Sunday, February 21, 2016


Elijah Blades of Pasedena-John Muir is starting to heat up as a household name on the 2017 recruiting trail, as the tall 6-foot-2 cornerback was offered by San Jose State recently (photo contributed). 
They may be considered underrated compared to most of their Class of 2017 peers, plus they have reeled in most of their offers from mid-major programs. But make no mistake, no one should cross these guys’ no fly zone.

Six different defensive backs – all hailing from well-known college football factories in California - are starting to emerge as household names on the recruiting trail. Three of these prospects have already landed their first set of pledges.

Here’s who to watch as the 2017 recruiting period rolls along:

Elijah Blades, Pasadena-Muir

He’s 6-foot-2 and comes equipped with upper body dominance. Blades controls and throttles opposing receivers at the line and his long wing span allows him knock the ball from the air. San Jose State became offer No. 1 for Blades on Feb. 19.

“I describe my game as a corner as physical, focused, calm and fast,” Blades said.

John Balderas, Bakersfield-Liberty

The Patriots already have one national recruit in defensive lineman Kurtis Brown. Balderas doesn’t look to be far behind him. Like Blades, Balderas is another tall lockdown artist at 6-foot-2. He swatted 13 passes and grabbed five interceptions last year for the CIF Central Section Division I champions. Colorado, Oregon State, Washington State and Fresno State have inquired about him through letters. Balderas knows that the expectations are high for Liberty even after losing megastars Jordan Love to Utah State and Krys Barnes to UCLA.

“We lose a lot of starters, but we have athletes and underclassmen showing a lot of potential at the varsity level,” Balderas said. “I feel that we will kind of be underdogs because people haven't been heard of our guys yet.”

Carl Holmes, Valencia

The son of former Fresno State running back Carl Holmes, the younger incarnation has track and field speed, soft hands and aggression against running backs. He’s reliable in providing the defense an extra run stuffer. Also holds a 3.7 grade point average.

Jalen Cole, Santa Ana-Mater Dei

From a school that’s known for breeding college football talent, Cole may be small in stature (only 5-foot-9), but he’s big on physicality. He’s unafraid to close quickly on the ball and jam at the line. Colorado State and Idaho have offered him.

Adrian “A.J.” Lopez, Fresno-Central

Lopez is keeping this lineage going at Koligian Stadium in the 559: ball-chasing defensive backs. He’s got a strong nose for the football and is supportive against the run. He hasn’t reported his first offer yet, but he’s representing the same high school that produced Oklahoma’s Michiah Quick and Hatari Byrd.

Darren Hall, Rancho Cucamonga

Known as “DH6” to his teammates and coaches, Hall describes himself as a “technician” on the field. He bounces between cornerback and safety and is a bone rattling hitter at both spots. He’s not only got solid instincts for the ball, but is a threat to block punts on special teams. Holds three offers from Utah, Hawaii and Nevada.

Monday, February 15, 2016


St. Bonaventure in Ventura is known for pumping out section and state titles plus creating a college football pipeline for its players. Now, two Bonnie prospects in the 2018 and ’19 class look like the next Seraphs to pile the pledges.

Chuck Wick is emerging as the next marquee St. Bonaventure running back, as the Class of 2018 prospect already has interest from the PAC-12, Mountain West and SEC (photo by Lorenzo Reyna). 

Chuck Wick was only two years old when Ventura-St. Bonaventure running back Lorenzo Booker was shattering state records and bringing home CIF Southern Section titles to his school.

Now, Wick is trying to keep the Seraph running back tradition alive, plus seek Booker’s advice as the Class of 2018 prospect aims to bring a CIF championship back to Telegraph Road with his teammates.

Wick got his feet wet this past season by emerging as a starter on varsity and showed glimpses of stardom, breaking loose on long scoring runs and showing his gritty side on blast and dive plays. Wick said he’s reached out to Booker multiple times for advice and sees him as an inspiration.

“Lorenzo Booker is someone I look up to a lot. He was a hell of a football player,” Wick said. “I just loved watching him play. I always talk to him once a week and he helps me with my speed.”

Wick displayed that speed at the Passing Down 7-on-7 So Cal regional on Saturday, Feb. 13. Wick would take the short throws and then zoom past defenders for first downs. He added another element to his game by hauling down the always tough sideline grabs: by stretching his hands out and keeping his feet in bounds. His crucial plays helped Team Green and Gold finish 2-2 overall in the 26-team tournament at Fontana’s Ralph Lewis Sports Park.

