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May 14, 2012

Waiting game: California prospects in no hurry

California may be the nation's trendsetter in most respects, but it remains a stubborn holdout to college football recruiting's latest craze.

In a year when so many other elite prospects have made verbal commitments before the start of summer, most of California's top recruits are still weighing their options.

"I'm not in any hurry," Mission Viejo High safety and Rivals100 prospect Max Redfield said. "I want to make sure it's the right choice. I think that's what the others are doing also. They want to make sure they make the right decision."

The difference between California recruits and the rest of the country is stark.

As of Monday morning, 54 members of the 2013 Rivals100 were verbally committed to a particular school, yet only two of the 11 Californians in the Rivals100 had made their decisions. Westlake Village cornerback Dashon Hunt (No. 58) committed to UCLA last August, though he's listed as a soft verbal and is planning other visits. Redlands East Valley defensive end Kylie Fitts (No. 81) picked USC last month.

A couple other top California prospects should join that list soon. Stockton Lincoln running back Justin Davis (No. 48) plans to announce his choice Thursday, and Murrieta Vista Murrieta safety Su'a Cravens (No. 5) is expected to decide by June. Both are reportedly leaning toward USC.

Many other California recruits plan to wait much longer.

"A lot of Junior Days have just finished up here," Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said. "They're a little later here than they are in other conferences. I think kids on the West Coast are often offered later by SEC and Big 12 schools, so unless they're sitting on a Pac-12 school they want to go to, a lot of them wait until the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 coaches come out and see them during practice."

Those certainly are logical explanations.

But there also might be another reason unique to this year.

When Washington hired former Rivals.com national recruiter of the year Tosh Lupoi away from California two weeks before Signing Day, it shook up the 2012 recruiting scene up and down the West Coast. And the fallout from that move apparently is still making an impact.

"That whole thing that happened with Coach Lupui, I think it sent a message to everybody here in California that you have to wait until that point where everything's about to be finalized to make your decision," Atwater Buhach offensive tackle and Rivals100 recruit Aaron Cochran said. "Anything can happen."

A look at the Rivals250 prospects from California shows the overwhelming majority still haven't made their college selections.
NamePos.RankHigh SchoolCollege
Su'a CravensS5Murrieta Vista MurrietaUndecided
Michael HutchingsLB17Concord De La SalleUndecided
Eddie VanderdoesDE21PlacerUndecided
Max RedfieldS30Mission ViejoUndecided
Justin DavisRB48Stockton Lincoln Undecided
Steven MitchellWR52Mission Hills Bishop AlemanyUndecided
Dashon HuntCB58Westlake Village WestlakeUCLA
Troy WilliamsQB71Harbor City NarbonneUndecided
Kylie FittsDE81Redlands East ValleyUSC
Joe MathisDE93UplandUndecided
Aaron CochranOT98Atwater BuhachUndecided
Demorea StringfellowWR107Moreno Valley Rancho VerdeUndecided
Khalfani MuhammadRB108Sherman Oaks Notre DameUndecided
Marcus BaughTE114Riverside J.W. NorthOhio State
Hayden RettigQB123Los Angeles Cathedral Undecided
Tyree RobinsonATH124San Diego Lincoln Undecided
John LopezOT126Orange LutheranUndecided
Sebastian LarueWR141Santa MonicaUndecided
Tahaan GoodmanS150Rancho Cucamonga Undecided
Chris HawkinsCB159Rancho CucamongaUSC
Darrell DanielsATH170Oakley FreedomUndecided
Johnny JohnsonCB173Fresno Central East Undecided
Erik BunteOT206Santa Margarita CatholicUCLA
Nico FalahOT216Bellflower St. John BoscoUndecided
L.J. MooreS223Fresno Central EastUndecided
Tyrell RobinsonATH228San Diego LincolnUndecided
Vita VeaDE237MilpitasUndecided
Cochran should know.

He's the younger brother of Matt Cochran, a 2012 three-star center recruit who verbally committed to California two weeks before Lupui's exit. Cochran signed with California anyway, but the Golden Bears lost plenty of other recruits in the wake of that move.

Former California commitments who signed with other schools included Sacramento Grant safety Shaq Thompson (Washington), Monrovia defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy (UCLA) and Westlake Village Oaks Christian wide receiver Jordan Payton (UCLA). All three were Rivals100 recruits.

"It really showed me that you can't just go to a school because of a coach, because the coach can leave any minute for a better job," said Aaron Cochran, the nation's No. 98 junior prospect. "I really need to make my decision based on the school and not just the people there."

Upland High defensive end Joe Mathis learned that lesson the hard way.

Mathis, the nation's No. 93 junior recruit, committed to Washington last October. He opened his recruitment back up after former Washington assistant Demetrice Martin joined Jim Mora's staff at UCLA. Mathis now lists Nebraska, Michigan and Washington as his top three schools.

And there are plenty of other reasons why Californians generally might want to take more time before reaching a decision.

Blame part of it on simple geography. If a California recruit is being recruited by an SEC, ACC, Big Ten or Big 12 school, going out to visit any of those campuses can prove tricky. Even a trip to the Oregon or Washington schools can take plenty of time. Compare that situation to a recruit in Georgia primarily considering SEC or ACC schools within driving distance.

"I feel like the SEC or down in SEC territory, they know what their group of schools is," said Concord De La Salle linebacker Michael Hutchings, the nation's No. 17 recruit. "They know what's there and they have a good idea of what their schools are going to be. The schools aren't that far from each other, and they want to stay in SEC territory. Here, the schools are a little more spread out. The states are a little bigger. I feel like it's a tougher decision. We're going farther than the SEC guys are."

Nationwide population shifts also could keep some California recruits from having as many attachments to particular schools as, say, a recruit in the Midwest. There's a decent chance the family of a recruit in Ohio or Michigan has been there for generations, whereas it's much more likely the family of a California prospect moved there much more recently. For instance, Cochran grew up in Alabama and Texas before moving to California.

Mathis noticed that different dynamic last month while attending the Adidas Invitational near Detroit. That camp included Michigan cornerback commitment Jourdan Lewis and Michigan State linebacker commitment Jon Reschke among others. Lewis and Reschke committed to their home-state schools way back in February.

"When I went to the Adidas camp in Detroit, those dudes had really been [following] their teams since they were a baby," Mathis said without mentioning any specific names. "That's like their family's teams. I understand why they committed. That's their school."

Some California recruits have similar attachments to particular programs, but many others don't. Those prospects are going to need a little more time to make their decisions.

"I think the percentage of kids who will wait until Signing Day or wait until the Army game or Under Armour game is equal to what it is in the SEC or Big 12," Gorney said. "I don't think that number's higher. I just think [California] kids tend to wait a little bit longer to decide, tend to wait until right before their senior season, just so they get a full idea of just who exactly is recruiting them. They have some chances during the summer to take some visits far from home and stuff."

Some of the top California prospects are indeed saying they plan to decide this summer.

Others aren't even setting a timetable as they examine all their options.

"I know there are a lot of people committing, but for me there's no rush," said Sherman Oaks Notre Dame running back Khalfani Muhammad, the nation's No. 108 recruit. "I don't feel a rush in this process. Picking a college is a big decision, and I feel personally you should get to know as many things as possible before making a decision like this."

Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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