get on the field and now, he's an Elite 11," Emfinger added. "That's pretty special."

"Like I said, there are a number of other Texas quarterbacks who stand out this year too," Emfinger continued. "There are two kids in the Beaumont area, Joe Chaisson and Brandon Williams, the latter of which is going to Texas A&M. Nick Foles is a terrific sleeper who is headed to Arizona State. He's only played QB one year but he's got a ton of talent. Along with Mansion, Foles might be the sleeper of the year. Another kid that is really good is Nick Fanuzzi who is headed to Miami. Again, it's just a great year for QB's in the state of Texas."

Both Mansion and Proctor, who have become good friends over the summer, won medals at Emfinger's Arlington "7 on 7", with Mansion the MVP. Proctor worked out with Mansion shortly after Mansion visited and pledged to Cal, telling him that Berkeley was terrific.

"Yes, he was telling me you just can't beat the weather, and the coaches, and the academics," Proctor said. "He loves it there. So I am very interested in what Cal is all about. I've never been there but we are doing a family thing in a few weeks out in California. So I'm going to visit Cal soon."

"I was told that Cal liked my tape a lot," Proctor added. "And that's cool because I am really interested in them. The offer from Wyoming came after I did the combine at College Station but I'd love to go to a high academic school like Cal, which also happens to have a great football program. I'm a mid-term guy too so I'd be able to enter early, play spring ball, and have about a year's worth of school already before I play. As far as a major, my dad is a lawyer so I've been thinking about that. I'm not sure though."

"It was funny you called," Proctor continued. "I was just looking at BearTerritory.net. That's a cool site. I also saw the photo's of the campus at Cal. It looks really nice."

If Proctor isn't one of our favorite prep players yet, he is now.

To check out Jake in action, please follow the link below;

Jake Proctor Video

To check out Mansion in action, please follow the link below;

Brock Mansion Video

To check out Acho in action, please follow the link below;

Sam Acho Video

Who are some of the other prep prospects in Texas to keep an eye on?

Former SMU and Kansas City Chief Ricky Wesson has twin sons who play at ESD. Trenton and Tristan Wesson are solid Div. 1 prospects, with the duo catching passes from Mansion last year. Tristan led the SPC in receiving yards as a sophomore. Trenton would have been the starting QB for ESD had it not been for Brock, however, he's a solid cornerback prospect and a terrific student just like his brother.

"The twins are both super athletes," Coach Beck said about the pair. "Their dad spent some time in the pros, they have a brother who played at Florida, and a sister who runs track at Texas Tech. They run 4.5 forty's right now but they should improve on that over the next two years.

One incoming ESD player that Coach Beck is excited about is Nic Pozderac.

"Nic is coming next year from Newman Smith," Coach Beck said. "We think he's going to be special. His dad Phil played at Notre Dame and with the Cowboys and Nic is a 6-foot-5, 290-pound kid who is a great student and a smart player. We still don't know if he'll be a junior or senior here, but he has some offers right now. If he's a junior, he could be a high major."

To check out Pozderac in action, please follow the link below;

Nic Pozderac Video

A.W Prince is the senior writer and publisher of BearTerritory.net. He pens numerous recruiting features, including "The Weekly Spin", on some of the most talented and highly sought after student-athletes in the country. Along with his recruiting work, Prince has made radio appearances with Rivals Radio and Bay Area college basketball pre-game, halftime, and post-game in-season shows.



 

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