Monday, June 29, 2015


Kevin Howell burns defensive backs at wide receiver and locks down wide receivers at cornerback for Thousand Oaks High School. Howell, Class of 2016, holds six scholarship offers (photo by Lorenzo J. Reyna). 
Kevin Howell, Thousand Oaks High School’s top wide receiver/defensive back, received this assist from his star quarterback Max Gilliam during the spring: a rise in his own recruiting period. 

The day college football programs started to offer Gilliam scholarships was the day the Lancer quarterback opened a door for Howell to receive his own collegiate interest. Howell, who led the Lancers with 72 catches, 932 yards and 11 touchdowns on offense and five interceptions on defense, is currently sitting on six offers. His highly-coveted teammate Gilliam also holds six scholarships and committed to Cal in April 2015.

“Ever since Max got offered, a lot of other guys (at Thousand Oaks) have gotten interest. It definitely helped me out too because a lot of colleges started to look at who Max was throwing the ball to,” Howell said.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Class of 2016 prospect holds pledges from Nevada, Navy, New Mexico, Montana, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington. As of now, he doesn’t have any school on his short list or has any plans to announce his commitment.

“Not yet,” Howell said. “I’m just trying to absorb it all and get ready for the season.”

Howell led the Lancers in three receiving categories (catches, yards, touchdowns) and was tops in interceptions with five last season (photo contributed). 

While he doubles as a playmaking receiver and ball snatching defensive back, Howell hopes to continue his career in the secondary. Recently, Howell showed his defensive back skills in front of the Cal Golden Bear coaching staff during a satellite camp held on June 28 at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village.

Howell said that most college coaches are trying to recruit him to play in their defensive backfield.

“The only school that’s offered me as an athlete is Northern Arizona. Everyone else is recruiting me as a defensive back, which is fine. I like being by myself and locking up receivers,” Howell said.

One of his favorite NFL players is Arizona Cardinals star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who Howell said “He’s a wild player. He’s good, he’s fast and he gets to the ball.”

The first 40 seconds of Howell’s highlight reel reveals a hard-hitting enforcer and ball hawk. Howell – who plays both free safety and cornerback – zeroes in on a wide receiver, sinks his shoulder and collides with his opponent like a truck slamming into a car. When he plays off of a receiver by seven yards, Howell stays in his zone, keeps his focus on where the ball is going, then snatches the interception and becomes a six-point threat with the ball in his hand.

Howell, though, is Gilliam’s top weapon in the aerial game. Howell has lit up cornerbacks as a deep threat and red zone option. He uses a plant-and-go that gets cornerbacks turning themselves and stumbling back while Howell dashes to the end zone. Inside the opposing 20-yard line, Howell eludes press coverages, turns for the ball and adjusts his body to haul in the touchdown grab.

The Howell-Gilliam collaboration helped contribute to an average of 35.9 points per game for the Lancers’ offense. Howell said he believes that this year’s Lancers have added muscle for the 2015-16 campaign.

“We’re a lot stronger as a team because our weight lifting coach pushes us a lot harder,” Howell said.  “We’ve been getting a lot better.”

There’s no rest for Howell even though his team has to take a break due to the CIF summer dead period, which officially went into effect on June 28 and ends July 19. Howell plans to use that time to visit the schools that have him on its radar.

With the chemistry he has with Gilliam, plus the recruiting aid from his teammate and future Cal Golden Bear, would Howell consider joining his quarterback at Berkeley if a scholarship comes from the PAC-12 University?

“I don’t know. I have to think about that one. I have to think that one over with my family and coaches,” Howell said, smiling. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Lawson Hall of Narbonne High School in Harbor City took a visit to Reno, NV., and was so impressed with the University of Nevada campus, that he decided to commit to a scholarship offer from the Wolf Pack (photo contributed). 
Lawson Hall will soon be “Battle Born,” as the Narbonne High School (Harbor City) Class of 2016 linebacker announced his verbal commitment to the University of Nevada-Reno on June 25.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound linebacker – who held two other scholarship offers from Colorado State and Fresno State – said his unofficial visit to the UNR campus on June 23 helped cement his choice to leave California for the Battle Born state once his prep career wraps up. 

