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By Henry A. Barrios / The CalifornianFresno State's QB Derek Carr runs to the end zone in the 1st half of their game against San Diego State. He was stopped a yard short.
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
One of the more difficult aspects of covering high school sports with as much depth as we do at BVarsity and The Californian is what you do with local athletes AFTER they graduate and move on to bigger and better things. The focus here usually is on the new athletes in high school, but who doesn't wonder how the best local players from years gone by are doing?
To that end, I'm creating a new feature at School House Zach called BVarsity Alumni Report. I will eventually begin to include alumni in all sports, but we're going to start with football and go from there.
Besides the local NFL players (Ryan Mathews (West) with the Chargers, who had an interesting offseason, to say the least; Phillip Thomas (Bakersfield), a Redskins rookie; David Carr (Stockdale) with the Giants; A.J. Jefferson (West) with the Vikings; Justin Cheadle (Bakersfield) with the Steelers; and Colton Schmidt (Liberty) with the 49ers), there are a number of Kern County alumni who will play prominent roles in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year around the country. This post will check in with them headed into the 2013 season, which will start with fall camps at the end of the month. Some you will know and some you might not. I'll repeat the feature at some point in fall camp and then update it weekly — or something close to that — once the college football season starts.
If I miss something or someone in this list, don't hesitate to let me know. I want it to be as comprehensive as possible. You'll notice some themes below — Fresno State, USC, San Jose State, and quarterbacks and long snappers. There are also a LOT of local players who are in position battles entering fall camp, which begins in the next two weeks for teams across the country. I'll update this list the week the season starts when we have a better idea of how depth charts will shake out — including the quarterback situation at USC, of course.
For this preseason edition, I'm using teams' official depth charts and, when they're not available, the excellent Phil Steele's 2013 College Football Preview as a handy reference.
Derek Carr, sr, Fresno State QB (Bakersfield Christian): We'll start with the most prominent and work from there, with Derek Carr at the absolute top of the list. He enters his final year in Fresno as the returning Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year after a junior year in which he threw for 4,101 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Phil Steele has him listed as the No. 7 draft-eligible quarterback in the nation, and MWC media named him the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year (duh). Chances are, you're looking at Bakersfield's latest NFL Draft pick next spring.
Tyler Ferguson, soph, Penn State QB (Ridgeview): It's pretty amazing to think that less than two years ago, Ferguson broke his collarbone midway through his senior season at Ridgeview and lost his chance at a Division I scholarship out of high school. But after a record-setting year at College of the Sequoias and a bit of right-place, right-time luck in recruiting and with another PSU quarterback transferring, Ferguson is poised to be the starter at one of the nation's most prominent football schools. Yes, Penn State is on probation and can't play in a bowl game, and yes, Ferguson still has to be out highly touted freshman Christian Hackenberg in the fall, but this story quotes Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien saying Ferguson is a slight favorite to become the starter. And starting at a Big Ten school is a really big deal, no matter the circumstances.
Cody Kessler, soph, USC QB (Centennial): Here's another situation to keep a close eye on in August, as Kessler, a two-time Californian Player of the Year, tries to beat out a pair of Maxes for the premium spot under center for USC. The Trojans are looking to replace four-year starter Matt Barkley, and by many accounts, Kessler outplayed fellow sophomore Max Wittek and highly touted true freshman Max Browne in spring ball. But Wittek started the final two games of 2012 for USC (he was decent in a loss to Notre Dame and not very good in terrible conditions in a Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech), and Trojans coach Lane Kiffin might favor Wittek as the starter (though he said at Friday's Pac-12 Conference media days that it was a wide-open three-man competition). Kessler's father, Donnie, refuted rumors last year that Kessler would transfer to Bakersfield College for a year if he didn't win the starting job, but there's no doubt it would be frustrating to Kessler if he out-played his competition in practice and was still stuck as the backup.
