My colleague and I have already introduced you to some of the best prospects in the 2014 class from Texas, Florida and Georgia, so it's only natural that we head out west to California for the next stop on our recruiting trip.
Due in large part to its climate and population, California annually exports some of the best high school football talent in the nation. Recruiting the state has become even more competitive in recent years with the rise of programs like Stanford and Oregon, and Jim Mora Jr.'s arrival at UCLA last season.
Early on, the class of 2014 doesn't look like it will do anything to frustrate California's status as a powerbroker on the high school football recruiting landscape. Cali has you covered whether you want a pro-style quarterback like Keller Chryst, or a dual-threat signal caller like Brandon Dawkins.
Moreover, show-stopping athletes like Michiah Quick and Adoree' Jackson make the Golden State's class even more attractive.
Let's get acquainted with 10 of California's best prospects in the 2014 class and speculate on which programs may be taking the early lead to secure a fax from them in February.
As the starting quarterback for a school that some have dubbed "Celebrity High", it's no surprise that Brandon Dawkins appears to boast a jovial personality on and off of the football field:
"There were times last season I questioned Dawkins' maturity, because I'd see him smiling on the sideline when the situation called for someone growling and being intense. I know now I was mistaken. It's just the way Dawkins handles pressure. He's focused and intense in his own way, and a lot has to do with being born and raised in Hawaii until he was 8."
-Los Angeles Times High School Sports Reporter Eric Sondheimer (via The Los Angeles Times)
Dawkins threw for 2,844 yards and 33 touchdowns as a sophomore en route to becoming a First-Team All-State selection in 2011. In 2012, he threw for over 2,000 yards again while leading Oaks Christian to an 8-3 record.
Dawkins, whose offensive coordinator is former Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen, is also an effective runner with deceptive speed.
At 6'4", 205 pounds, Dawkins has the height and athleticism that spread option teams crave at the quarterback position on the next level. 247Sports reports that Dawkins has offers from Notre Dame and Utah, while Tennessee, Alabama and LSU have all expressed interest.
At 6'3", 220 pounds, Cloy is a natural playmaker at tight end who's comfortable lining up in a traditional three-point stance on the end of the line of scrimmage or split out wide like a receiver.
Indeed, Cloy's game will remind many observers of current Cincinnati Bengals' tight end Orson Charles, a class of 2009 product out of Tampa's Plant High School, and he could very well play exclusively at wide receiver in college depending on where he ends up.
"I definitely want to hear from Michigan," Cloy said early last season (via 247Sports). "I like the school and the type of offense they run. I like the coaches there and I watched them on TV a few times this year. I've always liked the school and they seem to know how to use big-bodied wide-receivers."
When you first turn on a film of Michiah Quick and see him playing wide receiver or returning kicks, his lean frame (6'0", 170 pounds) and big-play ability may remind you a little bit of DeSean Jackson.
However, you'll "quickly" (sorry, had to) forget that comparison as soon as you see Quick fly up out of his backpedal on defense and stick a ball carrier on the perimeter.
I'm going to classify Quick as an athlete for now because I do think that he could be a starting cornerback for a top-level program, but ultimately, he's probably too gifted with the ball in his hands to be a full-time defensive player.
The Central East High product has reportedly narrowed his list down to five schools: Notre Dame, USC, Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon.
Damien Mama is a dominant man-on-man blocker who projects as a guard or right tackle at the college level.
Although Mama is listed at 6'5", 340 pounds, he has enough athleticism and football aptitude to be an effective blocker when he's required to pull and trap.
Mama's most impressive attribute may be his ability to locate and engage additional defenders after he's already taken care of his initial assignment.
Mama, whose cousin is 2014 tight end prospect Tyler Luatua, has offers from well over a dozen schools, including both of last year's BCS National Championship participants, Alabama and Notre Dame (via 247Sports).
While he didn't offer a list of preferred schools, Mama recently told 247 Sports what he's looking for as he sifts through all of their offers:
“I’m mainly trying to find a brotherhood with my football team,” Mama said. “I want to be able to have a good relationship with my coaches and one that I can have for the rest of my life. I just want to be in a genuine environment.”
Blessed with a truly rare combination of size (6'5", 265 pounds) and athleticism, Capital Christian School DE/OT Nifae Lealao may very well be a day one starter for a big-time college program.
Nifae Lealao gets off the ball quickly and he makes a ton of plays in opponents' backfields. He's also effective at using his long arms to disrupt passing lanes the way that J.J. Watt does for the Texans in the NFL. Moreover, like Watt, Lealao is big enough play as a five-technique defensive end without sacrificing the explosiveness that makes him an elite pass rusher.
In fact, Lealao is such a gifted athlete that he's contemplating playing basketball in college too. "I’ve been playing basketball as long as I’ve been playing football,” he told 247Sports back in the fall. “When people ask me what sport I like, I say I play both sports equally. I’m just as committed to football as basketball.”
