Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trae day

Contributed photo
For the last couple of seasons, Birmingham-Lake Balboa quarterback Trae Smith has quietly put together some nice seasons and back-to-back playoff runs for a Patriot team that was once a combined 5-16 before he became an upperclassman.

His production has gotten some recognition in the Los Angeles City Section. But was it enough for him to get noticed in the No. 1 area for the California recruiting scene?

Smith's on-field play should get a four-year school at any level some intrigue. There's a number of dual-threat quarterbacks that shined in California this past year, such as Narbonne-Harbor City quarterback and Washington commit Troy Williams. Other dual-threats like Edison-Fresno's Khari McGee have gotten plenty of publicity and Clovis North's Christian Rossi has also sneaked up on some schools and scouts with his athleticism. But Smith may be one of the more underrated dual-threats in the state.

He's hurt his opponents with his arm and legs. He's shown to be very dangerous on roll out passes. He'll be an effective play-action, pro-style quarterback with his ability to sell the run then roll out to strike down the field. His senior year saw an increase in numbers with 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

An area of concern is his ability to stay in the pocket. Most of his throws were when he got to the outside. This will raise questions of whether or not he can consistently stay in the middle.  His accuracy is also a concern, since his last two seasons saw his percentage barely around 50 percent.

However, in the end, Smith's play brought new energy for a Birmingham program that appeared to be on hard times before he took the reigns at quarterback. His level of play and attitude brought new momentum to the Patriots. He had eight games with two touchdown passes or more. So far, Division-II Fort Lewis College of Colorado has shown the most interest. Smith also sounds like a positive young man who doesn't get too down on himself.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Defensive line undersized, but Ram tough

Photo courtesy of
Most followers of the state junior college football scene know how physical Fresno City plays on defense.

But while all the buzz may go towards the hard-hitting Ram secondary with three potential Football Bowl Subdivision and Division-I prospects, an overlooked but blue collar unit has been the four Rams up front.

This unit may have surrendered 224 rushing yards in the 31-17 bowl loss to Butte College on Saturday, but this same unit didn't give up a single 100-yard rusher, which was something San Francisco City College didn't do in its loss to the Roadrunners.

All season long, these guys have dealt with size and athleticism issues, but have done enough to produce three All-Central Valley Conference players in the 2012 season.

Here's a closer look at some potential space eaters and pass rushers for the next level:


At 6-foot-1 and 240-pounds, Childs (photo) is one of the smaller defensive linemen for Fresno City. But, he has a Tasmanian Devil-like motor to his game and is either around the football, or around the quarterback. Childs led the Rams with nine sacks this past year. He forced two fumbles and recovered three of them. Also, he was tops among defensive linemen with 49 tackles, including 14.5 for a loss.

His size unfortunately will turn a few schools away. But someone in the FCS or mid-major ranks looking for a hard-nosed pass rusher and blue collar worker can certainly use him.



The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ferguson plays opposite of Childs and he's just as feisty up front. While Ferguson may not be as athletically gifted as Childs, he's a hustle player who won't stop trying.

Ferguson, who runs a 4.9 40-yard dash, does have an explosive get-off once the ball moves. He's won a lot of one-on-one blocking match ups with his power and push. He may not overwhelm opponents with his size or athleticism, but he's a space eater who was second among defensive linemen in tackles with 30, recovered three fumbles and had five stops behind the line of scrimmage. A school in need of run stoppers can use a guy like Ferguson.



The 6-foot-1, 295-pound Sagapolu may have been the best of the bunch for the Rams. His size already makes him look like a legit 3-4 nose tackle. But, its his skill set that should put people on notice.

Sagapolu has a freakish explosion for a guy his size and shoots gaps with ease. His power and hand technique also makes matters worse for anyone trying to block him. Much like Childs and Ferguson, Sagapolu is another hustle lineman. However, what perhaps separates Sagapolu from his other linemen mates is that he's often taken on two blockers and still blows past them with his power and desire.

He does tend to come off too high, but overshadows that flaw with his power. He has enough size and skill to be a lineman that occupies space. He can become a strong challenger for a nose tackle spot for his next team or a one technique tackle in the four man front, much like he was with the Rams.



Tarrent plays the three technique for the Rams and showed off his pass rushing ability versus Modesto College, where he had a two sack game in the 52-42 victory.

He brings good size inside at 6-foot-3 and 255-pounds. For right now, he may not wow people with his athleticism, but he's shown to be a guy who can put on his hard hat, bring his sledgehammer and go straight to work. He's another space eater who can improve as a pass rusher by next season.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Manning emerging at Edison-Fresno?

Contributed photo
In the late 1990's, Ricky Manning was all the buzz at Fresno's Edison High School before winding up at UCLA then the NFL.

