California's Central Valley—the agricultural heart of the country—has a long, storied tradition of high school football. It is even depicted in the movie "The Best of Times," starring Robin Williams and Kurt Russell.
From former greats such as Frank Gifford, Daryle Lamonica, and Louis Wright, to current NFL stars like Lorenzo Neal, Joey Porter, and Ryan Mathews, the Central Valley has produced some of the best players in football.
Bakersfield High School, one of the area's oldest and most storied programs, has more wins and state championships than any other team in California. Long Beach Poly, who they play in next season's opening game, is second.
Currently, in the one-hundred mile trek from Bakersfield to Fresno, you will find a handful of college football's top 2011 recruits (including California's top quarterback and running back, according to Scout.com).
Here is an early look...
Cody Kessler (USC)
Kessler exudes confidence on the field and has all of the tools necessary to become USC's next great quarterback.
Scouts love his size, toughness, strong arm, and accuracy.
They also love his athletic ability.
The last two years he was named all-state in football and basketball. Last season, he averaged 29 points, eight rebounds, and five assists per game for Centennial's hoops team.
CalHiSports honored him as California's 2009-2010 Division 1 athlete of the year.
Rivals ranks Kessler as the second best quarterback in the nation for 2011 and Scout has him in their top 10.
After he gave his verbal commitment, head coach Lane Kiffin called him a "spitting image" of former Trojan star Mark Sanchez.
Playing for USC is his dream.
Brendon Bigelow (California)
Scouts couldn't wait to see what type of football player Bigelow would turn into after he set the California freshman 100m record with a run of 10.62 seconds.
Three years later, he has become one of the nation's top 10 running back recruits, according to Rivals and Scout.
There was much anticipation to watch him go up against De'Anthony Thomas at the state track finals this spring, but he suffered a torn ACL in his team's final football game.
Before the injury, he ran a 10.57 100m, the fourth fastest time in the nation for his class.
On the field, Bigelow is electrifying with the ball in his hands (check out his highlights on YouTube). If you have an angle on him, it doesn't matter. He will outrun you to the end zone.
Scouts also love his hands, balance, and ability to make tacklers miss.
As a junior, Bigelow rushed the ball 87 times for 1000 yards, caught the ball 23 times for 327 yards, and scored 18 touchdowns.
If he were healthy, there would be no question about his game. But even so, his knee is almost back to 100 percent and he will be cleared to resume all football activities before summer practices begin.
At this time he is committed to Washington, but considered a soft verbal.
He also has offers on the table from USC, Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal, and Tennessee. However, most expect him to remain loyal to the Huskies.
UPDATE: Has change his commitment to Cal.
Jared Norris (Utah)
Scouts believe that Norris, who is very instinctive and excels at stopping the run, could turn into a great college football player. He has deceptive speed and room to still fill out.
Last season, he recorded 96 total tackles.
Norris also has decent hands as a tight end and teamed with Kessler, he will lead a very tough Centennial team.
Rivals and Scout both rank him as one of the nation's Top 25 inside linebackers.
He is committed to the University of Utah. May have the highest ceiling of any player from the Valley.
Cody Temple (USC)
Temple, one of the biggest and strongest players in the valley, has been a dominant player since his sophomore year.
Last season, he had 109 tackles, seven sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Scouts love his size, quickness and agility off the snap. He also plays with a nasty demeanor. Every play, he wants to beat the guy across from him.
At the UCLA camp in early June, he did a great job as an interior offensive lineman and may have just as good of a future there.
Rivals gave him three stars and Scout ranked him as the 64th best defensive tackle recruit for 2011.
He is committed to USC.
B.J. Kelley (Oregon)
Kelley, the second Central High product on the list, has the ability to produce early at the next level. Scouts love his height and leaping ability. He is a dangerous deep threat.
Last season, he caught 35 passes for 758 yards and seven touchdowns.
In early July at the Passing Down Elite 7-on-7 camp, where many of the top players on the west coast converge, Kelly was named overall MVP.
At this point, he isn't a bad route runner, but he needs improvement. It would also be nice to see him put on five to ten pounds.
ESPN ranks him as the nation's 30th best receiver and Rivals and Scout both gave him three stars.
He has offers from Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, and Washington State.
More are expected in the near future.
UPDATE: Committed to Oregon.
Shaquille Moseley (undecided)
Moseley is considered one of the top linebackers on the west coast and has physically dominated his opponents at camps this off-season.
