No one wants to put pressure on Leonard Russell. After all, he's only a kid, but the Long Beach Poly High running back enters the football season as one of the most heavily recruited high school players in the nation.
Who will be looking at him? How about the Who's Who of college football: USC, UCLA, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Alabama.
"Barring injury and if he has a productive season, the kid most schools would want is Leonard Russell," said Dick Lascola, director of the Scouting Evaluation Assn. "Everybody could use a good running back."
But Russell is far from the only Southern California senior who will be watched longingly by the biggest of the college powerhouses.
Local and national scouting services and the universities with the most successful recruiting programs have put together shopping lists of the bluest of the blue-chip prospects in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and 20 names keep popping up like cotton candy at a carnival.
Here, in no particular order, are the high school seniors who enter the season with the most interest from colleges:
Leonard Russell, running back, Long Beach Poly, 6-2, 215--If you watch Russell this season, you won't be alone. Last week's Sports Illustrated magazine listed Russell as the most coveted high school senior in the country. He probably will be recruited by every major university in the country. He is on virtually every scouting service report. Street & Smith magazine lists him as a pre-season All-American. "He's the premier running back in the area," said Dave Baldwin, a recruiter at Stanford. Last season Russell gained 1,399 yards and scored 14 touchdowns on 208 carries to lead the Jackrabbits to the Big 5 Conference co-championship.
Jimmy Bonds, quarterback, Hart, 6-1, 185--He's listed at 6-1, although some scouts believe he's as small as 5-10. One thing everyone agrees on: He can throw. In describing his arm, scouts use words such as rocket and rifle . As the Indians' top gun last season, he completed 165 of 318 passes for 2,252 yards. He also rushed for 380 yards and nine touchdowns. Said Stanford's Baldwin: "He has an Elway-type arm, which is unreal for his size. He's incredible." His older brother, Tom, was a NAIA All-American quarterback last year at California Lutheran University.
Ricky Ervins, running back, Muir, 5-9, 185--What he lacks in size, he makes up in speed. He has been clocked at 4.4 in a 40-yard sprint and one college coach called him "the fastest kid in high school football." Ervins rushed for 1,218 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, leading the Mustangs to the Coastal Conference championship, and was named the Pacific League's most valuable player. Cal-Hi Sports lists Ervins as the top returnee in the state and Street & Smith has him as a "senior to watch."
Eugene Burkhalter, defensive back, Long Beach Poly, 6-1, 180--A free safety, Burkhalter has 4.5 speed. His quickness, coupled with his size, has drawn the attention of many major universities. George Darlington, who recruits California prospects for Nebraska, called Burkhalter "a guy most people are interested in."
George Hemmingway, running back, Colton, 6-3, 210--Hemmingway is hardly a novel running back. He is huge and has 4.5 speed. Said Darlington: "He's another guy that all the big schools will be watching." Colton will need Hemmingway to perform up to expectations if the sun is to rise on the team, which suffered through a 4-6 record last season.
Scott Spalding, defensive lineman, El Toro, 6-6, 250--A popular prospect among recruiters and scouts, Spalding has excellent size and speed (5.0 in the 40) for a defensive tackle. A three-sport athlete, he is considered the best lineman in California and is a Street & Smith pre-season All-American.
Kevin Bayonne, defensive back, St. Bernard, 6-0, 200--Bayonne packs a powerful punch. With 4.4 speed, he made a big impression as a junior last season and is ranked as one of the top 200 high school players in the country by Max Emfinger of the National High School Football Recruiting Service. He is listed as a senior to watch in the Street & Smith preview. He is also a fine running back. Bayonne underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 28, but isn't expected to miss more than two weeks.
Keith Bowen, linebacker, Westchester, 6-1, 215--As an outside linebacker, he's big, he's quick and he's being watched. Bowen is regarded by some recruiters and scouts as one of the better linebackers in the country. He has 4.6 speed. Bowen should be one of the most heavily recruited players from the City Section.