Andre Heidari, jr, USC kicker (Stockdale): After a banner freshman year, during which Heidari made 15 of 17 field goals with a long of 50 and was named first-team All-Pac 12 and even a freshman All-America in some circles, he was injured and stumbled through his sophomore year, hitting 10 of 16 field goals with a long of 41. You'd think that back healthy, Heidari can return to form — and he can boom them when he's right, as he showed at Stockdale.
Cody Temple, soph, USC DL (Liberty): Temple was actually recruited as an offensive lineman, but I always thought he was more dominant in high school on the defensive line, and that's where the Trojans have moved him. He's battled back injuries through his first two years in Los Angeles but was healthy and productive in the spring. He's listed as a co-starter at nose tackle with fellow sophomore Antwaun Woods heading into fall camp.
Craig McMahon, jr, USC kicker (Bakersfield): McMahon handled the kickoffs last year, probably in part because of Heidari's injury. Whether he does that again remains to be seen, but the former Driller was effective, with 17 touchbacks on 37 kickoffs a year ago.
Kyrie Wilson, soph, Fresno State LB (Ridgeview): A former Wolf Pack star who briefly committed to a Pac-12 school (Oregon), Wilson made an impact as a true freshman, making 20 tackles and seeing action in all 13 games. He then enjoyed a big spring and earned co-starter status with Patrick Su'a (see below) headed into August camp.
Patrick Su'a, sr, Fresno State LB (Highland): Su'a was enjoying a breakout junior season last year before a knee injury suffered at Boise State in October derailed him for the duration of the year. He's expected to be a leader of the linebackers this year, though Kyrie Wilson's big spring as the two Bakersfield boys even on the depth chart at weakside linebacker entering fall camp. Su'a was the Bulldogs' Special Teams Player of the Year as a sophomore and, in those seven games last season, registered 37 tackles, three sacks and five pass deflections.
Shannon Edwards, soph, Fresno State DB (Ridgeview): Phil Steele ranks Fresno State's corps of defensive backs as the Mountain West's best despite the loss of All-American Phillip Thomas, who would have topped this list as the best local alumnus in college football a year ago. A big reason for that is returners L.J. Jones at cornerback and Derron Smith at safety, but it also considers the Bulldogs' depth. Edwards, who flirted with UCLA out of high school before heading north, played in 12 games and made 11 tackles as a true freshman. He's listed as a co-starter at one cornerback spot with redshirt freshman Jamal Ellis, opposite Jones.
A.J. Johnson, sr, Fresno State WR (Highland): After making four starts and collecting 349 receiving yards for the Bulldogs his first two seasons, Johnson didn't see game action and was suspended for spring practice. He's back on the roster and on the Fresno State depth chart, though, so Johnson's career in Fresno may yet see a happy end.
Matt Darr, jr, Tennessee P (Frontier): Matt Darr could have tried his hand at shot putting or linebacking after an incredible athletic career at Frontier, but he chose punting, and he was starting in the Southeastern Conference as a freshman. That didn't last, though; last year, Tennessee placekicker Michael Palardy also took away most of the punting duties from Darr, who only kicked 16 times as a redshirt sophomore a year ago. There's no depth chart listed on Tennessee's website, so it appears the starting job is in flux; Palardy is back, too, but most teams prefer to have a separate player handling punting duties. If Darr can step up this fall, the job likely belongs to him.
Hank Hobson, jr, Arizona LB (Stockdale): The younger brother of Blue Jays minor leaguer K.C. Hobson (and son of fomer Major League player and manager Butch Hobson) didn't redshirt for the Wildcats and even started a game as a true freshman. He made 14 tackles in seven games during an injury-plagued sophomore year and is currently No. 2 on the Arizona depth chart. According to this story, Hobson can't wait for his junior season to start.
Bryson Keeton, soph, Nevada DB (Ridgeview): Here's another example of a local player who impressed during spring ball. After a quiet freshman season (6 games, four tackles, three pass deflections), Keeton zoomed his way all the way to the top of the depth chart. He enters fall camp as the starter at free safety.