He is solid at the line of scrimmage or in space and scouts love his agility, quickness, and knack for making plays in the backfield. Few like to hit more.
Rivals gave him three stars and Scout ranks him as the nation's 46th best outside linebacker.
Arizona State is his only offer, but other Pac-10 schools are interested.
Hank Hobson (Arizona)
Hobson comes from an athletic family. His father is a former major league baseball player and his older brother is one of the Toronto Blue Jays' top young prospects.
According to scouts, he has the prototypical size and athletic ability to become a very good outside linebacker at the next level. He can stuff the run and cover backs and tight ends.
Currently, ESPN ranks Hobson as the 25th best outside linebacker in the country and Rivals rated him as a three-star player.
He is committed to Arizona.
Mercy Maston (San Jose State)
Maston, a young man who has come on strong over the past few months, breaks the cycle of Edison (Fresno) producing the best cornerbacks in the valley each year for what has seemed like a decade.
Last season, he had 90 tackles, eight passes defended, a sack, and an interception.
Scouts love his fluid hips and smoothness while moving around the defensive backfield. He also has the speed and prototypical size major colleges covet. Right now, he just needs more experience.
Scout.com ranks him as the 59th best cornerback in the nation.
He has offers from UCLA, Arizona State, Washington State, and Colorado State.
UPDATE: Following legacy of his uncle, Louis Wright (70's NFL All-Decade team), and heading to San Jose State.
Kyrie Wilson (Fresno State)
Wilson is one of the area's best all-around athletes and has every tool to be great at the next level.
Although he is raw, scouts love his combination of size, strength, and speed. He flies around on the field with power and agility, just needing more quality experience to fulfill his potential.
Several months ago at the USC Nike football training camp, he was named the "break-out performer" among linebackers.
He is also an outstanding basketball player.
Rivals rated him as a three-star linebacker.
Committed to Fresno State after debacle with University of Oregon.
His stock is also going up.
Robert Johnson (Utah)
This season, Johnson looks to put up big numbers on the ground despite having to share the backfield. Along with Bigelow, Kelley, and top 2012 recruits Mike Baker (quarterback) and Tee Shepard (cornerback), he makes Central one California's most talented teams.
Scouts love his combination of size and speed. He runs with a natural forward lean that makes him tough to bring down. He also has good hands out of the backfield.
In terms of talent, some have compared him to former valley product Ryan Mathews when he was coming out of West High in Bakersfield, but he must have the same work ethic and desire to be the best.
Scout.com lists him as a three-star running back.
He currently has offers on the table from LSU, Arizona State, Fresno State, and Eastern Michigan.
Donavon Lewis (Fresno State)
Lewis, who's older brother plays for Fresno State, broke onto the scene with 68 tackles, 12 sacks, and one forced fumble in 2008 as a sophomore.
He is a relentless rusher with good athleticism, but scouts believe his best asset is his frame.
Last season, he registered 52 tackles and seven sacks.
With a lot of room to develop physically, many believe he will be a very good college player.
Scout.com gave him thee stars and ranked him as a top 100 defensive end in the country.
Washington State, Fresno State, and Nevada are the first schools to extend him a scholarship offer.
Kendall Brock (Nevada)
Brock is a stout, powerful runner that led Clovis West to a valley championship as a sophomore.
Last season, he ran for over 1,800 yards.
Scouts really like Brock's combination of speed, strength, and agility. However, they are most impressed by his ability to catch the ball.
At the next level, have heard scouts mention he may project into a slot receiver. Some say he reminds them of Fresno State's Devon Wylie.
Before committing to Nevada in late July, Badger Sport called him the best running back on the west coast that had not received an offer. Underrated, in my opinion.
Andre Heidari (USC)
Heidari is a good all-around athlete and one of the nation's top kickers. He has everything college programs look for.
Scouts like his accuracy, but he is best known for his booming kick-offs. He had a 92 percent touchback rate last season.
This spring and summer, he's arguably been the best kicker at the country's most prestigious kicking events.
He is committed to USC.
Fred Wilson (UNLV)
Wilson really made a name for himself over the summer at Cameron Worrell's Passing Down camp. He emerged as one of the top cover men in attendance.
Last season for West, he had 74 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble.
Scouts like his size for the position and Worrell compared him to Pro Bowl corner Charles Tillman, his former teammate with the Bears.
