When Rivals.com set out to rank the top 100 prospects in order for the class of 2009 and assign them stars, there was a consensus that Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley should be the No. 1 player in the country.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound gunslinger was the runaway choice for the top spot. As a junior, Barkley threw for 3,560 yards, 35 touchdowns and completed 62 percent of his passes against some of the top competition in California. He never threw for less than 253 yards in a game this season, and he saved his best performances for the best teams on the schedule.
Against highly ranked Corona Centennial, Barkley threw for 365 yards. He shredded Anaheim Servite, another top team, with 348 yards passing - including a 97-yard pass which will go down as one of the plays of the year in California. Barkley was about to be sacked in the end zone and had two guys on his legs when he threw the ball nearly 50 yards in the air. He hit his receiver in stride for the big score.
Against one of Utah's top teams in the second game of the season, Barkley threw for 438 yards and five scores against American Fork. By the time he was done in 2007, he had seven games where he threw for more than 300 yards.
Barkley is on track to be a four-year starter at Mater Dei, which is a rare feet for a school that has produced some great QBs in the past, like Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart. Barkley was just 15 years old when Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollison made the decision to start him at quarterback.
"If you had come up to me the year before and said, 'Would you ever start a freshman?' I would have laughed you off," Rollinson said before the start of the season. "I would have said, 'There's no way a freshman could compete at the Division I level or at Mater Dei High School.' But when we saw Matt, we realized he had the 'it' factor."
The Monarchs reached the Southern Section Division I quarterfinals in 2005 before Barkley suffered a broken collarbone. Without their Barkley, Mater Dei lost to Los Angeles Loyola in the semifinals. Barkley finished with 1,685 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. In his sophomore season, Mater Dei finished 8-3 and lost to Long Beach Poly in the first round of the playoffs, with Barkley passing for 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"He is an excellent athlete that has a good chance to be a college quarterback. He athletic enough to play wide receiver and safety. He does have a strong arm, but is currently in an offense that keeps it on the ground a lot. I would say he is similar to Vince Young, just smaller." - Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every
"He is a basketball star who has unbelievable football talent. He will be a mismatch for any defense at 6-5, 205. He has great body control and very good ball skills. He will remind some people of DeAndre Brown at Ocean Springs, Miss." - Every
"He is extremely powerful and has a very quick first step. If he does not make it as a DT he will be a man-eating offensive guard. He is the state of Georgia's A.J. Harmon for 2009, just a tad shorter." - Every
"Martinez is still growing into his frame. He is very athletic and can flat out run for a big guy. Has the body that can play all three offensive line positions. He plays at an excellent program in Murray (UT) Cottonwood, and will be coached well. He will excel in blocking on the move." - Every
"Burnette is very athletic for a lineman and looks like he is physically ready to play now. He is an excellent student and could possibly make a great offensive center. He is very powerful and has a lot of punch." - Every
"I've had a chance to watch a lot of really good quarterbacks over the years, especially from California," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said. "Matt Barkley is a great one. He can already make all the throws he is expected to make at the next level. There aren't too many flaws in his game, and you have to love what he does against some of the best talent in Los Angeles."
Los Angeles is also home to another one of the top 2009 prospects.
Five-star running back Cierre Wood of Oxnard (Calif.) Santa Clara comes in at the No. 3 spot.
He's the do-it-all star for the once struggling - now thriving - Santa Clara program. Wood has almost single-handedly willed Santa Clara to a 9-1-1 record this season.
He has scored 234 of the team's 440 points this season, rushed for 2,077 yards and 29 touchdowns and has more than 2,800 yards of total offense. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,407 yards and 17 scores. He also had 595 yards receiving and seven receiving scores. His offer list includes Florida, Ole Miss, Nebraska, North Carolina, Notre Dame, San Diego State, USC and Wake Forest.
What's ironic is that when Wood transferred in from St. Bonaventure he had visions of helping build on Santa Clara's basketball tradition. Little did he know he would someday become one of the most highly coveted football prospects in the nation.
"I'm a real fast, quick-first-step basketball player," Wood said. "I still love basketball. But I also know that football is going to help me get to college."
While Californians occupy the No. 1 and the No. 3 spots, it's two talented Texans that come in at No. 2 and No. 4.
Lufkin, Texas, defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland is ranked as the nation's second-best player. The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder is amazing on film and is almost impossible to block. McFarland is considered by some to be one of the top prospects at his position that the state of Texas has seen in the past decade. College coaches have flocked to Lufkin to get an early glimpse of him.
As a sophomore, McFarland earned District 15-5A Sophomore of the Year honors after recording 73 tackles. He has already landed scholarship offers from Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and several others. As for what's making him such a hot commodity at this early stage, McFarland believes it's the fight he brings when he's between the lines that separates him from most other talented players his age.
"I think it's the heart to play, to actually want to get out there and give it your all," McFarland said. "Anybody can just get out there and get in the way. But to actually be able to have the ability and the strength and be able to compete, it's a thrill. I get chills from being able to make contact with somebody. You have to want to play, and I really enjoy playing."
The No. 4 spot is occupied by Houston Cypress Ridge athlete Russell Shepard. The 6-foot-2, 183-pounder has drawn comparisons to former national No. 1 player and fellow Houstonian Vince Young because of his ability to improvise on the fly.
Shepard said his game looks like Young's for a reason.
"One of my role models is Vince Young," he said. "I just see how he never gets flustered. Being a young guy, I had to show my teammates that it's not about talking. You have to let your skills talk for you."
As a junior, Shepard certainly did his talking on the field. He rushed for 1,459 yards and 22 touchdowns from the quarterback spot. This season, he has helped his team make it to the third round of the Texas Class 5A state playoffs. In the team's two postseason wins, Shepard has run for a little less than 300 yards and he's found the end zone twice.
The top player from the South is five-star cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick of Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City. Kirkpatrick ranks as the No. 5 player in the nation and has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, South Carolina and USC. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound defensive back is a clearly a wanted man.
"Everywhere we have taken him, he gets the same reaction out of the coaches," Gadsden City assistant coach Ali Smith said. "They all can't believe that a kid with his size has the footwork and quickness to be so effective as a cover corner. Ken Norton Jr. from USC came by here in the spring and flat out told us that they wanted him."
Bastrop, La., receiver Rueben Randle is also one of the nation's best. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound five-star prospect ranks as the No. 7 player overall. With his 4.47-second speed, he has the potential to be a big-play threat at the college level.
"I'm the type of receiver that catches everything and can take it to the house on every play," Randle said. "I've got good size, good quickness and I think my hands are great, too. I think my route running is another strength. I can go up and get the football. There's not anybody that can cover me."
Rounding out the top 10 nationally is Honolulu (Hawaii) Punahou linebacker Manti Te'o at No. 6, Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista defensive end Devon Kennard at No. 8, Greenville (Fla.) Madison defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel at No. 9 and Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown at No. 10.
At this early stage in the recruiting process, Rivals.com awarded only 12 five-star rankings and 88 additional players were ranked as four-star players.