Catch a high school football game this fall, train your binoculars on a star player and hold that image to memory, for in the near future you'll probably be watching him do outstanding things for a major college team.
"This is one of the better spots in the country (for producing top players)," said Dick Lascola, who heads the Scouting Evaluation Assn. in Fallbrook.
"In a usual year, way over 100 players from Southern California will get Division 1 scholarships. From 50 to 70 of them will go to Pac-10 schools, 40 to the PCAA (Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.) and 15 to 20 to the WAC (Western Athletic Conference). Oklahoma and Nebraska of the Big Eight will get some of the players and so will Notre Dame."
The reasons? "(Good) coaching and talent, climate, population," said Lascola.
Last year, however, wasn't usual. Lascola said the talent was the worst in years--and not just in Southern California.
"It was a very down year for talent across the country," he said although he couldn't pinpoint any reasons other than "that happens now and then."
6,000 Players Evaluated
Lascola, 43, a Cal State Long Beach graduate and a former high school coach, has a nationwide staff of 38 scouts. They evaluate 6,000 players and phone-in reports--which, to Lascola's chagrin, he keeps track of on "itsy, bitsy pieces of paper" he's always misplacing.
Lascola said that when he's looking for a great running back, he doesn't necessarily head to the L.A. city schools, or if he wants to see an outstanding lineman he won't automatically head for Orange County, or if he wants to view kids as tough as nails he knows the San Gabriel Valley won't be the only place to find them.
"Those are stereotypes," he said. "Good players (regardless of position) come from all over."
Each fall and spring he sends a list of prospects to 90 colleges who have contracted with him. Each player is rated from 1 (a chance to be a prospect) to 4 (can't-miss).
"We don't give many 4s," Lascola said.
But he is always searching for them.
You can be sure you're watching a 4 if he has, according to Lascola, the following qualities:
Quarterback--If he's a drop-back quarterback, he has good size and mobility, is a heads-up guy who takes charge and is cool under pressure. His throwing arm is excellent and he's able to read defensive coverages and spot secondary receivers.
If he's a running quarterback, he has quick feet, is a great ball handler, can throw and scramble and take a good hit.
Running back--He has the size to withstand pounding. He breaks tackles, has a great change of pace, can accelerate without missing a stride and can run inside as well as outside, and when he does go outside he has the speed to turn the corner. He catches passes too.
Wide receivers--He has some size--although that isn't crucial--and he is very agile. He makes the difficult catches and most important he makes the catches across the middle of the field.
Not Many Great Ones
Tight end--He has the size of a lineman and the agility of a wide receiver. He can catch and block. Lascola, who believes tight end is the toughest position to play, says, "There aren't that many great ones; they're aren't even that many average ones."
Offensive linemen--He's big, for sure. He's mobile, extremely strong, aggressive and has great balance. He doesn't let the defensive man get near the quarterback and he never gets knocked down.
Any defensive player--He has size, speed (if he's a back, he flies instead of runs), quickness and hits like heck. If you're watching one you are enjoying a rare treat because, says Lascola, "You don't find that many great defensive players. There's always a shortage."
He attributes that to the game being offensive-oriented and that it's more fun to score points.
"All defense is is reaction," Lascola said, "getting from point A to point B."
But, he said, no matter how adept a player is at doing that, if he isn't a hitter he's not good enough to play.