“The trip I took definitely sealed it for me,” Hall said. “As soon as I arrived at the campus, Coach (Ricky) Thomas greeted me with a schedule on how the visit was going to go. The campus was beautiful, along with the facilities and renovations they have in place there.”

“Battle Born” isn’t just a nickname describing the state of Nevada, but it’s also the popular hashtag used on Twitter to describe Wolf Pack football. Hall used the hashtag to confirm his commitment to his Twitter followers. 

Hall included that the UNR coaches were approachable and honest. Adding: “The coaches were straight up with me and answered every question I had before I could ask them.”

Another factor into his decision was the city of Reno.

“It’s ‘The biggest little city in the world.’ I love the atmosphere and environment surrounding the campus,” Hall said.

Hall (left) used the 7-on-7 tournament season to build on his coverage skills. He played on Gamechangers L.A. alongside another national recruit at linebacker, Alec Stevenson of Calabasas High (photo by Lorenzo J. Reyna)

The incoming senior is being recruited to play the SAM nickel linebacker position, sometimes referred to as the “Star” linebacker in a defensive scheme. His responsibilities will be to play near the line of scrimmage, stuff the run and frequently drop into coverage while covering the tight end or an inside wide receiver.

Hall’s highlight film conveys the notion that he could be a future ball-hawking linebacker for the Wolf Pack’s 4-3 scheme. During the first minute of his reel, Hall displays an ability to focus on the quarterback's eyes, stay in his neutral spot, then position himself to grab the interception with both hands. Hall tied for second on the Gauchos with three picks during their 10-4 season.

He not only brings takeaway skills to the football field, but also gives the Gaucho defense a rush on the outside. Hall blitzes the edge and wrecks the running game. He’ll take on two blockers during a blitz but still slices through the opposition to blow up the run. He also plays mind games with blockers by coming up to the line and threatening to blast through a gap, but then switches to another gap and bulldozes his way into the opposing backfield; leaving blockers dazed, confused and chasing down Hall.

Hall - who's being recruited to play the SAM linebacker position - helps lead a nationally stacked defensive roster at Narbonne High (photo contributed).

He’s among eight national recruits filling up the Narbonne senior class. Some of his teammates include all-purpose running back Sean Riley who committed to Arizona, safety Jamal Hicks who’s getting courted by Mountain West schools, offensive tackle Alex Akingbulu who holds offers from Michigan, UCLA and Utah and wide receiver Devaughn Cooper, who holds six offers including pledges from Michigan and Washington.

“The level of talent we have at Narbonne is ridiculous,” Hall said. “We have lots of young dudes on our team who contribute to our success.”

Hall praises his head coach at NHS for helping him out the most during the recruiting period.

“Coach Manny Douglas helps a ton and even got us a recruiting coordinator (for our school),” Hall said. “He helps take the Narbonne brand further.”

Hall and his Gaucho teammates are 71 days away from their huge season opener against traditional state monster Long Beach Poly on Sept. 4. The Jackrabbits finished last season at 11-2 and has a history of winning section titles while pumping out NCAA Division I prospects in the process.

Hall is not only looking to bring a Southern Section title home to Narbonne in 2015-16, but says he’s not planning to de-commit from the Wolf Pack anytime soon.

“I’m 100% committed right now,” Hall said. “Recruiting can get crazy at times. Coaches always keep their options open just like us recruits, but Nevada offered everything I was looking for in a program. I’m really excited about what coach (Brian) Polian is doing.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


J.J. Wills of Clovis High received his first scholarship pledge from the University of Idaho on Wedensday, June 24, after impressing the Vandal coaches at their one day camp in Moscow, ID (photo contributed). 
J.J. Wills traveled from Clovis, Calif., to Moscow, ID, with the hope that his wide receiving skills can haul in his first scholarship offer.

Wills will now come home from his airplane ride with his first pledge in his hands.