Stanford appears to be Lealao's early leader amongst a group of offers from schools such as Arizona, Boise State, UCLA, BYU and Wisconsin.
“For a while I always wanted to go to Stanford,” Lealao said (via 247Sports). “That’s always been my dream school, just the balance of academics and athletics they have there. I had an opportunity to step on campus and explore a little bit after I went to camp. Something about it made me feel like I could go there."
Alabama and Notre Dame have reportedly expressed some interest in Lealao as well.
Marquis Ware burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2011 when he had 14 sacks for Los Angeles' Salesian High School.
Listed at 6'2", 215 pounds, Ware blows by offensive tackles off of the edge and looks like he has the ability to be an impact player as a standup 3-4 outside linebacker in college.
For right now, it sounds like Ware sees his future on the defensive side of the ball:
"I like to play defense, and for the most part that's what most schools are recruiting me as." Ware told 247Sports. "Texas A&M likes me at tight end but did say they are open too. But they seem to be pushing tight end more. I'm not committing to one position at this time, but I do like defense if I had to chose."
Ware's drive may be his greatest strength, and he hasn't been shy about what motivates him to succeed on the football field.
According to 247Sports, Oregon State, Washington and UCLA are showing the most interest in Ware. USC and Oregon will surely be factors as well, but I get the feeling that UCLA may end up being the team to beat if Jim Mora Jr. can sell Ware on his NFL pedigree.
Adoree' Jackson is one of the most impressive players I've seen on film from the 2014 class so far. He is electric with the ball in hands as a wide receiver or return man, and he's a threat to take it to the house every time he gets an interception.
Speaking of interceptions, Jackson totaled 11 of them in his sophomore and junior seasons at Serra High School in Gardena.
Jackson, who's originally from Illinois, didn't declare a leader in a recent interview with 247Sports, but he did sound like he was intrigued by Notre Dame's pitch:
They (Notre Dame) like me as an athlete. They like what I can do defensively but they also like me on offense. They said I could play on whatever side of the ball I wanted to, and I really liked hearing that. They're a traditional school and a Catholic school. They're just a really good option and a place I'm going to be looking hard at. (via 247Sports)
Earlier, I told you that La Habra tight end Darrell Cloy reminded me of former Plant High (Tampa, Florida) and current Bengals' tight end Orson Charles on film. In that same spirit, I think La Mirada tight end Tyler Luatua compares favorably to Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez when he was coming out of Bristol Central High School in Connecticut.
Like Hernandez, Luatua makes a lot of plays when he's used like an H-back coming out of the offensive backfield or across the formation on designed quarterback rollouts. Luatua, who's 6'4", 230 pounds, also is a fluid runner who's elusive with the ball in his hands much like Hernandez.
Luatua caught 43 passes for 594 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior.
USC and UCLA will be major players for Luatua, but he recently told 247Sports that Notre Dame and Alabama are in the lead. “Right now I like Notre Dame and Alabama,” Luatua said of his favorites. “There’s other schools that I like but I’m just thinking of schools that use their tight end a lot.”
Luatua's brother Isaac signed with Alabama in 2011.
As he heads into his senior season, Long Beach Poly's John "JuJu" Smith is expected to follow Su'a Cravens as California's next big-time export at safety. Even still, the 6'1", 200 pound athlete told 247Sports that he's getting a few looks from major programs as a wide receiver.
Wherever Smith ends up lining up in college, he'll be equipped with all the tools to make an early impact on campus. He put up great numbers as a junior, totaling 51 tackles and six interceptions on defense, and 49 catches for 752 yards and nine touchdowns on offense. In addition, he reportedly runs a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash (via 247Sports)
Despite all of that, college coaches will probably be most impressed by Smith's maturity, which is evidenced by the emphasis he says he's placing on academics when making his college selection:
“I’m looking for a good all-around program that could prepare me for both the NFL and a potential career as a chiropractor or in sports medicine." Smith told 247Sports. “It’s really important to me that I can study my field of interest at a school. Other than that I’m just going to see how I feel around the coaching staff and being part of the team.”
Keller Chryst moved to the Bay Area from North Carolina in 2011 when his father Geep took a job as quarterbacks coach on Jim Harbaugh's staff with the San Francisco 49ers.
Chryst is 6'3", 215 pounds, and he operated under the center last year more than you typically see prospects like him do in high school. Because of that, Chryst has a poise in the pocket that allows him to stay calm and make his throws, even in the face of pressure.
Chryst threw for 2,489 yards and 28 touchdowns at Palo Alto High School last season. He currently has offers from Stanford, USC and Pittsburgh, but he's said that he plans to visit Georgia and Alabama this summer.
247Sports reports that Chryst attended Stanford's Junior Day on March 2. It will be interesting to see whether Chryst's father's connection to Jim Harbaugh will have any impact on his recruiting process as we move forward.
Stanford and USC both appear to be great fits for Chryst's skill set right now.