There weren't a lot of surprises at Titan Football house Wednesday as the Cal State Fullerton coaching staff rounded up the signatures of high school players on the first day to sign letters of intent.
Coach Gene Murphy was pointing to recruits like El Dorado High School's Barry Curtis, a 6-foot 4-inch, 205-pound defensive tackle, and El Toro's Steve Cuttrell, a 6-5, 208-pound offensive lineman, and explaining that the Titans just can't recruit "ready-made football players."
Murphy's formula for success with high school players has been to recruit potential--which usually translates to tall and lean--and hope the years (and hours in the weight room) make a difference. The philosophy has paid off for former Titans such as Daren Gilbert, Damon Allen, John Nevens, Andre Pinesett and Eric Emery. All were lightly recruited out of high school but eventually played professional football.
Then assistant coach Larry Manfull came in the front door flashing his best Cheshire cat grin and the office erupted in a cacophony of whoops.
The smile meant that Manfull had come back with the signature of Tony Alvarez, a 6-7, 330-pound offensive lineman who is certainly a ready-made player . . . physically, anyway. Alvarez, from Long Beach Millikan, is not just big. He's also a top candidate for the Olympic karate team in 1988.
Alvarez won the national 17-and-under karate championships in Chicago last summer by default. All seven of his competitors decided to default rather than meet Alvarez.
"I don't think any offensive lineman can come out of high school and play right away," Murphy said, "and I don't know if he's mentally or emotionally ready. But, yeah, from a physical standpoint, he's a ready-made player."
Alvarez is also an academic question mark, as are a number of other Titan recruits in light of new NCAA eligibility rules requiring a 2.0 grade point average in college prep courses and a score of at least 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. But Murphy says the new guidelines haven't changed his recruiting tactics.
"Everybody we've gotten in the last four years had to have a 2.0 (grade point average)," he said. "It's something we've had to deal with all along."
Fullerton signed 21 preps Wednesday to go along with six junior college transfers who have already enrolled. And Ronnie Barber, a quarterback from El Camino College who will not enroll until the fall semester, also decided on Fullerton Wednesday.
The Titans are still awaiting word from Martell Black, a fullback from San Diego's Sweetwater High who is weighing offers from Nebraska, Utah and San Diego State.
"Martell's one of the few freshmen we ever get a shot at who could come in and make an impact right away," Murphy said. "If we had a stadium and he had seen some fans on our game films, he'd be here now. He said he'll make a decision next week."
Chris Wright, a 5-11, 188-pound running back from Loara High was the only other Orange County prep signed by the Titans.
"Curtis is from New York and was at El Dorado only one year," Murphy said, "and then he broke his wrist after two games. He was recruited by (Cal State) Long Beach, us and Houston.
"Cuttrell is the typical Titan recruit. We'll see how he fills out."
Wright wasn't highly recruited, but he impressed Murphy.
"I'm happier than heck no one else was after him," Murphy said. "He's run a 10-flat electrically timed 100-yard dash and he's won 26 of 28 wrestling matches this year. He's an athlete."
Fullerton did well in the San Diego area again this year, landing three recruits, headed by Poway High's 6-2, 200-pound nose guard Harold Jones, nephew of former Ram great Deacon Jones. The Titans also expanded their recruiting into new areas this year, signing two Long Beach players (Alvarez and 6-2, 230-pound nose guard Gilbert Moxley from Long Beach Poly) and three from the Chatsworth/Lancaster area.
The Titans, who have been strong at wide receiver for the last three years but lost their top four pass-catchers after last season, signed three high school receivers: Jefferson High's Curtis Brown (6-4, 197); Washington High's Robert McCullor (6-3, 175), and Monterey Park Schurr High's Hubert Turner (6-2, 185).
"I like the receivers," Murphy said. "They're big and fast. I think we have the makings of another Bomb Corps (the nickname for the Titans' quartet of James Pruitt, Allen Pitts, Corn Redick and Wade Lockett)."
J.J. Celestine, a 5-11, 170-pounder from Riverside Notre Dame who was recruited by Cal State Long Beach and Boise State, and Damien Macaluso, a 6-4, 215-pound tight end from Escondido's San Pasqual High who turned down Air Force, Utah and Colorado State, also signed with Fullerton Wednesday.
"Recruiting . . . " Murphy said, sighing. "You love it and you hate it. It's such a rat race. There were some disappointments like Ray Pallares (the county's top rusher who chose Long Beach), but there were some pleasant surprises, too, like Alvarez.
"You can't really rate recruiting years here. We'll have to wait a few years and see how they turn out."