The 12 universities in the Pac-12 Conference have long been considered an elite landing place for top high school football players from California. It’s not just the four colleges in California, either. Washington once won a national title with 12 starters from California. Here’s a look at leading Pac-12 players for the upcoming season from California.
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As one might expect, more than half of the players who appeared before dozens of reporters and TV broadcasters at last week’s Pac-12 Conference Media Days in Hollywood that served as a preview for the upcoming football season are from California high schools. We attended the event primarily to get a one-on-one interview with Washington quarterback Jake Browning for an upcoming book being written about California high school football that will be published before the 2018 season, but we also got questions answered from all of the others who were there except one.
(All players written up in alphabetical order)
(Thanks to Stockton office editor Paul Muyskens for contribution)
Jacob Alsadek (Torrey Pines, San Diego)
He was the first person listened to and ended up being the most captivating since he talked in detail about suffering a concussion during a game last season for Arizona. “All of sudden, I realized ‘What is wrong?’ For 15 minutes, I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. Alsadek had a good idea of what he was doing just about in every other game. The 6-foot-7, 325-pound senior started 10 games at right guard for the Wildcats and has been a standout up front for head coach Rich Rodriguez the last three seasons.
Keishawn Bierria (Narbonne, Harbor City)
The former All-State player for the Gauchos has become one of the top linebackers in the nation at Washington. He led the nation last season in fumble recoveries with five and had 70 or more tackles for the second straight season. Beirria was asked why so many California players seem to do well in Seattle. “Washington provides a great, stable environment,” he said. “Some of us where we’re from we don’t get that. There are just a lot of things there we don’t have to worry about.”
Jake Browning (Folsom)
It took Browning two years to go from his incredible senior year at Folsom to becoming the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year at Washington. He passed for a school record 3,430 yards and 43 TDs last season and in his career already has 6,385 yards and 59 TDs. At the media days session of the event, he talked about having shoulder surgery, about facing a Utah team that will now have his former co-head coach at Folsom, Troy Taylor, as offensive coordinator and about the importance of team goals. “If you think team goals, that’s all that matters,” he said. “Everybody (at Washington) is focused on those goals. It was the same at Folsom.”
Luca Bruno (Oak Park)
The most difficult situation for us at media days was when there were two players from California appearing at the same time. We learned this with the first school (Arizona) because we spent too much time with Jacob Alsadek and didn’t get to ask anything of Bruno. He was an all-state player for us at Oak Park in the small schools category and is in midst of outstanding career in Tucson. Luca had 11 starts last season and although he only has 41 career tackles it’s obvious the Wildcat coaches have a lot of expectations for him in 2017. Bruno is a 6-foot-4, 305-pound senior.
Sam Darnold (San Clemente)
The strongest image we’ll have of Sam at the media event was just of him walking in and walking out alongside USC linebacker teammate Cameron Smith. They could be twins from a physical standpoint. Sam is listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds but he may be bigger and still may be growing. He is still only three years removed from high school. The Rose Bowl MVP, who started last season as a backup to Max Browne, passed for 3,086 yards with 31 TDs in just nine starts. “I’ve grown in so many ways in the last year,” he said. “It’s been an amazing journey, but with team success comes individual success. I’m not naive to that.” Although Jake Browning of Washington was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and is returning, most probably would pick Sam as the top preseason pick if predicting this year’s honor. He also could be the No. 1 pick in the next NFL Draft.
Troy Dye (Norco)
Of course with Troy, the topic had to be raised at some point about his younger brother, Travis, who also is from Norco and is a running back that has committed to Oregon. “It’s a true blessing and an honor that he’s coming there too,” said Dye, who had 91 tackles, 6.5 sacks and one interception for the Ducks last season. “He’s worked very hard to get to this point and he keeps a level head.” Dye is a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who has made the successful transition from safety in high school to linebacker in college. He was on the USA Today Freshman All-American team last year.