The 6-foot, 170-pound Class of 2016 wide receiver – who’s the son of former UCLA running back Shawn Wills – received offer No. 1 from the Vandals out of the Sun Belt Conference after he dazzled the coaches at their one day football camp held at the Moscow campus on June 24.

Wills, who led the 8-5 Cougars last season with 49 catches, 623 yards and 8 touchdowns, said that he was offered in person and can now let out a deep exhale.

“Their coaches are awesome. They were excited during and after the camp,” Wills said. “There are no words that describes the weight that’s been lifted off of me.”

Wills adds that he’s developed a bond with Vandals linebacker coach Eric Brown, who once played linebacker at Fresno State.

“Coach Brown has been very open with me about the process,” Wills said.

Wills had been clawing for his first offer since the winter of 2013. He started to attend different tournaments and camps during that time and hasn’t stopped since.

Wills tries to maintain control of the football during a Feb. 2014 scrimmage at Atwater High School during the club 7-on-7 season (photo by Lorenzo J. Reyna). 

Wills has competed at Passing Down, the Pylon National 7-on-7 Tournament and took unofficial visits to Nevada, Fresno State, Eastern Washington, Portland State, Stanford and UCLA. Wills also participated at the Rivals Camp on May 10 and received an invite to the Nike Opening Regional held in Oakland on May 17.

He said that before he landed his first offer, there was a slight vexation on his end with when he would get his first pledge and who it would be from.

“There was a little,” Wills said. “But I had to focus on the things that I could control. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.”

Wills is a zone coverage nightmare at the revered Lamonica Stadium in Clovis. He locates open cracks in the secondary, sprints through that crevasse and then defeats his defenders through the deep pass.

Against man-to-man schemes, Wills has shown a quick plant-and-go which gets him blazing past a cornerback then turns upfield for the touchdown.

Wills first flew into Seattle with his family to attend the Idaho camp. They then took a rental car to Moscow so he can put his skills to work in front of the Vandal coaches.

Shawn, who graduated from Hanford High in 1988 then commenced to a career in both football and baseball at UCLA, said he got emotional when his son finally got what he’s been striving for.

“I’m excited. I actually teared up,” Shawn said. “He’s been working for this since he played for the Clovis Cowboys in the sixth grade. Now we see the fruit of the labor.”

The father knows the recruiting process well, since he was a star athlete during his prep career before getting recruited to Westwood. He said the percentage of players landing an athletic scholarship is small.

“A lot of good athletes don’t get scholarships. But the fact he got offered is exciting to me,” Shawn said.

Before the Vandals offered Wills with the opportunity to play in the Kibbie Dome, he was mainly hearing from UC Davis, Cal Poly, Fresno State, Nevada, Wyoming, Hawaii and some Ivy League schools about the possibility of continuing his education at those institutions while playing football.

Wills said he won’t be the only Cougar getting offered.

Stated Wills: “I know on Feb. 4 (National Signing Day), there’ll be more: Coltin Velasquez (wide receiver), Tanner Rice (linebacker) and Josh Hokit (running back/defensive back).”

He concluded that he doesn’t want to rush his decision.

“I’m not going to commit to anyone yet,” Wills said. “I want to talk to my parents and pray about it. But, I really like Idaho and I can see myself playing there.” 

Monday, June 22, 2015


The 2015 Passing Down season concluded with its Southern California Junior High Tournament on June 20, with Rhare Breed winning the title in an exhilarating 12-6 double overtime victory over Team AIGA.

Rhare Breed's Noah Hollins - who will be a freshman at Morningside High School in Inglewood this fall - snatched the football from the right side of the field and returned it for the game-winning pick six.

Rhare Breed also was led by quarterback Jayden Daniels (future Cajon-San Bernardino quarterback) and tall, athletic, 6-foot-6 wide receiver Darren Jones (future Upland wideout), who was a mismatch throughout the day with his size and hands.

Below are some of the images from the tournament held at the Ralph Lewis Sports Park in Fontana (all photos by Lorenzo J. Reyna):