Jared Norris, soph, Utah LB (Centennial): Norris is No. 2 on the Utes' depth chart at strongside linebacker. He played in seven games as a redshirt freshman last year and made two tackles.
Drew Howell, sr, Oregon long snapper (Tehachapi): Here's a name you might not remember as a Kern County star (though he was a pretty darn good linebacker for the Warriors), but Howell has carved out a really nice career for himself with the Ducks: 36 career starts in three years, including one in the 2010 national championship game. Here's the kicker: Phil Steele, one of the few publications to include long snappers on its award teams, has Howell on the second team of his All-America selections.
Harrison Linsky, fr, Oregon State long snapper (Garces): A transfer from Fresno State, Linsky will back up starting long snapper Michael Morovick for the Beavers as they chase a Pac-12 North title this year. Hey, an injury to Morovick and Bakersfield will have alumni long-snapping for both schools in the Civil War rivalry.
Sean McNally, sr, Miami long snapper (Garces): You might have noticed a theme here — Bakersfield has sent a parade of good athletes to the Chris Rubio long-snapping camp, and it's clearly paying dividends (you'll notice another local recruit at a big-name school in the incoming section below). McNally is in line to be the starter for the Hurricanes. He transferred from Bakersfield College and started three games last year before injuring his knee.
Fred Wilson, soph, UNLV (West): Wilson had a productive year for a freshman, appearing in 12 of the Rebels' 13 games (even starting one) and making two interceptions. He's No. 2 on the depth chart entering his sophomore season but should get on the field in nickel packages and figures to be a fixture in the UNLV backfield for three years to come.
Doug Blacksill, soph, San Jose State OL (Liberty): Played in four games last year for the Spartans, who went 11-2 as one of college football's biggest surprises. Listed as No. 3 on the depth chart at left guard.
Kyle Hart, fr, San Jose State OL (Burroughs): Redshirted last year after excelling with the Burros. He's listed on the depth chart at center.
Alex Trujillo, soph, New Mexico State OL (Centennial): Trujillo's only action last year was on the defensive scout team, but he figures to see some reps this season, probably at center.
Ted Agu, jr, Cal LB (Frontier): A walk-on who has appeared in five games and made three career tackles. Not listed on the two-deep chart this spring.
Silas Nacita, soph, Baylor RB (Bakersfield): Rushed for 99 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman at Cornell, then transferred and will walk on at Baylor this year. Likely a redshirt candidate.
Cole Mazza, fr, Alabama long snapper (Liberty): He hasn't played a snap yet for the Crimson Tide, but Mazza already has the best chance of anyone on this list to win a national championship (apologies to Howell and to the various Trojans above, but Alabama is on another level right now). He was the No. 1 long snapper in the country according to a couple of recruiting services, and he was the first at his position ever to be offered a scholarship by Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Kamari Cotton-Moya, fr, Iowa State DB (Ridgeview): He's safely landed at Iowa State after a crazy offseason in which he won a bunch of awards and was shot in the arm outside a party (as a bystander). Cotton-Moya, the Californian's Player of the Year in 2012, isn't listed on the ISU depth chart.
Mercy Maston, jr, Boise State DB (Bakersfield): A fairly big recruit out of high school, Maston made a stop at Bakersfield College and won a state championship on his way to Boise State. He's not listed on the Broncos' preseason two-deep, but that can always change quickly for junior-college transfers, most of whom are expected to make an instant impact. Maston will likely see time at cornerback for the Broncos, who are 84-8 over the past seven seasons and were picked to win the Mountain West's Mountain Division (Fresno State was picked to win the Western Division, by the way.
Brian Burrell, soph, Fresno State QB (Bakersfield): Burrell has three seasons to play at Fresno State and will spend his first fall camp competing with incoming freshman Zack Greenlee to be Derek Carr's backup. Burrell was in for spring practice but was hurt for most of it, negating what would have been an advantage in the battle to be No. 2.