Wick said he’s not the type to let his team down or place himself above the team.

“When I hit the field, I’ll give my 100 percent and never give up. I’m a team player and I love my team. I fight for them anytime I want,” Wick said.

Like Booker and past Seraph running back greats Zach Greene (Arizona), Darrell Scott (Colorado/South Florida) and older brother Shaun (Wyoming), Wick is starting to see his own recruiting period intensify. He said Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oregon and Wyoming have sent him letters.

His dream school, though, is Arizona State because “They have nice jerseys. If it (ASU) was my only offer, I would commit. But I’ll explore other options.”

In the meantime, Wick received this encouragement from Booker:

“Just bring St. Bonnie back,” Wick said. “Just go to the playoffs and get some rings back.”


Kamren Fabiculanan went from freshman on varsity to a tall cornerback to watch in the Class of 2019 at St. Bonnie (photo by Lorenzo Reyna). 

It is one thing to be a freshman on varsity, but try being a varsity rookie at one of the top prep programs known for sending its players to the PAC-12, Southeastern Conference and for luring in section and state championships – all while being considered the face of Ventura County prep football.

That was what Seraphs defensive back Kamren Fabiculanan ran into when he was pulled up to the higher level of competition at St. Bonaventure. But thanks to an off-season training group, his adjustment to the varsity level wasn’t nerve-wrecking.

“It was pretty fun getting the experience to play on varsity,” Fabiculanan said. “I Went to B2G for speed training and got exposed to higher level of competition. I thank them for getting my speed right. Playing with them and their varsity guys got my experience up.”

He quickly surfaced as a prospect to watch in the 2019 class, as the 6-foot-1 Fabiculanan used his size and strength to his advantage when going toe-to-toe against wide receivers. While opposing quarterbacks tried to test his side, Fabiculanan used his long arms to swat the ball from the sky or step up and stuff the run.

While he has some experience at wide receiver, Fabiculanan calls himself a cornerback.

“I’m really good at man-to-man,” Fabiculanan said. “I have my eyes on the receiver’s hips the whole time.”

He cites Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and Jalen Ramsey of Florida State as his favorite athletes because of their competitive nature and aggression.

Speaking of Florida State, the Seminoles recently sent him a school questionnaire, making FSU one of the first schools to show interest in Fabiculanan. He adds Colorado is showing interest as well.

Like his fellow underclassman teammate Wick, Fabiculanan is trying to etch his name in St. Bonnie lore. He used one word to describe Bonnie’s tradition.

“Greatness,” Fabiculanan said. “And I’m trying to be great myself. I’m trying to get my first offer and I’ve been working hard, competing and getting that work in. There’s always room to improve.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Nick Juels is proving that size doesn't matter, as the 5-foot-10, 170-pound quarterback has shown his cannon arm, accuracy and toughness for Grace Brethren High School in Simi Valley (photo by Lorenzo Reyna). 
At 5-foot-10 and 170-pounds, Simi Valley-Grace Brethren quarterback Nick Juels looks like someone who can be easy to pick on.

But don’t let his diminutive stature fool you. Juels displays his scrapper and bomber side when he sets foot on the football field and has a linebacker-like edge to his game, which he gets courtesy of a PAC-12 linebacker.

“The toughness came from growing up with an older brother who plays linebacker for UCLA. He was always beating up on me,” Juels said, smiling.

Jake Juels is who he’s referencing. The elder Juels gets some credit for helping hand the Class of 2017 prospect a mean streak to his game, as the younger Juels sits in the pocket and fires an array of bombs against defenses in South Ventura County, while also getting up quickly from linebacker hits.

He was responsible for two things: tossing 30 touchdown passes and throwing for over 2,100 yards at the underrated powerhouse located on the cross streets of Cherry and Elizondo Avenues.

“My strengths are the fire I play with. I’m not a quarterback who is soft,” Juels said. “I like to get out there, get hit, but get physical, have leadership and play with fire.”

There’s also the mental aspect that comes in handy for Juels. He’s developed a trait for pinpointing a defenses’ weakness – and that comes from spending time with his Bruin brother.

“He’s a smart defensive player. When he would break down film at our house, I would be watching him and the things he would get taught, I would pick up on. That allows me to exploit the weakness of defenses,” Juels said.

Juels hasn’t generated a lot of buzz on the recruiting trail so far. Columbia, Northern Arizona and Georgetown College of the NAIA have sent him letters, while Syracuse invited him to take the plane ride and compete at one of its off-season camps. Still, Juels holds no scholarship offers.

