The defense was as self-sustaining as it was star-striking.
From corner to corner, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School had that once-every-other-decade group.
It could stifle a power-rushing offense with its 4-3 base set, or it could match up with any spread attack – sometimes putting seven defensive backs on the field.
The kind of talent the Cougars had last season has a tendency to show up at the next level. Five defensive players have given oral commitments to NCAA Division I programs.
Four of them — twin linebackers Viliami and A.J. Latu (Arizona State), cornerback Chris Hawkins (Southern California) and safety Tahaan Goodman (UCLA) – are members of The News Tribune’s Western 100 class for 2013.
“It was a blessing to have those kids,” Cougars coach Nick Biaz said. “Our linebackers (the Latus) were so good, the ball never got past them. Tahaan had some devastating hits, but he never had 10 tackles (in a game) because of the twins, who had close to 100 tackles apiece.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Nine of the defensive players were on either the first or second team in the all-Baseline League voting. The Latu brothers were named the co-defensive players of the year.
ASU reportedly had the inside track all along, and it didn’t even know it. Paul Unga, the former defensive lineman for the Sun Devils, is a cousin of the Latu siblings, who attended many of his college games.
Viliami Latu is the bigger brother – 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. He slots in the middle, and is considered more of a sure thing at the next level.
A.J. Latu is a high-upside athlete who roams on the outside. He is 25 pounds lighter than his brother, and is the better defender in space – particularly on passing downs.
“Viliami is a big, physical guy – the older one by a minute or whatever. He plays like the big brother. He acts like a big brother, and was the leader of our defense,” Biaz said. “A.J. is a heck of a player, and he can do a little more.”
A new college semester started in January, and many powerhouse Football Bowl Subdivision programs are increasingly relying on recruits to enroll early.
Thirteen recruits in Georgia’s 2013 recruiting class are on campus, 10 at Illinois; nine at Alabama; eight at Texas A&M and Florida, seven at USC; six at Michigan and Ohio State; and five at Notre Dame.
A good majority of the enrollees are junior-college transfers. But many of the Western 100 quarterbacks graduated early from high school and enrolled, too – guys such as Utah’s Cooper Bateman (Alabama); Colorado’s Luke Del Rio (Alabama); California’s Jared Goff (California), Hayden Rettig (Louisiana State) and Troy Williams (Washington); and Washington’s Max Browne (USC).
“It’s definitely a trend to bring kids in at mid-term,” Washington State University recruiting coordinator Dave Emerick said. “There’s a ton of positives to it, but there’s also a few negatives. Obviously getting a kid in for spring ball is a huge thing. Getting them acclimated to college life can be a huge thing. A few of the negatives (are) that not all kids are ready. They need to finish out their high school career from a maturity standpoint. They miss out on some things.”
Being 6-foot-10, and heading off to Arkansas, offensive lineman Dan Skipper ignites an old debate – how tall is too tall to play football?
Ralston Valley (Arvada, Colo.) coach Matt Loyd sees no such issue with his standout.
“He is 6-10, but he runs like he is 6 feet – and he bends like he is 6 feet,” Loyd said. “The guy who played next to him for us at guard, he was 5-10. And when they were in their stance, you could not tell who was 6-10.”
Loyd has had to worry about Skipper – also the school’s student-body president and top singer in the all-star boys choir — on only one occasion.
“In our weight room, when he power snatches, he hits the ceiling,” Loyd said. “I’ve got an air duct that comes down around there, so he has to go to the other side of the room.”
For the second successive year, the state of California boasts the nation’s top safety prospect – Su’a Cravens, an early USC enrollee out of Vista Murrieta High School.
He is roughly the same height (6-2) as last year’s top safety – Shaq Thompson, out of Grant High School in Sacramento who started as a true freshman for the Washington Huskies last season – but he is 20 pounds lighter.
One recruiting analyst considers Cravens the better all-around player.
“Shaq might be the best pure safety I’ve seen in the last decade. … The difference with Su’a is he can be an all-world linebacker or an all-world safety. He’s just a better all-around football player.”
Among the Western 100 recruits, UCLA leads all colleges with 14 commitments, followed by UW (13), Oregon (nine) and Arizona (seven) and USC (seven). … The top junior-college recruit from the West Coast is tight end Beau Sandland, out of Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., who has signed with the Miami Hurricanes.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com