Now, could cousin Ronnie Manning become the next root that grows on the Manning family tree?

The 2013 safety/running back prospect has been someone I've kept my eyes on in the last two years, despite moving from place to place. Ronnie Manning has had an interesting back story: He's gone from Clovis West, to Clovis North, to now Edison and playing for new head coach and older cousin Ricky.

However, all that moving around hasn't seem to put a damper on Ronnie Manning. He's gathered interest from the likes of Cal Poly of the Football Championship Subdivision to Arizona of the PAC-12.

And, all that relocating has landed him a better opportunity at showing his true skill set on the football field, which has now made him one of the more underrated prospects in the Central Section.

Manning (5-foot-11, 185-pounds) has lots of athleticism with his 4.5 40-yard dash time and a vertical jump of 33.5". On the football field, he's an excellent tackler who hasn't been spotted losing a ball carrier from his grasp. Manning relies on wrapping his arms then rolling his opponent to the ground. But while he's shown to be a sure tackler, he's also a deadly hitter.

In fact, in the Tigers' secondary, Fresno State commit Justin Holmes is the ball-hawk, but Manning has been the sledgehammer with his viscous pops. His reaction and closing speed are pluses for him as a safety.

He does tend to bite on plays especially against the play action. But after playing the reserve role at Clovis North and Clovis West, he's taken full advantage of his new opportunity to become an impact player for the Tigers.

The safety class in the Central Valley has been pretty deep, beginning with Oklahoma commit Hatari Byrd of Central, Manning's teammate Holmes of Edison and another hard-nosed hitter in Sunnyside-Fresno's Eric Wingfield. But Manning has quietly emerged as a top safety and an under-the-radar prospect in his region. He could be the next Tiger to continue Edison's lineage of college football talent.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bringing the "Payne" in the SEC

Photo courtesy of Lee Central Coast Newspapers
Cameron Artis-Payne is about to get used to saying "War Eagle."

The explosive and powerful Allan Hancock College-Santa Maria running back received a late push from Auburn during the season. After his visit on Nov. 4 to the Southeastern Conference school, the late offer by the Tigers paid off - as Cameron Artis-Payne will now head to Auburn and join its 2013 recruiting class.

Artis-Payne turned down the likes of New Mexico, Utah State, Washington and Utah. He became one of the more sought-after running backs on the junior college scene due to his monster 2012 season. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Artis-Payne is leading the state in rushing yards per game (204.2) and in rushing touchdowns with 23. He has 1,838 rushing yards this season, which includes four games of 206-yards or more and a 351-yard performance versus Pasadena College on Oct. 20.

Artis-Payne should fit nicely at the SEC school. Auburn has always been a running back factory with names ranging from Bo Jackson, Stephen Davis, Ronnie Brown, all the way to Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. Artis-Payne's running style involves a combination of brute force and breakaway speed with a 4.47 40-yard dash time, something Auburn's offense should love.

Artis-Payne becomes the second running back on the Central Coast to commit to a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) school. Lompoc High School's Lavon Coleman committed to Washington before his senior season.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Class of 2014 quarterbacks deep in the Central Valley

Photo by Lorenzo J. Reyna
If there are some who say the Central Valley 2013 class wasn't too heavy on top-tier quarterback talent, then those same people might reconsider for the 2014 class.

At least three are drawing interest from Boise State. One is playing with a bunch of Division-I prospects already in West Fresno. Another one is a dual-threat quarterback playing the same position and in the same city that produced Tennessee's Tyler Bray and finally, the headliner could be a guy that finally puts the city of Dinuba on the map.

The 2014 quarterback class is talent-rich in the Central Section. Here's a look:


I heard the hype surrounding McMaryion (photo) following his performances at the National Underclassmen Combine and other summer camps, and all I heard was how this 6-foot-2 incoming junior had a rocket launcher with his right arm and talent written all over him.

Upon further review and after watching him play this season, he's better than the early predictions indicated. Now, you may be looking at the most highly-recruited Central Valley quarterback this off-season.

The size is already there. But its his decision-making and composure that makes him a special kind of quarterback at the high school level. He's got the kind of composure where, if two or three defenders surround him on a blitz, he'll still sit in the pocket, unleash a spiral and see a 20 to 60-yard completion. His zip and field vision got him to throw 34 touchdown passes during the regular season and throw zero interceptions. That's right, zero picks.

I've never seen a junior quarterback more prepared for the next level. More progression in the Central Section Division-III playoffs coming up and the off-season camps could get the PAC-12 or other BCS schools after this Dinuba stud, who also carries a 4.25 grade point average. He'll need some bulk since he's roughly 175-pounds. So far, the Big East, Mountain West and Conference USA are already taking notice.