One way Juels is trying to market his name, toughness and natural abilities to college coaches is by latching on with former NFL running back Darick Holmes and his club venture: The Pro Way. Juels is out at Calabasas High slinging the rock to Keyshawn Johnson Jr., Darnay Holmes and competing with highly-recruited quarterback Tristan Gebbia, who holds 15 reported scholarship offers including one from Alabama.

“I’ve been going to the Pro Way for a long time. Just to see it progress with all these kids and talent out here is awesome,” Juels said.

He adds that even though the practice volume among the players intensifies on multiple occasions, it’s still friendly competition between him and the other national recruits.

“All of us know each other and we want the upper hand on one another. We’re pushing each other to be better, though. Iron sharpens iron,” Juels said.

Juels is aiming to use the Pro Way practices to hone his speed, arm strength and mental skills. He’s also aware that he’s not the biggest player on the football field - which means he can be the most targeted. Juels, however, likes the fact that defenders underestimate him.

Said Juels: “It definitely makes me mad. But I wouldn’t change it any other way. It pushes me to push myself that much harder to become better and work harder than anyone else.”

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Newbury Park defensive back Marques Evans is aiming to become the next Class of 2017 prospect to stack the scholarships now that National Signing Day for the 2016 class has wrapped up (photo by Lorenzo Reyna). 
Now that the Class of 2016 has rode off into the college football recruiting sunset, many prospects in the 2017 class are itching to see their name land on a college football program’s radar.

Newbury Park High’s Marques Evans – who hasn’t been offered a scholarship yet – is one of those ’17 players aiming to stack the offers.

One way he advertises his name to recruiters is by latching on with the Pro Way – the club team that’s led by the vision of former NFL running back Darick Holmes and features 2017 studs Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Darnay Holmes.

Evans is seen going toe-to-toe against the dynamic receiving duo; as well as the other Ventura County, Los Angeles County and Central Valley talent that the Pro Way brings out during practices at Calabasas High. Because Evans has the ability to backpedal, press and cover against the Pro Way’s top receivers, it gets him to send this message to college coaches who are looking for a cover corner:

“If I can go against them, I can go against anybody,” Evans said. “They’re the best in the Class of 2017 and I hope I can be as good as them. Going against them each day is a blessing.”

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback finds himself watching his peers pile the pledges - plus witness his sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising already receive offers from Arizona State, Arizona, Houston and Michigan.

Evans, though, doesn’t sound impatient about his own recruiting process.

“I’m just waiting for my time,” Evans said. “Yeah, I feel like I’m a little overlooked, but it gives me motivation to work harder.”

Evans said he’s in contact with some PAC-12 schools. Saying: “I’m in contact with UCLA and Washington right now. UCLA coaches direct message me on Twitter.” Evans adds that Oregon State has shown interest.

He credits the Pro Way and the atmosphere Holmes provides during practices for helping mold Evans into the player that he is today.

“The Pro Way is honestly one of the best things to happen to me,” Evans said. “I’ve been working with Darick since I was seven. He’s like an uncle to me. He’s part of the reason why I’m here today along with the other coaches. I would highly recommend the Pro Way to any guy in Ventura County.

“They break you down and build you back up,” Evans continued. “Right now, I’m working on getting a lot more aggressive because that’s one of my weak points. Just using my arms and length to my advantage against these receivers.”

He’s not just lacing up his cleats right now to prepare for his senior year or make his recruiting push, but he finds the time to watch highlight videos of his two favorite NFL cornerbacks: Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers and Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs.

“With Josh Norman, I find my game to be really similar to his. With Marcus Peters, he’s a man coverage dude and I see myself as a man dude,” Evans said. “And with Norman, he’s a ball hawk. He’s always around the ball and I see myself as someone who’s a ball hawk.”

During Friday night games in the 805’s south region, Evans emerged as the Panthers’ top island corner; covering and hovering over receivers and forcing opposing quarterbacks to throw the football away from his side.

With his size and overall skillset, it’s bewildering for some people to see an offer-less Evans. Yet Evans is confident that he’ll be the next Panther and Pro Way prospect to break out during the new recruiting period.

 Said Evans: “I’ve just got to stay patient. My time is going to come.”


Blake Walker (No. 75) was one of many Central Section NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision signings on National Signing Day, as the 6-foot-8 tackle signed with San Jose State on Wednesday, Feb. 3 (photo contributed). 
In the final hour of the 2016 recruiting season, Blake Walker of Central Valley Christian (Visalia) finally became a national recruit – and ended an 11-year dry spell at his school.

