At last year's annual recruiting event in the Haas Pavilion Club Room, newly hired Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes worked the room, mingling and chatting up the assembled fans and alums, and excitement filled the air in anticipation of a new era of Cal football. After the team's difficult season, and of course most notably, after the tragic death of Ted Agu, it was a more subdued affair this time around. As usual, BearInsider's Jim McGill served as the host and moderator of the event, and Coach Dykes reviewed highlight film and gave his insight on the latest crop of Cal recruits. What follows is a loosely paraphrased version of the proceedings:
The main theme for this year's class is that they are a group of "tough, hard-nosed" football players. Up and down the class, you'll find good students, good people, and when it comes to football, they are "long", "athletic", and "fast", which was a priority for the coaching staff to improve the team. Jim and Sonny both seemed to think this group has a good chance of out-performing their collective mid-40s class ranking from the various recruiting sites (#44 on Scout, #45 on Rivals, #46 on ESPN, #48 on 247Sports). Sonny noted that previous years' classes, notably 2009 and 2010, may have been more highly rated at the outset, but a large percentage of those highly-rated players didn't end up succeeding at Cal, either on the football field or in the classroom. So, even though it's rated somewhere in the middle of the conference, the proof of this year's class quality will be evident over the next 3-4 years. Dykes mentioned that he has been following college football recruiting closely from a young age, growing up as a fan himself, and he used to take player ratings from so-called "experts" such as Max Emfinger (the progenitor of modern recruiting coverage) as gospel. Eventually though, he realized that it's an inexact science and that even experienced coaches can differ markedly in their player evaluations.
When it comes to what the Cal coaches are looking for in a recruit, he said the top characteristics are: 1) passion for the game, 2) capability to thrive academically at Cal, 3) whether the recruit represents himself well off the field, and 4) talent. As a staff, they are "slow", and "deliberate" when it comes to making scholarship offers. He pointed out instances where a well-known college head coach had handed out over 100 scholarship offers, and if you're doing that, it's not really even meaningful as an offer. That said, Dykes asserted that this class started getting built right on December 5th, 2012, immediately when he was first hired at Cal. Recruiting is a long process, and it's largely about building relationships with the student athlete, his family, and his high school coaches.
Before Dykes gave his thoughts on the new recruits, McGill played a brief interview tape with the spring enrollees: JuCo D-linemen Trevor Kelly and Jonathan Johnson, and freshman athlete Devante Downs.
(Click on the names for our CGB profiles on each player).
Devante Downs: As with Jared Goff last year, Downs graduated high school early in order to start during the spring semester and get adjusted to life at Cal. Downs says that being a student at Cal has been really busy so far, and that he's learned already how difficult it is to manage one's time wisely in order to attend classes and get readings done. He's taking coursework in philosophy, African American studies, and anthropology, but eventually wants to study chemistry and possibly become a pharmacist. He said he really clicked with new DC Art Kaufman and will probably play linebacker, but is open to playing on both sides of the ball (shades of Myles Jack?) in order to help the team.
Trevor Kelly: Trevor Kelly has a reputation for being a bit of a jokester, and seemed to enjoy giving his two teammates some good-natured ribbing. Kelly wanted to come to Cal out of high school, so he's happy he has his chance now. He has a boxing and wrestling background, which he said doesn't necessarily translate to football directly, but has helped him develop the necessary work ethic to succeed.
Jonathan Johnson: Johnson said that being at Cal has been really good thus far, and he really appreciates the opportunity he is getting at Berkeley. He hasn't decided his major yet, but he feels ready and up to the task academically. On the football field he expects to play on the weak side as a pass rusher.
After the interview clip, Dykes shared his personal insights on the recruits. Let's start with defense:
Sam Atoe (JC S/OLB)
Dykes sees Sam at OLB, or nickel/safety. In his highlight film he returns and covers kickoffs, because he's such a dynamic athlete. He's very versatile, loves to play football. Dykes loves his attitude and his vigor for life. Atoe is very strong, very physical.