After a very strong first varsity season as a sophomore that saw 18 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a completion percentage of 67.6 percent in 2011, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Young was emerging as the talk of Hanford, and also drew some Cody Kessler (USC) comparisons by some local sports personalities who follow the Central Section. 

His junior year, however, has left me wondering how good Young really is and if he's really worth the hype.

His Bullpups team took a drastic step backwards this past year, going from a 9-3 campaign in 2011 to a 1-9 disaster in 2012. Young's completion percentage dipped to 57.5 percent. He was also limited to eight touchdown passes with a younger Bullpup supporting cast. His worst outing was on the night where he could have had his coming out party - a 44-3 disaster versus Central's stacked secondary where he tossed four interceptions and was held to 59-yards passing.

However, Young has done something to keep some Football Bowl Subdivision schools intrigued. He did take an unofficial visit to Boise State a week ago.

Young is a talented quarterback with great potential. There's no denying that. He does have a zip to his throws and he can scramble. He's also a deadly runner who can fool defenses on quarterback keeper runs. However, his decision-making and ability to read defenses must improve in order for him to be heavily recruited.



Seems like every year, and after producing Tyler Bray, the Vikings will pump out one legit college football prospect, especially for the Division-I level.

Defensive tackle Ryan Steele was the latest K Town product, as he committed to Fresno State. Brandon looks to be next in line.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Steele emerged on the scene as part of a quarterback rotation during his sophomore season with Austin Bray in 2011. Bray was the pocket passer, but Steele kept defenses on their heels and sometimes, on their back with his bruising running style.

Brandon Steele has become one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the Central Valley with his ability to make the short throws and his mobility. He seems like one of the few quarterbacks at the high school level who's not afraid of contact. He's gotten the Vikings seeking a fourth straight Central Section title with the playoffs looming and this time, its at the D-II level.

If Steele continues to polish his accuracy and running style, he could become the next Steele at the Division-I level, since Ryan will be at Fresno State and Garrett Steele is currently at Cal Poly.



The 6-foot-tall, 188-pound Dragt could emerge as a dark horse 2014 prospect in the Valley, despite being on a Cavaliers team that went 2-8 and 0-4 in their own league (Central Sequoia League).

Dragt has a good play-fake and can be effective in the play action throws. He has a deep ball and can even get out of the pocket and run. He also looks unafraid of burying his shoulder pads into defenders.

He'll need to polish his zip, though, since he doesn't always throw the most consistent football. Though he's mobile and strong like a fullback with the football in his hands, Dragt does tend to stop his feet after making contact. Another area that needs tweaking is his decision making on his passes. Dragt made some dangerous throws where two to three defenders were near his intended receiver. His decision making and film study need to come into play here if he's going to sneak up on people in the Central Section next season. In the end, he does have enough tools to become the most sought after CVC quarterback since former Fresno State Bulldog Ryan Colburn.



Moore hasn't been asked to throw the football much, since he's in the realm of 11-19 passing attempts per game in 2012.

Still though, Moore has done enough with his quarterback game to get nearly 20 schools from Nebraska, to UCLA, to Boise State interested.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Moore was active in the off-season with polishing his throwing and mobility. He led his seven-on-seven team into a deep run at the Best-of-the-West Regional at Passing Down, which earned him recognition. Along with his zip, he's a deadly runner with two 100-yard games this season for a Frontier team that went undefeated in the rugged Southwest Yosemite League.

Decision-making will need an improvement since he's been caught making bad reads on passing plays. The potential is there for him to become the most highly-recruited quarterback in Kern County, especially with helping lead the Titans past the likes of Kern County heavyweights Liberty-Bakersfield and last season's Division-I Valley champion Bakersfield this season. Plus, he's also worked with Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and renown quarterback guru Steve Calhoun.



How it works for the Drillers is whoever is the fastest runner or best all-around athlete, that guy usually plays quarterback in Bakersfield's option-approach.

Rufus has taken the reigns and hasn't disappointed at BHS thanks to his elusive running and breakaway speed.  He'll need to polish his ability to sit comfortably in the pocket and throw all day if he wants a bevy of offers on the scholarship front. But he's got the skills to thrive for someone's pistol or triple option attack at the next level.



The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jimenez is another deadly running quarterback when he's on his game.

He runs the Pistol offense to near perfection on numerous occasions for the Grizzlies. His throwing ability will probably need some touching up once the season ends. Right now, he's an effective short yardage quarterback who does have a solid zip and quick decision making.

But for any defense that gets caught out-of-position after Jimenez takes the snap, just know you'll probably see a 20+ yard gain.



Gatewood hasn't really been asked to take over a game with his arm, since the Cougars rely heavily on the running attack.