The lofty offensive tackle, who wound up with late scholarship offers from San Jose State and Azusa Pacific, ended his late recruiting chase on Wednesday, Feb. 3, by signing his letter of intent with the Spartans. The stroke of his pen signified that Walker became the Cavaliers’ first NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision signing since Ryan Colburn chose Fresno State in 2005.

“I'm really excited to get the opportunity to play at SJSU. It's something I've worked hard for… for a very long time,” Walker said. “I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to play at the DI level. It really took a team effort which helped me get to where I'm at today.”

That team he’s referring to were on hand during his ceremony inside the CVC gymnasium. All of them not only witnessed the 6-foot-8, 303-pound tackle sign his life away, but said a prayer with him before joining the Spartans’ 2016 class.

Walker was known in the Central Section for using his size and tree trunk-like arms to bulldoze defensive linemen into the grass. He said the SJSU offensive line coaches were who reached out to him.

“They made me feel comfortable and excited about going to SJSU,” Walker said. “I was invited up for a game and I liked that the coaches showed us around. They (SJSU) have nice facilities and I felt good walking out on to the field for pregame.”

Walker added that he likes the fact that he’s a four hour drive away from home, that way his family can watch a home game and he won’t have to travel cross country to recharge himself after the season. Walker hopes to obtain a business degree from SJSU and dive into his family business. 

He had to overcome playing for a school that not only endured a long drought with producing an FBS signing, but also a program playing in the shadow of Tulare/Kings County kingpins El Diamante, Tulare Union, Mission Oak, Dinuba, Hanford and Lemoore.

Walker, though, is thankful he got a chance to wear the CVC colors.

Said Walker: “I enjoyed going to a small school. It was always a fun challenge to compete against schools that were much larger than us and walk away with a victory. But being from a small school you don't get a lot of recognition. The last two summers I spent a lot of time going to college football camps to get noticed. I do want to thank God for giving me this opportunity and all the coaches who helped me get better in every way possible.” 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) wide receiver/linebacker Chris Paz decided that home is where his heart is, as the Panther standout took Fresno State's preferred walk-on offer and signed his letter of intent with the Bulldogs on National Signing Day (photo by Lorenzo Reyna). 
It may have been a preferred walk-on offer that got extended to him, but San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) wide receiver/linebacker Chris Paz decided that Fresno State was his top destination all along.

Paz - who shined as a tall, physical and versatile two-way standout during his three-year varsity career and got courted by the likes of Hawaii, Cornell and Washington State – took the Bulldogs’ pledge and signed his Letter of Intent with the local university on National Signing Day, which took place on Wednesday.

For the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Paz, suiting up for the Bulldogs becomes a childhood fantasy fulfilled.

“I've always dreamed of being a Bulldog ever since I was a kid,” Paz said. “I used to go to their games all the time.”

Paz, who was born in Parlier and played through the Reedley Buccaneers’ youth football system, adds that the new coaches coming to Fresno State was a key factor in his decision. Two of those coaches will get a chance to teach Paz the college football ways: new tight ends coach Joe Bernardi and offensive coordinator Eric Keisau.

“I love the coaching staff and the new coaches they're bringing in,” Paz said. “I loved the new offensive coach Kiesau. He's very excited about me and I love the position that he wants me to play (inside slot receiver).”

Paz’s signing gave Fresno State a significant recruiting victory from its own backyard. The 3-9 Bulldogs wound up fending off a Mountain West rival that actually offered him a full-ride scholarship, an Ivy League program that recognized him for his grades and a PAC-12 powerhouse that made a run at him late. He joins another 559 star on the cross streets of Bulldog Lane and Shaw Avenue: Hanford High athlete Juwuane Hughes, who signed his LOI with the ‘Dogs on NSD.

Despite the dismal 2015-16 season and the late hiring of the new assistant coaches, Paz is enamored by Fresno State’s 2016 class.

“I love our recruiting class. We have a lot of guys who can help win us some championships,” Paz said.

Also, Paz doesn’t forget about his humble beginnings. He’s reminded that where he comes from, his community isn’t considered the biggest hotbed for talent.

“Being a kid from Parlier/Reedley, I'm truly blessed to have this opportunity,” Paz said. “Where I’m from, not many kids make it out to play division one college football. It just shows the younger guys that anything is possible with hard work and patience. It's crazy to think that my dreams have come true. No matter where you're from, follow your dreams.”