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Cal Football Recruiting 2021 Targets: Defense

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Currently ranked in the top 25 nationally, who else is on the big board for Justin Wilcox and Co.? We take a look at those defensive targets.

NCAA Football: Southern California at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

We recently took a look at the offensive targets for the California Golden Bears and their class of 2021. A nationally-ranked class that already is, could get that much better if they land some of these big-name defensive recruits.

So today, we look at those targeted defensive recruits and what they could bring to the table for Cal if they were to commit their services.

Akili Calhoun is already committed as a weak-side defensive end but four-star TJ Bollers from Clear Creek Amana High School in Iowa would bolster a strong edge presence for years to come. Boller stands at 6’3, 237 pounds and has at least 18 offers at this point. He’s considered to be a Big Ten lock but does indeed have a Cal visit on his schedule, if he can get it done amid the coronavirus pandemic. He’s set to visit Cal on June 5, and if he can’t get that off the ground, we’ll see if he reschedules.

Either way, adding a four-star defensive end recruit would be a great get, especially considering he’d hail from Iowa.

At strong-side defensive end, Cal is in the running for a handful of players including four-stars Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, Keanu Williams and Derek Wilkins as well as three-star Tyler Kiehne.

Rawlins-Kibonge is considered the eighth-best SDE in the class and second-best overall prospect in the state of Oregon. He’s 6’7, 240 pounds and hails from Jefferson High School in Portland. He’s a top 160 prospect nationally and would bolster what could become a top-10 ranked class nationally.

A little behind their Pac-12 counterparts on Williams, however, Cal finds themselves apparently trailing Oregon and Stanford for his services. He plays his ball at Clovis High School and is the 27th-best prospect in the state as well as the 17th-best SDE in the class. Wilkins plays at Santa Margarita Catholic and ranks as the 13th-best at his position as well as 22nd-best in California. Either one of these guys, though more likely to land Wilkins at this point, would present an incredible wealth of in-state talent staying home.

And then there’s 6’3, 255-pound Kiehne, or the No. 1 player in the state of New Mexico. Kiehne plays at Los Lunas High School and ranks as the 68th-best SDE in the class, and holds offers from 10 schools, including a bevy of Pac-12 schools.

This seems like a heavy position of need and it will be interesting to watch it unfold as neither of these guys have listed top schools or set commitment dates. Keeping the pressure on some of these top-ranked players will be important through the summer.

Along the interior of the defensive line, 3-star prospect Jacob Schuster from Tumwater High School in Olympia, Washington seems to be considered Cal heavily, along with Boise State and Washington State. He’s 6’2, 300 pounds and ranks as the 13th-best prospect in the state. Other than Schuster, theres 3-star Utah player Voi Tunuufi who holds 13 offers at this time but has let little be known about his recruitment. He currently ranks as the fifth-best player from Utah and plays his ball at East High School in Salt Lake City.

This is a surprisingly unknown at this point for the interior positions along the defensive line as the players offered from Cal have been relatively quiet through their process.

Grouping linebacker together here, Cal has just one offer out to an uncommitted inside linebacker, and that’s Ethan Calvert from Oaks Christian in Westlake Village. He’s the third-best inside linebacker in the class and 10th-best player in the state but is said to be considering between Washington and USC.

So, at outside linebacker is where we find the majority of those considering Cal and those seemingly feeling a lot of love from the staff. Four-star Josh McCarron is ranked as the 10th-best player in the state of Washington on 247Sports’ composite ranking and has at least 17 offers at this time. Devin Aupiu and Kaleb Elarms-Orr are both three-star prospects with double-digit offers and little known about their pending decisions. Either way, they’d both bet quality additions to the class but not do a whole lot for their nationally ranking.

That’s what McCarron would do, though, and he’d bolster this class and it’s defensive star ranking into orbit, especially considering he’d be an out-of-state pluck.

Justin Wilcox and staff have offered nine cornerbacks prospects and it seems like they have their favorites, or at least of those, these three have Cal among their favorites: 4-star DJ Harvey, 3-star Kaleb Higgins, 3-star Dyson McCutcheon.

Harvey is widely considered one of the best at the position and tops the rankings at 15th-best cornerback in the class. He also counts as the 19th-best player in California as he plays at Sierra Canyon High School. Harvey has at least 19 offers and is actually compared to current Oregon Ducks CB Deommodore Lenoir (if you know me, that’s high praise).

Higgins and McCutcheon each have double-digit offers but have little to no known affiliates except for early Cal offers. McCutcheon is the son of former NFL linebacker Daylon McCutcheon and is actually scheduled to visit Cal campus on June 19, if he can get that visit done.

Cornerback will always be an important position to obtain in any recruiting class but especially in this one as the Bears are set to replace two more stars after this year with the departure of Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks after 2020.

So then there’s the safeties, another important position as Hicks will likely be moving to safety to repair the loss of Jaylinn Hawkins and Ashtyn Davis to the draft this April. Isaiah Nwokobia and Mitch Leigber each have warmed to their Cal offers and are three-star recruits but hail from different places.

Nwokobia is from Skyline High School in Dallas, ranking as a top 70 player in the state of Texas as well as the 28th-best safety in the country. Leigber has a ton of offers rolling in this month so far, so it will be interesting to watch if California’s 47th-best prospect keeps Cal near the top or not through his process.

Then you have the ‘athletes’ on the list, those guys who can play multiple positions at the next level. Titus Mokia-Atimalala is from Hawaii but considered to be a lock for Notre Dame while Kaylin Moore is a three-star recruit and has Cal on his shortlist.

Perhaps the biggest swing to Cal moving up in the recruiting rankings will be the decision of four-star athlete Julien Simon. He ranks in the top 100 nationally and is the fourth-best athlete in the country as well as the fourth-best prospect in Washington. He plays at Lincoln High School in Tacoma and has at least 20 offers. Though he’s listed Michigan, Stanford and Washington in his likely top three, 247Sports’ Brandon Huffman doesn’t lean one way or another for his services. Wilcox and his staff may need to push a bit harder to get his services but this would go a long way at their national ranking.

So there you have it, the target list, as it stands this, the second week of April. We’ll see how much it shifts and who above decide to make Berkeley their home for the next 3-4 years. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s that this class has the makings of a tremendous, nationally-ranked class and potentially a top-15 class if they can make some magic happen.

If I were Wilcox — I’d sign off every prospect meeting with a simple “Cal has The Axe” — but that’s just me.