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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

A Field Day for Educated Guessers

February 03, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

Thanks to the Internet, college football fans can spend day and night clicking their mouses trying to check out the latest rumor detailing where the nation's top high school players are headed.

It's a 365-day obsession, culminating in letter-of-intent day on Wednesday. By Thursday, the process starts again, with the class of 2003 suddenly the focus.

Feel sympathy for coaches Bob Toledo of UCLA and Pete Carroll of USC. Their jobs are on the line based on the decisions of 17- and 18-year-olds. And their reputations are enhanced or tarnished depending on the analysis of recruiting experts, many of whom have never seen the recruits play.

In truth, rating recruiting classes is hardly a science.

"It's an opinion," said Brentt Eads of West Coast-based Student Sports magazine. "The more I know in this business, the less I know."

At least Student Sports holds a series of combines that allows its experts to evaluate players based on speed, size and strength.

Going into the final week of recruiting, Student Sports had UCLA's recruiting class ranked No. 3 and USC's No. 11. But there are differing opinions.

Woodland Hills-based PrepStar ranked UCLA No. 6 and USC No. 9. Louisiana-based Max Emfinger had USC No. 6 and UCLA No. 16. Orange County-based SuperPrep had UCLA No. 3 and USC No. 9. Doesn't this remind you of the BCS rankings?

If you're confused, don't worry. The true rating of a recruiting class comes in the years ahead, when players no longer can rely on all-City or all-Southern Section recognition to hype themselves. They must prove they can play in college games.

Sometimes the experts are right. Most thought Matt Ware from Los Angeles Loyola High was one of the nation's best. He started last season at cornerback for UCLA as a freshman. Most thought Shaun Cody from Hacienda Heights Los Altos could become a dominant defensive lineman. He had five sacks as a freshman at USC.

Toledo's future could be strengthened or diminished depending on the performance of his two quarterback recruits: Matt Moore from Newhall Hart and Drew Olson from Piedmont. They are the most important recruits in UCLA's 26-player class.

The Bruins have struggled since the departure of Cade McNown after the 1998 season. The quarterback position is so shaky that Toledo informed Moore and Olson they'll have a chance to compete for the starting position this fall. Moore won't play baseball at Hart so he can watch spring practice at UCLA and start learning the offense.

Will Moore or Olson become the savior UCLA needs to fix its erratic offense?

Former California coach Roger Theder, Olson's private coach, said: "He's the best fundamentals kid I've seen in 20 years. He reminds me of a young John Elway. I don't think UCLA realizes what they got. If I were starting a team tomorrow, I'd be living with him. That's how good he'll be."

Hart Coach Mike Herrington said of Moore: "Matt has unlimited potential because he's played only one year [at quarterback] and is going to get bigger and stronger and already has great tools."

The best player in UCLA's class is tight end Marcedes Lewis of Long Beach Poly. He's 6-7, 240 pounds, runs a 4.6 40-yard dash and has the physical skills of an NFL player.

The most intriguing player is defensive back Mike Nixon from Tucson Sunnyside High. He finished as Arizona's all-time passing leader, had eight interceptions this season, kicked a 52-yard field goal and averaged 44.4 yards per punt.

USC might want to start its own Long Beach Poly alumni association with all the former Jackrabbits on its team.

Four Poly players committed earlier to the Trojans, but only one, defensive tackle Manuel Wright, is certain.

If Darnell Bing, Winston Justice and Hershel Dennis join him, Carroll should start dancing.

USC fans probably won't learn until Wednesday whether they have won the recruiting competition for running back Lorenzo Booker of Ventura St. Bonaventure, the No. 1 prospect in the nation.

Imagine a scenario next fall with USC having as its running backs Booker, Justin Fargas and an injury-free Sultan McCullough.

Those are three of the most prolific tailbacks in Southern California high school history. If the Trojans can't run the ball effectively with them, then everyone will know the offensive line is the problem.

And it's the offensive line where Carroll needed to make progress. Kyle Williams, 6-6, 275 pounds, from Dallas Highland Park, should help.

But the best blocker in the Trojan recruiting class is fullback Brandon Hancock from Fresno Clovis West. He's 6-1, 240 pounds, already enrolled and has the strength of a college senior.

The Trojans beat out Stanford for Hancock, who could become Booker's best buddy on sweep plays.

So enjoy the arguments over whose recruiting class is best, but understand one thing.

"It is a crapshoot, but somebody has to do it," Eads said.

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Recruting Competition

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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