MONROVIA -- As Ellis McCarthy approaches the line of scrimmage, he notices all eyes are on him. The quarterback makes sure to shoot a glance in the direction of the high-profile defensive tackle from Monrovia before looking over to the sidelines for instruction from the coaching staff.
Adjustments are made according to where McCarthy is lined up, on the right or left side, presumably in an effort to make sure the proper protection is implemented before the snap.
McCarthy, mind you, demands this type of attention ... on a consistent basis.
Opponents typically know what's coming next, but rarely can do anything to stop him.
The 6-foot-4, 300-plus pound senior adjusts his massive shoulder pads first. A quick check of his leg pads immediately follows. Buckling his chin strap is next before he digs his oversized cleats firmly into the turf and setting up in his customary three-point stance.
More often than not, McCarthy is calm, cool and collected. He is prepared mentally and physically for the ball to be finally set in motion and the proverbial battle in the trenches to ensue.
McCarthy is immediately met by the center and guard, each seemingly determined to keep him out of the backfield. Colliding with the tackle pulling off the end to help out doesn't deter him in the least. An undersized fullback serves as the last line of defense but offers little resistance as McCarthy achieves his goal: Sacking the quarterback for a loss. Just another momentum-changing play.
All in a day's work for one of the nation's premier prep players at his position. And make no mistake, McCarthy is willing to do just about whatever it takes to maintain the rather lofty gridiron reputation he has worked so diligently to attain. Gameplans to stop him rarely, if ever, are successful.
“I think it's a sign of respect when teams try to double- or triple-team me, and if I don't make the play, it frees my teammates up to make the tackle,'' McCarthy said. “I don't mind having to do the dirty work sometimes. It is nice making a big stop. It gets me pumped up. It gets our team pumped.
“I don't try to get caught up in the hype. That's not me. I know my name is out there. Teams know about me, I think colleges know about me, but I don't worry about all that stuff. I think I'm more humble, that's how things have always been with me. I let my play on the field do the talking.''
Recruiting services and powerhouse colleges from all over the country are listening.
ESPN ranks McCarthy as the Southland's No. 2 recruit, right behind San Clemente's Kyle Murphy. On the national level, McCarthy is No. 6 at his position and the No. 52 prospect overall.
He has scholarship offers from several different schools, more than 15. Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee are among the many potential suitors. And most every Pac-12 Conference program remains in constant contact with him, most notably nearby UCLA and USC.
Where he ends up is anyone's guess. Moreover, a decision does not figure to made until after the season. One thing is certain: McCarthy has plenty of options.
“At this stage of the evaluation process, McCarthy has established himself as the premier defensive line prospect on the West Coast, in our eyes,'' said Craig Haubert, a national recruiting analyst for ESPN. “He is not only a big kid, but a well put together big man who is capable of getting after the quarterback as an interior pass rusher. He possesses the raw ability to move blockers back and collapse the pocket, but is also active and agile enough to use his hands and get skinny to help him work past blockers and create pressure as well.
“A recent highlight of McCarthy has surfaced on the ESPNU 150. It's of him making a big hit and it gave people a glimpse of the natural ability he possesses. The bone-jarring hit he made presented a wow factor, but maybe the most impressive part was the ease in which the big man glided down field to make that hit. McCarthy has excellent size and athleticism for the defensive tackle position, and once he begins to develop the little things in his game and becomes a more consistent run defender, he could be an outstanding college player.”
For precautionary reasons, McCarthy was on the sidelines because of a right knee injury for last week's 31-14 nonleague loss to San Dimas. He has been cleared to play since and will be in uniform for Monrovia (1-2 overall) on Friday night in a nonleage game against West Covina South Hills.
If the Wildcats are going compete for the Rio Hondo League title and make a run in Southern Section Mid-Valley Division postseason play, McCarthy must be a fixture in the lineup.
“Ellis wanted to play last week for us, he started asking me on Thursday, but we did not want to risk further injury,'' Monrovia coach Ryan Maddox said. “He was not the only one asking me questions. I received calls from a lot of people about his status. It gets crazy around here with him.
“I'm talking to college coaches about him all the time. We have scouts here at practice all the time, two and three, sometimes as many as four or five. Ellis is big-time. He is going to make an immediate impact once he reaches the next level, there is no doubt in mind. He's that good.''
Keep in mind, there was a time when McCarthy wasn't a well-known prospect.
He does, after all, play at Monrovia. The relatively obscure school is located in the San Gabriel Valley, not exactly known in the recent past to be a hotbed for football talent. Division I college coaches and scouts have not always traveled out to those parts unless it's imperative.
McCarthy, mind you, has made the road trip well worth it. And then some.
It is worth mentioning that some thought was given to McCarthy playing at traditionally competitive La Puente Bishop Amat. He ended up at Monrovia, of course, and the fact both his parents graduated from the school figured to play a role in the family's decision to stay close to home.
He showed flashes of untapped potential as freshman, making his varsity debut in the playoffs. A sack on his first play for the Wildcats was a sign of good things to come.
McCarthy truly began making a name for himself when he started as a sophomore. In 14 games, he had nine sacks and 71 tackles. Two pass deflections and two forced fumbles, along with the subsequent recoveries, were clear indications of the immense upside he possessed.
It was more of the same during his junior season. More of McCarthy wreaking havoc despite efforts to stop him. In 13 games, he finished with 69 tackles, highlighted by a pair of 10-tackle efforts against South Hills and Temple City, respectively. He also had 11 sacks.
“Things are happening fast for me,'' McCarthy said. “It seems like yesterday I was a freshman trying to earn playing time on this team. I'm a senior now, a leader, and getting all of this attention, on and off the field. I'm happy with the way things have worked out though.
“I feel like I have a good future ahead of me. I'm excited, can't wait.''
McCarthy is indeed heading in the right direction, regardless of who or what is in his way. One need not look any further than his efforts in the not so distant past for proof.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.