However, that doesn't mean they haven't found ways to utilize the 6-foot-5, 180-pound junior and Redwood-Visalia transfer.

Gatewood is athletically gifted enough to hit the perimeters and hurt a defense with his legs. His size, though, plus athleticism could make him an intriguing prospect for someone in the 2014 class. He'll just need to show schools he can beat a team with his arm and accuracy, since he's barely past the 60 percent completion mark. But he took over for R.J Hartmann and now has the Cougars at 9-1 and the No. 1 seed in the Central Section D-I playoffs.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

On the recruiting tip

A few notes regarding some commits and potential future commits:

--Down in the Southern Section, St. Bonaventure-Ventura running back Zach Green is giving the PAC-12 a sign of things to come. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Arizona commit blew past Oaks Christian with 28 carries, 250-yards and four touchdowns in the 30-21 victory, which included 16 unanswered points from the Seraphs in the fourth quarter.

--Staying in the South region, Mission Viejo quarterback Ian Fieber may have thrown two interceptions versus a stout El Toro squad, but the 6-foot-tall, 185-pound junior wound up getting the better of Utah quarterback commit Conner Manning. Fieber went 20-of-30 for 273-yards and three touchdown passes, while his counterpart had his worst evening of his high school career with six interceptions. Mission Viejo completed an unbeaten 10-0 record with a 49-7 trouncing of El Toro.

--Sty Hairston of Banning will have a senior year he'll remember for a lifetime, since he completes his last high school season as the state's leading rusher. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Hairston, who actually lined up at quarterback for the Broncos, finished his regular season with 361-yards on 30 carries and seven touchdowns, as his Bronco team held off Rim of the World-Lake Arrowhead 49-41 on Friday. Hairston finishes the season with four 300-yard running games.

--On the defensive side of the football in the Southern section, looks like Lompoc could be the first Santa Barbara County CIF Bowl representative soon, if they continue its streak of dominance. The Braves routed cross town rival Cabrillo 66-0 behind 435 total yards of rushing, including 116-yards on eight carries from Taylor Cornejo and 112 in the first half from Washington commit Lavon Coleman. However, the Braves' defense made this one-sided game happen, as they were led by the energetic play of 6-foot-1, 270-pound defensive end Ainuu Taua. The younger sibling of former Nevada star running back Vai Taua finished was part of a Braves' defense that finished with 11 stops of no gain or a loss of yards. The 2014 prospect has three offers from the PAC-12 ranks and is beginning to gain heavy interest from Boise State.

--Going up north to the Central section, junior Nick Wilson of Central East-Fresno is beginning to garner interest from Boise State. His Thursday night performance saw nine carries, 114-yards and an 80-yard touchdown run in the Grizzlies' 49-0 rout over Clovis East. He's beginning to show he's next in line in a Grizzlies' backfield that's produced Brendon Bigelow (Cal) and current Fresno City College running back Rob Johnson (PAC-12 and Mountain West offers).

--Tulare Union produced one high-octane workhorse running back in Xavier Stephens, who's now at Nevada. Lucky for the Redskins, their next best running back they'll have for the next three varsity seasons. Freshman Romello Harris took the rock that Stephens left behind and showed what he can do with it, as he finished the year with three straight 100-yard games and 905 total yards on the year rushing. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound freshman averaged over five yards a carry and scored 13 touchdowns for the Redskins, who ended the year going undefeated in the city of Tulare with victories over Mission Oak (27-14) and Tulare Western on Thursday (54-21). Harris' breakout night had to have been the 204-yard evening against Stanford OLB commit Kevin Palma and the Mission Oak Hawks on Oct. 26.

--Sunnyside-Fresno's Wingfield twins continued their stamp on their successful Wildcat football career. Errian had three touchdowns, including a 67 and 56-yard run versus Reedley High on Friday. The 5-foot-7 senior finished with 158-yards on 12 carries in the 38-6 rout. Twin brother Eric, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound safety, helped energize a stout Wildcat defense with nine tackles, one fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Eric finishes the season with nine forced fumbles from his safety spot. He was even allowed to call his own blitzes and plays with the rest of Sunnyside's defense. Both players now say interest from the FCS ranks (Sacramento State, South Dakota) and from San Jose State have emerged. Errian has also heard from Arizona and Utah of the PAC-12.

--Finally, on his senior night and against his biggest rival in Selma, Kingsburg defensive tackle Ryan Steele announced where he was going to play his college football at -- he'll travel up Highway 99 and play for Fresno State. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Steele should fit very nicely for a Bulldog defense in need of size and depth in their 3-4 scheme. Steele's bulk helps aid this front unit, but his motor and mean streak makes him a complete hire for the new-look Bulldog defense.