PALO ALTO — To uncover the nation's best high school football players, Dave Baldwin and his staff travel all over the country.
Like his counterparts at other major universities, the Stanford recruiting coordinator is on an unrelenting search for players who can boost a team into national rankings and post-season bowl games.
But Baldwin says he doesn't travel that far to reach the most talent-ladden football area in the country. Stanford is only 375 miles away from Southern California and, in Baldwin's opinion, a 10-mile geographical region that stretches from the South Bay to Long Beach, stands tall above the others.
"You can go to Carson, Banning or Poly high schools and in just those three schools you can find the best high school football players in the country," he said.
UCLA obviously agrees. The Bruin roster has 16 players from the South Bay-Long Beach area.
Many college recruiters won't single out the South Bay-Long Beach area as the best in Southern California, but they all give it high marks.
"There are always going to be fine athletes coming from those two schools (Banning and Carson) and Long Beach Poly," said Dick Laugens, recruiting coordinator at USC. "They always have a steady influx of talent coming in to their programs. But as far as picking a particular area, it's tough.
"I think it kind of runs in cycles," he continued. "One year one area is really strong. The next year another area might be strong. It's hard to say. The whole Los Angeles and Southern California area is an excellent area for high school football."
Other scouts agree.
"It varies from year to year," said George Darlington, an assistant coach and recruiter for Nebraska. "Some years Orange County may have the better edge, or San Bernardino or Riverside. Other years the best players may come from the inner city.
Darlington spends 80% of his time in Southern California.
"I think the reason football is so good in California is because there is such good competition," Darlington said. "There is pressure on (coaches) to have good, successful programs.
Dick Lascola, who runs the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn., also said the talent pool goes in cycles.
"Long Beach and South Bay seem to always have outstanding athletes," Lascola said. "Orange County produces good linemen. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe its socioeconomic. Maybe they get fed better."
Lascola said that the Riverside-San Bernardino area is also turning out good college prospects "but you don't hear about that area as much because of the geographical distance to Los Angeles."
Darlington, who has recruited in California for nearly 20 years, summed it up this way:
"Of course I'm a little prejudiced because I have recruited there for so long, but, from a general standpoint, Southern California has a number of excellent programs and a number of excellent coaches. It's simple. Southern California is the best.
"Part of it is the warm weather," he said. "But mostly, it's the programs. Southern California has the finest passing leagues in the country. And the overall programs are the best in the country."
The two major Southern California universities seem to think so too.
USC signed Mark Carrier and Brian Tuliau of Poly, Peter MacLachlan of Carson and Mark Tucker of Banning.
UCLA enjoyed perhaps its finest recruiting year by concentrating on Southern California products. Area players signed included defensive backs Anthony Burnett of Lynwood, Stacey Elliott of Poly and quarterback Bobby San Jose of Wilson.
Yet, the local schools had to contend with outsiders in the recruiting wars.
Nebraskas signed five top players from Southern California. Colorado signed four, while Stanford and Arizona State landed three. Iowa, California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Washington State and Army also picked up top prospects in Southern California.
TOP PLAYER PROSPECTS BLUE CHIP
Name, School Pos. Ht Wt. Yr. Leonard Russell, Poly RB 6-2 205 Sr. Eugene Burkhalter, Poly DB 6-1 175 Sr. Mark Odom, Poly LB 6-0 205 Sr. Robert Stephens, La Mirada C 6-3 230 Sr. Reggie Kennedy, Bellflower DB 6-2 175 Sr.
PLAYERS OF NOTE
Name, School Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Craig Baker, Millikan OL 5-9 185 Sr. Austin McCowan, Lynwood RB/DB 5-6 160 Sr. Jeff Westra, Valley Chr. DB 5-10 165 Sr. Eric Johnson, Valley Chr. OL/DL 6-3 230 Sr. Allen Trent, Mayfair WR/RB 5-7 145 Sr.
YOUNGSTER TO WATCH
Name, School Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Robbie Watkins, La Serna RB 5-11 165 Jr.