Scout.com gave him three stars and ranked him as one of the nation's top 100 cornerbacks.
Could emerge as a major threat on offense as a senior.
UNLV is his only offer, but other schools are showing interest.
Aarin Smith (undecided)
Smith has developed as much as any player in the valley over the past year.
Last season, before transferring to Bullard (from Central), he was primarily used as a stand-up defensive end.
Scouts love his speed, long wingspan, and athletic ability. He also has fluid hips in pursuit and isn't afraid of contact. However, if he isn't able to gain weight, a move to safety could be in order.
In May, Smith was MVP of the linebackers at the Stanford Nike football training camp.
Rivals ranks Smith as the 45th best outside linebacker recruit in the nation. They also rank him as California's 62nd best player.
Right now, he has offers from Connecticut and Eastern Michigan.
His stock is going up.
K.C. Pearce (San Jose State)
Pearce, one of the valley's fastest players, is a tall, lanky receiver with tremendous leaping ability.
Last season for Redwood, he caught 34 passes for 803 yards and eight touchdowns.
According to scouts, he has all of the physical tools to be a great receiver. However, he isn't very polished and his route running needs a ton of improvement.
He is committed to San Jose State.
Doug Blacksill (San Jose State)
Blacksill is a tall, quick offensive lineman and has the frame to carry 300 pounds at the college level.
Last season, along with Temple, he played a big roll in knocking Central out of the playoffs.
He was also named MVP of the National Underclassmen Combine: Ultimate 100 West camp.
At this point, he just needs to add muscle and refine his blocking technique.
Scout.com lists him as a two-star center.
He is committed to San Jose State.
Dillon Root (Fresno State)
Root is one of the best athletes in California. He finished twelfth in the state in the 100m and sixth in the long jump.
Last season at Redwood, he rushed for 1,300 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.
Scouts love his speed and agility. When you get him in space, he is truly at his best. It can be tough to get a hand on him.
He is committed to Fresno State.
Garrett Steele (undecided)
Steele is one of the best running backs in the valley, but his future may be at safety. Scouts love his size, speed, and footwork for the position. He also has great hands.
Last season at Kingsburg High, he teamed with top 2010 quarterback recruit Tyler Bray (Tennessee).
On offense, he had 1,006 yards rushing, 427 yards receiving, and 27 touchdowns. Defensively, he had 47 tackles and two interceptions.
His father (and coach) played for USC.
Offers should be coming soon as he is garnering attention from WAC schools.
The only question is what position he will play.
Brian Burrell (undecided)
Burrell is a winner, leader, and student of the game. Scouts really like his athletic ability and strong arm.
Last season, he had 1,489 yards passing, 915 yards rushing, and 32 total touchdowns.
The most important thing Burrell needs to improve on is his footwork. It leads to a breakdown in mechanics that he won't be able to get away with at the next level.
Scout.com lists him as a two-star quarterback.
He currently has offers from Idaho and Utah State.
Will attend Bakersfield JC for the next two seasons.
Jerry Haymon (undecided)
Haymon is one of the strongest players in the valley. At this level, he is able to jam most receivers he will face at the line of scrimmage.
Scouts really like his size, speed, and toughness.
This summer he has been working hard at camps and passing tournaments to get better in coverage—the area in which he needs the most improvement.
He also plays quarterback for Clovis East.
Scout.com lists him as a two-star player.
His only offer is from Eastern Michigan, but he's drawing interest from WAC and Mountain West schools.
Tevin Ivy (undecided)
After an impressive sophomore season, Ivy missed most of 2009 with a knee injury. When healthy, he's one of the valley's best two-way threats.
Last year, in three and a half games, he had 277 yards rushing, 205 yards receiving, and four touchdowns. Defensively, he had eight tackles and one interception.
On the field he has good speed, but isn't what you would call a burner. However, he is as quick and fluid as they come.
Scouts love his versatility. They believe he could play running back, wide receiver, or cornerback at the next level. Realistically, though, he will probably end up on defense.
He has no offers, but is receiving interest.
Schools want to see how his knee performs first.
(in alphabetical order)
Chinook Anderson, ATH, Central (Fresno)
Good athlete. Will play a big role in the Grizzlies' success.
Benton Bray, TE, Kingsburg HS
Big, strong kid at 6'5'' and 235 pounds. Cousin of Tennessee freshman quarterback Tyler Bray.
