One of the newest beat writers on the job in Bear Territory is Grant Marek of Cal Rivals, who has done a good job of identifying talent for his site (where's a ManBearCal when you need one?). We took some time to chat with him about the Bears and what's happening with the new coaching staff on the recruiting trail.
Are we seeing increased targeting of high-GPA, high-SAT recruits who seem likely to handle the rigors of the Berkeley academics?
It's reflected in the current class: Of the Bears' seven commits, only one has below a 3.0 (new safety commit Quentin Tartabull), and three have a 3.7 or better (safety Koa Farmer, running back Vic Enwere, and quarterback Luke Rubenzer).
It's reflected in the current list of offerees (and in particular top targets): at the end of the Spring Evaluation period we put together a "Stock Watch" with a list of the Top-10 2014 recruits who were buying Cal. The list included guys like Trevon Lee (4.0 GPA), Adarius Pickett (3.7), Joey Alfieri (4.3), John Plattenburg (3.4), Troy Vincent Jr. (3.5), and Jeffery Mead (3.8).
It's also reflected in players they haven't offered or didn't take in the 2013 class.
But most of all it was reflected in a post-Spring practice speech I happened to be in earshot of. The speech focused entirely on academics, punctuated with this message: "Let's not just have an OK football team." Sonny talked about accountability. He discussed the realistic possibility of potentially being ineligible for a 2014 bowl game. And he relayed an exact count on the number of missed classes that week, in part because he sat in on some of them.
I think Sonny realized from Day 1 that Cal's academic stature is an advantage, and one that he loses when other programs can negatively recruit against the Bears' APR scores. Not only have I seen him trying to fix this with the current team (see: Chris McCain and Keni Kaufusi), but specficailly with the kids the program is going after.
Do recruits ever mention what kinds of negative recruiting other schools use against Cal?
Vic Enwere didn't get into specifics, but he had this to say in our 1-on-1 with him following his commitment: "Coach Ingram and I, we have a great relationship, he never tried to pressure me to commit, he never attacked any other school -- a lot of other schools try to discredit other schools, Cal was a lot less grimey. They were honest with me."
What's the general perception of Dykes & Co. among recruits and coaches?
I think we probably pretty adequately addressed this above.
How are the new stadium and facilities playing compared to facilities at other Pac-12 and D-I schools?
Well, let's put it this way. I haven't heard a single recruit compare Oregon and Cal's facilities. In years past, that was a go-to quote. I think Cal has as good a stadium/facilities package as any program in the country at this point.
This is 3-star cornerback Cedric Dale out of Hebron High in Texas (who the Bears took a hard look at before Tre Watson committed) on the facilities: "They're top notch, they get their own barber every Thursday, and that stadium, it's been there for really long time, but you get inside and it's a whole different thing."
Will we be able to extend our reach further into Texas and the South due to the connections of the new coaching staff, or is it not really that relevant?
Yes. Already two of the seven Cal commits have Texas ties (Isadore Outing and Vic Enwere). And even as recently as Tuesday, highly coveted Lamar safety John Bonney (who's out in Houston and has almost 30 offers) made an unofficial visit to Berkeley -- I think Texas maybe even more so than the South, this staff will have some serious pull.
But this has less to do with kids the staff has been recruiting for years in these areas, and more to do with their relationships with high school coaches.
Vic Enwere committed to Cal before he had ever stepped foot on campus. When I asked him how you make a call like that having never seen the school you're committing to, here's what he said: "My coach (Dan Schrieber) knows their coaches really well." And that was enough.
And it's not just Sonny, who coached at Texas Tech and grew up in the Lone Star State -- this staff has pretty intimate knowledge of the state. I told Mark Tommerdahl I was going to visit my grandma in Austin a couple months ago and he took the notebook out of my hand and told me I had to go to this specific steak place. Wrote down the name, and gave it back.
Which recruit is the most important for Cal to reel in this year?
I think the obvious answer is Joe Mixon. 5-star running back, in Cal's backyard, and the staff has had plenty of time to build a relationship with him, and there would be as much an opportunity to play early in Berkeley as anywhere else.
But with Bigelow and Muhammad and even Enwere, who Marc Tausend loved the ceiling on in his Rivals scouting report (especially because the kid has only been playing running back for one full year!), I think the more pressing need might be Adarius Pickett.
High, high 4-star talent, also in Cal's backyard, his teammate Jalen Harvey is already committed and Pickett hasn't been shy about his affection for the Bears (I saw him out at the Cal camp this weekend with his dad, even though he wasn't participating).
The secondary is paper thin this year, meaning Cal desperately needs a big-time 2014 class, and Pickett is a piece they should be able to add.
What are the Bears' chances with Joe Mixon?
Unless Cal has some success on the field this Fall, I'd say not great. I spoke with the only source I trust when it comes to Mixon a week ago, and they said he wants to head East.
That said, the staff has positioned itself to be in the conversation if they pull a 8- or 9-win rabbit out of a hat. They're in Joe's final 16, they've gotten him out to Berkeley on multiple occasions, Ingram and Joe have a really close relationship, and Mixon likes the offense.
Win and I think Mixon is back in play.
Is there any name that fans should get familiar with but haven't quite heard about yet?
That's a subscriber-only question if I ever heard one, but Jaleel Wadood. The 4-star corner from St. John Bosco decommitted from ASU this week, and plans to announce his commitment at The Opening in Oregon on national TV on June 30th. He said Cal, UCLA, and USC are his finalists. If you want any more than that, you're gonna have to head here.
Safety and defensive back is a huge need in this class - how are the Bears faring on that front?
Five names: Adarius Pickett, Jaleel Wadood, John Plattenburg, John Bonney, and John JuJu Smith.
The fact that Cal is still seriously in the running for all five of those guys (and a leader for two of them) speaks volumes. I could see them landing as many as three of them (I won't tell you which, but there are definitely three). Do that, and this is one of the Bears' best DB classes in years.