Vegas New Level 7-on-7 Day 1 notes

Originally Published: March 24, 2012
By Erik McKinney and Jared Shanker | ESPN RecruitingNation

LAS VEGAS -- Holding more than two dozen offers, ESPNU Watch List defensive end Joe Mathis (Upland, Calif./Upland) has become a big name in West Coast recruiting.

Standing 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds at 16 years old, Mathis has also simply become big.

The two-way standout played middle linebacker and fullback during his first two years at Upland, but moved to the defensive line as a junior -- and also remained in the offensive backfield -- and enjoyed a terrific year, registering 79 tackles and six sacks.

Programs from across the country have come after Mathis hard, as Auburn, USC, UCLA, Michigan, Nebraska and Oklahoma have made signing Mathis a priority. The big man has been on the USC campus several times over the past month, but will venture a little farther out of his comfort zone for his next trip, as he has a scheduled visit to Nebraska for its spring game on April 14.

"I want to see the facilities because I've heard they are really nice," Mathis said. "And I want to see the crowd. They said the fans there are like nothing else. I just want to go see how it is there before I take my official visit."

The Trojans have made an impact as well, as coaches Ed Orgeron and James Cregg have led the charge. Mathis said USC "is still up there" in terms of his top schools, but another school that could be close to joining the race is Alabama and Mathis said he has a call scheduled with the defending champs this Monday. He just shakes his head at the attention he has received and still doesn't completely understand all of it.

"I always thought I'd just go to a [junior college]," Mathis said. "But my junior year came and I starting working out morning, afternoon and night to get to where I am now."

Mathis added that Ohio State and LSU are showing interest, but he is going to take recruiting slowly until September, when he will begin his official visits. Many of those trips will likely be taken with his cousin, Watch List linebacker Su'a Cravens (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta). Mathis said the two are extremely close -- part cousin and part best friend. He added that there is a 95 percent chance the two will attend the same school.

Quite a pair

Central California has become a recruiting hotbed in recent years and it shows no sign of slowing down. After producing arguably the state's top cornerback last season in Tee Shepard, the area again will send several defensive backs to FBS schools.

Fresno Central offers three defensive backs who will sign letters of intent in February in cornerbacks Johnny Johnson Jr. and L.J. Moore, and safety Hatari Byrd.

Johnson didn't make the trip to Las Vegas for the New Level Athletics 7-on-7 tournament, but his teammates were in attendance and creating plenty of attention.

At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Byrd is the most physically imposing defensive back in the state. But while he looks like an outside linebacker, he is determined to prove that he belongs in the secondary.

"I love covering guys," Byrd said. "I'm definitely a safety."

Byrd wasn't shy about playfully jawing with opponents through the day Saturday, and even stepped outside to put himself in some one-on-one situations at cornerback. While he might not be the most natural cover corner, he has the luxury of leaving that up to Moore this season.

The two have been close friends for years and the connection they share of the field makes its way onto it with ease.

"We know how to communicate with each other," Moore said. "We've been friends since before high school, before we even knew we would be good at football. It's been fun playing alongside each other and seeing each other grow as people and football players."

Both players are creeping into double digit offers, as Moore recently picked up one from Georgia and Byrd said both the Gators and Oklahoma Sooners could be close to offering. Neither one is in any rush when it comes to recruiting, although Moore had a few schools standing out, including California, Washington, UCLA, Notre Dame and Fresno State.

Moore has only recently been getting back into football shape after working with the track team this spring. While most football players use track to work on their speed or agility with sprints or hurdles, Moore took up the high jump last year and plans to pursue it again. He jumped 6-foot-7 last year and has already gone to 6-8 early this year.

Dawkins growing up on and off the field

The knock on Brandon Dawkins (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) was that he was too immature at times.

Dawkins is starting to change that, he says.

"Definitely as the season progressed the best thing is people started to trust me," the 2014 quarterback said. "I was a little childish and stuff at first. Once they started taking me serious and respecting me and saw I could take them somewhere they helped me out and made sure I'm staying up on everything."

Dawkins' former teammates at Oaks Christian Jordan Payton and Ishmael Adams helped him with the growing up part.

"Being a young guy, I was a little childish so they kind of helped me out growing up and being more about things," Dawkins said. "When schools come they tell me tips and pointers on what to do and how to talk to them."

One of those schools already keeping in contact with Dawkins is UCLA -- where Adams and Payton ended up -- and Adams is already recruiting his quarterback to join him in 2014.

"Ishmael Adams tells me they're building up and building a strong team and it's like a family, and that's what I'm looking for in a college," Dawkins said.

Dawkins worked out at Alabama's camp last year and said the Tide are interested in him, too.

"I really like the coaching staff they got there," Dawkins said. "They'll take it real serious but they're cool guys, real funny. I met a couple of the other players when they had a couple practices. I met [Trent] Richardson and all them. That was fun."

Sun Devils lead for California tight end

Marcus Baugh has a top four, and Arizona State is sitting pretty for the Riverside (Calif.) J.W. North tight end. The Sun Devils lead for Baugh, who lists Ohio State, Washington and California as teams two through four.

The Sun Devils began recruiting Baugh shortly after Todd Graham was hired, and Baugh checked out Arizona State on a recent junior day visit.

"I loved ASU," he said. "It was a really nice place out there in Tempe. I love the coaching staff. It's like a family."

With Graham installing his "high-octane offense," Baugh said he should have a chance to see the field immediately should he commit.

"I'll be able to play early," he said, "because the tight ends they have now aren't for their offense. I like how they use the H-back."

Ohio State would use Baugh in similar fashion in Urban Meyer's new offensive scheme. Baugh has talked with Buckeyes assistants Tom Herman and Tim Hinton, and they are telling Baugh he could be the next top tight end under Meyer.

"They told me they want to use me like Aaron Hernandez," Baugh said. "They tell me I'm one of the most athletic guys they've seen for my size."

The Sun Devils and Buckeyes' spots at the top of Baugh's list are not firm, though. Baugh is high on USC, and the Trojans' staff is evaluating Baugh. Baugh spoke with the coaches last night and was told they are very interested in him.

Where would the Trojans stand if they offered?

"They'd be in my top three," he said.

Baugh said he will make a decision after his senior season.

Jared Shanker

Florida State/ACC reporter

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