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February 24, 2012

West whispers: Elite DBs in no hurry

MORE WEST: Around the region

The strongest position in the West is defensive back, led by five-star safety Su'a Cravens, and many others are staking their claim as phenomenal players. However, one of the most interesting story lines early this recruiting cycle is that none of them are committed - and very few seem interested in making their pledges anytime soon.

That could mean an interesting and drawn-out process for many defensive backs that are considering the same schools and have been offered by some of the best programs in college football already.

Starting in Arizona, four-star cornerbacks Priest Willis, from Tempe Marcos De Niza, and Cole Luke, out of powerhouse Chandler Hamilton, are loading up on offers.

Willis has 19 offers including LSU, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and many others. Florida State just offered on Thursday. The Trojans could have a slight edge in his recruitment but it's still far too early for Willis to name any leaders.

Luke has a respectable 10 offers with both instate programs along with Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and others in the mix. The Chandler Hamilton standout is also hearing a lot from Texas but the Longhorns haven't offered yet. If they do, that might be the team to beat.

California is insanely loaded with defensive backs starting with Cravens, who has been compared with Shaq Thompson by some but it's probably not fair. The Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta safety isn't a headhunter and doesn't level people all that often but he has such an amazing feel for the game - at safety, linebacker, running back and wide receiver - that it's almost uncanny.

USC, Oklahoma, Stanford, Notre Dame and Arkansas were considered his five favorites but after offers kept pouring in Cravens said he doesn't have any leaders and wants to wait to take official visits. The five-star probably won't make a decision until closer to next National Signing Day.

The next group includes some superstars with Mission Viejo (Calif.) safety Max Redfield, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) teammates Tahaan Goodman and Chris Hawkins, Fresno (Calif.) Central East teammates Johnny Johnson, L.J. Moore and Hatari Byrd and early UCLA commit Dashon Hunt leading the way.

Redfield was incredibly impressive in game settings last season and is coached by one of the finest coaches in the country, Bob Johnson. Goodman and Hawkins have incredible film and both impressed at a recent B2G Sports workout. Goodman annihilates opponents on film and we recently saw him do windmill and reverse dunks on a basketball hoop, so his athleticism is off the charts.

The only one committed - and the only one seemingly interested in getting things done early - was Hunt, who picked the Bruins in August when coach Rick Neuheisel was still the coach. Now that Jim Mora has taken over, Hunt has said in recent weeks he wants to meet the coaching staff as soon as possible to gauge where he stands with the Bruins. The Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake cornerback, who also shined at running back last season, is expected at UCLA this weekend.

Big junior days ahead

It is a big weekend at both UCLA and Washington State since both rebuilding programs are holding a junior day.

The Bruins have a ton of top talent coming in and that's really no surprise because Mora and his outstanding group of assistants have done a phenomenal job so far getting players in the 2013 class interested in the program.

Some of the top prospects expected in Westwood are Cravens, Redfield, Goodman and Hawkins, Upland (Calif.) defensive end Joe Mathis, Phoenix Mountain Pointe offensive lineman Kenny Lacy and many others.

The talent level probably won't rival USC, which had its junior day in recent weeks, but it's a far cry better than what UCLA has done in recent years and it's another big step as Mora tries to rebuild the program.

Washington State is also having a big weekend with a lot of talented players on campus as first-year coach Mike Leach makes things interesting again in Pullman.

Two quarterbacks that are expected on campus are Yakima (Wash.) Eisenhower's Kolney Cassel, who threw for 2,697 yards and 26 touchdowns this past season, and Sefo Liufau from Tacoma Bellarmine Prep, who had 2,253 yards and 23 touchdown passes.

The interesting thing here is that Cassel was just offered by SMU on Thursday, which could apply a little pressure to Washington State to offer during his visit. Liufau has not picked up any offers yet but impressed at the Seattle NIKE Camp last year, had a strong junior season and should definitely land some offers.

News and notes

A lot of people thought Max Browne visited USC's junior day for one reason: To land an offer. But the five-star quarterback from Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline promises that he was even surprised when the Trojans extended one a couple weeks ago.

Browne, who has thrown for 8,216 yards with 95 touchdowns and 20 interceptions the last two seasons, said USC is definitely a team to consider and he wants to visit Alabama, Oklahoma and perhaps some others coming up. With basketball season done, Browne can hit the road a little more as he hopes to make his decision before his senior season starts.

Chula Vista (Calif.) Eastlake running back Aaron Baltazar committed to Washington after taking an unofficial visit last season but other teams are pursuing him and the commitment might not stick through the recruiting process. Cincinnati, San Diego State and UCLA are pursuing him and Baltazar has said his commitment to the Huskies is soft. This early that means he could be looking around a lot.

Pittsburgh might be the next offer for South Jordan (Utah) Bingham defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound prospect said the Panthers have reached out to his coach and that they've expressed interest in an offer. So far, BYU, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah and Utah State have offered and according to one source Lotulelei will probably stay closer to home.

Los Angeles Cathedral pro-style quarterback Hayden Rettig is visiting Auburn this weekend and he said he wants to see if he'd fit there. A couple years ago, Rettig said he would love to play in the SEC, in a small town where football meant everything and Auburn might suit him well.

His brother, Chase, plays at Boston College and Rettig plans to visit there again in the coming months. Arizona, Arizona State, Purdue, Rutgers and Vanderbilt have also offered Rettig, who missed almost all of his junior season with a knee injury. He still threw for 824 yards and seven touchdowns in two games.

Ontario (Calif.) Colony athlete Samajie Grant picked up his first offer from Arizona on Thursday and that's big because former Colony teammate Bryan Harper signed with the Wildcats just weeks ago. Grant will attend the UCLA junior day this weekend and there's a good chance the Bruins might offer as well.



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