On his high school tape, he's playing linebacker. However, he came to camp at Cal and worked out doing drills as a safety, and he looked very good doing it. He's been very productive as a high school player, he's always in position, has a nose for the football. Physically, he has a good frame.
Darius White (JC CB)
Dykes pointed out that someone had listed White as the best JC cornerback in the country. He was committed to Kansas State originally, which speaks well for him, as Bill Snyder and the Wildcats have been very successful in finding good JC recruits. White is a very "long" cornerback at 6'1", which is hard to find. He's very athletic, has quick feet, and good ball skills. Dykes pointed out that DBs often are DBs because they aren't good enough with the ball to be a receiver, and said there were a lot of potential interceptions that Cal DBs dropped last year, so he thought it would be good to recruit some DBs who can catch the football.
David Davis (JC DT)
David is a grinder who competes very hard every play. He's a great student with a very strong character, which shows in the effort he puts in. He's very strong in the weight room as well. He should be able to provide Cal some much-needed depth on the interior of the D-line.
Jonathan Johnson (JC DE)
Jonathan is explosive and long. He can really rush the passer, which is something Cal was lacking last year. He uses his hands very well. He's athletic enough to run well and change directions. He plays with lots of energy and enthusiasm.
Trevor Kelly (JC DT)
The first thing that Dykes said about Kelly is that he is a "BIG dude". He's "very, very, very strong", both in the weight room and on the field. Sonny noted that on the highlight tape that he consistently throws around opposing O-linemen. He said Kelly is a strong, physical, tough kid, a real blue-collar type of player, and he fits in very well with the team.
Kennedy Emesibe (DE)
Dykes said that Emesibe reminded him a lot of Jonathan Johnson, except he's a high school player instead of a JC guy. Kennedy is really smart, and a good student. Dykes thought he was pretty under-recruited, as he's athletic and can make a lot of plays.
Noah Westerfield (DE)
Noah is long and athletic (there are those two words again... are we sensing a theme here?). Dykes said that Noah played basketball in high school as well, so he's still on the thin side, with more of a basketball-friendly frame. But that means he's rangy and can run fast. He thinks Westerfield should be able to easily add another 20+ lbs, which should bring him up to about 250 lbs. Noah is a strong student.
Hamilton Anoa'i (LB/S)
Dykes said that Cal got in on Hamilton kind of late in the process, but were very happy they did. He's a physical player; he hits hard. On his high school film he plays a fair amount on offense as well, and when Tony Franklin saw the tape he loved him as an inside receiver.
Chandler Leniu (LB)
One of the things that Dykes really likes to see in a recruit is that they are productive. Well, nobody was more productive than Leniu, who logged an eye-popping 232 tackles this year. Chandler is a 250+ pound "true" middle linebacker. He has really good instincts and just knows where the ball is going. He can diagnose plays very well and see things as they happen.
John Porchivina (LB)
Dykes said that Porch is "what we're looking for" as a linebacker. He can do a lot of different stuff, he's 6'1", runs very well, and hits hard. He's been very productive as a defensive player, and he's a tough, physical guy. Bonus: He grew up wanting to come to Cal, and it's always nice when we can get a good player who really wants to be here.
Aisea Tongilava (LB)
Once again, Dykes pointed out that Tongilava has good length, is athletic. He said Aisea transitions well in and out of cuts. He's a good decision-maker, gets to the play quickly. He will study biology and wants to do pre-med.
Devante Downs (LB/ATH)
Devante is a "special talent". He's a big guy and can really run. Dykes said that he could play both offense and defense, and at this point, where he wants Downs to play is just a matter of his mood at any given moment. If he's in an offensive mood, Devante is a running back. If he's in a defensive mood, Devante is a linebacker. He'll probably start camp at linebacker though, and we'll see how it goes from there. He thinks Devante is just the kind of player we're looking for: he's tough, he's talented, and he's a really good student as well.