Zach Boman, OLB, Clovis North (Fresno)
Big, athletic linebacker. Strong against the run and getting in the backfield. One of the Central Section's best.
Blake Burnard, DT, Frontier (Bakersfield)
Strong kid. Force in the middle of the defense.
Grant Campbell, LB, Garces (Bakersfield)
Listed as a linebacker to watch heading into 2011 by ESPN Rise.
Ernest Carter, ATH, Central (Fresno)
A real spark plug at only 5'5''. Exciting player to watch.
Quentin Cheatham, RB, Wasco HS
Plays for a smaller school, but puts up big numbers. Productive back.
Anthony Davis, DT, Bakersfield HS
All-league performer since sophomore season.
Taylor Ferguson, DE, Clovis HS
Tough kid with a good motor. Will anchor the Cougars' defensive front.
Carlos Flores, LB, Washington Union (Fresno)
Productive linebacker. Called up to varsity as a freshman.
Justin Gallegos, S, Clovis North (Fresno)
Athletic player. Competitive at Cameron Worrell's Passing Down camp.
Jujuan Hammond, WR, Bullard (Fresno)
One of the valley's most productive receivers last season.
Christian Hill, DE, Sanger HS
6'4" and 215 pounds. Also plays wide receiver. Still Growing. Lots of potential. Committed to San Jose State.
Akkeli Holley, ATH, East (Bakersfield)
Undersized, but can do it all on the field.
Walter Hunt, RB, Bakersfield HS
Should emerge as BHS's top rushing threat. Tough runner who is on the smaller side, but has some speed.
Troy Jackson, OL, Kingsburg HS
Tough, physical mauler. Good on both sides of the ball.
Shawn Johnson, RB, Centennial (Bakersfield)
Played behind a good running back last season, but could emerge as one of the valley's best as a senior. Committed to Montana State.
Jose Jolly, CB, Clovis North (Fresno)
Good cover skills. Standout at Gridiron Football Academy Combine.
Bryson Keeton, DB, Ridgeview (Bakersfield)
One of Bakersfield's best athletes. Also, productive running back. Committed to University of Nevada.
Josh Legorreta, QB, Frontier (Bakersfield)
Looks to improve on big 2009 season. One of the area's best passers.
George Macias, TE, Clovis East (Fresno)
6'5'' with good hands. His coach called him the best tight end he has ever coached.
Phillip Martin, MLB/OL, Redwood (Visalia)
Big, physical linebacker at 6'1'' and 225 pounds. Solid against the run.
Tim Martinez, WR, Centennial (Bakersfield)
Solid, unspectacular receiver. Good hands. Good route runner.
Seth Moranda, ATH, Buchanan (Fresno)
Will start at quarterback after leading the Bears in receiving last season.
Todd Nagamine, MLB, Buchanan (Fresno)
Tough kid with good size. Best against the run.
Gerald Nutt, DB, Clovis West (Fresno)
At 6'2'' has great hight for a DB. One of the best in Fresno. Committed to Fresno State.
Mason Ruiz, TE/DE, San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno)
At 6'4'' and 250 pounds, has prototypical size for the next level. Raw.
Tyler Schleicher, K, Stockdale (Bakersfield)
Along with Heidari, gives Stockdale the valley's best kicking game.
Aaron Sing, RB, El Diamante (Visalia)
One of the top athletes in the section. Threat running and receiving.
Jalen Sykes, ATH, Garces (Bakersfield)
Shifty, elusive runner. Maybe a better defensive back.
Laqueses Taylor, DT, Edison (Fresno)
6'2'' and 275 pounds. Has potential at the next level, but raw.
Mark Van Kopp, OL, Bakersfield HS
Strong, tough kid. Will anchor BHS's offensive line.
Donnell Vercher, S, Clovis HS
Tough, athletic player. Will lead his team's defense.
Stefan Watson, DB, Clovis East (Fresno)
Good height. One of the more talented defensive backs in the area.
DeShaunte Webber, RB, Frontier (Bakersfield)
Fast runner with decent power. On the smaller side, but still one of Bakersfield's best. Solid defensive back.
Clayton Whitehead, WR, Clovis West (Fresno)
Strong receiver. One of Fresno's best.
John Winston, LB, Clovis West (Fresno)
Instinctive player. Loves to hit. Defensive MVP of 2009 Passing Down camp.