Jamal Morrow (Heritage, Menifee)
A 5-foot-9, 203-pound senior running back, Morrow could have a breakout year at Washington State. He’s a team captain and is especially adept at catching balls out of the backfield from All-American candidate Luke Falk. At Heritage, Morrow was one of the first two players when that program was still young to sign a D1 letter of intent. “It was huge to have that impact at the school,” Morrow said. “Doing that helped break through a barrier and opens it up for a whole new group of them there.”
Scott Quessenberry (La Costa Canyon, Carlsbad)
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound junior from UCLA who was first team all-conference at center, came back strongly after missing the 2015 season with an injury. Quessenberry was one of several players we asked about playing multiple sports in high school. In his case, he played hoops at LCC. “Basketball gave me good conditioning for football and it was great for footwork,” he said. “If I could go back to high school, I’d play it again for sure.”
Cameron Smith (Granite Bay)
In just two years, Smith has amassed 161 tackles for USC in 22 starts. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker also has become a team leader and All-American candidate. At Granite Bay, he was part of a team as a sophomore that beat Long Beach Poly 21-20 in the CIF Division I state title. “My sophomore year in high school was the same as my sophomore year in college,” Smith said. “Both teams started 1-3 and then won a championship.” In the Trojans’ case, their championship was the Rose Bowl.
Tre Watson (Centennial, Corona)
We saw several of Watson’s legendary games at Centennial, including the one at the Honor Bowl in Oceanside when he rushed for 465 yards and seven touchdowns in a 68-55 win against St. Bonaventure of Ventura. Watson, who has 1,307 rushing yards and eight TDs plus 32 catches for 348 yards and five TDs in his career at Cal, talked about playing games against teams like St. John Bosco and playing for head coach Matt Logan. “He changed my life,” Watson said of Logan. “It was just the mind-set he promoted that we were all playing for our brothers. We all knew that no matter what we’d die for each other.”
JoJo Wicker (Long Beach Poly, Long Beach)
At Arizona State, Wicker begins the 2017 season with 22 straight starts at defensive tackle and is on the preseason watch list for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound junior benefited from all of those who came before him at Poly and he hopes to do the same. “Yes, it does build up as generations go on,” Wicker said of the Jackrabbits’ tradition, which includes being the No. 1 high school in the U.S. for having players all-time in the NFL. “People helped me like Willie McGinest and Jurrell Casey. A lot of people (from Poly) have been there, done that.”
Note: There were no players brought by Utah, Stanford or Oregon State that are from California. Of the 12 coaches in the conference, we looked up their high schools and only two are from California. Chris Petersen of Washington prepped at Yuba City before going to UC Davis. David Shaw of Stanford went to James Logan of Union City.
More Pac-12 Players To Watch
For 2017 From California High Schools
PK Matt Anderson (San Ramon Valley, Danville) Cal
QB Brandon Dawkins (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village) Arizona
WR Shay Fields (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) Colorado
RB Royce Freeman (Imperial) Oregon
DL Greg Gaines (La Habra) Washington
LB Rick Gamboa (Chaminade, West Hills) Colorado
DL Rasheem Green (Serra, Gardena) USC
OL Sumner Houston (De La Salle, Concord) Oregon State
DB Iman Marshall (Long Beach Poly) USC
DB Quenton Meeks (Del Norte, San Diego) Stanford
LB Uchenna Nwosu (Narbonne, Harbor City) USC
WR/KR Dante Pettis (JSerra, SJ Capistrano) Washington
DB Tyree Robinson (Lincoln, San Diego) Oregon
WR Devin Ross (Alemany, Mission Hills) Colorado
OL Coleman Shelton (Loyola, Los Angeles) Washington
DL Ta-shon Smallwood (Central, Fresno) Arizona St
DL Vita Vea (Milpitas) Washington
LB Azeem Victor (Pomona) Washington
DB Jaleel Wadood (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) UCLA
QB Manny Wilkins (San Marin, Novato) Arizona State
QB Troy Williams (Narbonne, Harbor City) Utah
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: