If you ask most recruiting experts about the players in California, you will most likely hear them refer to skill players such as quarterbacks or wide receivers. Rarely is the Golden State known for producing high numbers of talented players in the trenches, particularly on the defensive line, but this year is an exception as there are plenty of prospects who will be signing with FBS schools next February.
There is an old saying in football that you need to be strong up the middle on defense and that starts on the interior of the line with the defensive tackle position. The two headliners for this group in California are Antwaun Woods (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft) and Viliami Moala (Sacramento/Grant).
Woods gave a verbal commitment to USC on signing day at a ceremony for his former Taft teammate D.J. Morgan, who signed a letter of intent with the Trojans. Woods is known as a player with tremendous ability; he's compact with a thick frame but what makes him unique is his explosive ability and speed for a man his size. He will need to improve his consistency, and with Ed Orgeron as his future position coach, you know that the coaching intensity will be there. Woods, an Under Armour All-American and the No. 45 player overall in the ESPNU 150, was offered by both USC and Florida on the first day that juniors could be offered scholarships.
ESPN Recruiting's Craig Haubert gave his assessment of Woods following the Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp: "He is very violent as a pass-rusher and at times can be best described as a bull in a china shop."
Moala has been considered a dominant two-way player on a state championship-level team for the past two seasons. Last year he had 104 tackles and 15 sacks on a defense that posted eight shutouts and held opponents to fewer than six points per game. He was named the California State Junior Player of the Year. As a sophomore he had 51 tackles and four sacks for the state champion team. Moala, who is ranked No. 96 on the ESPN 150, has narrowed his decision to Cal and USC in a battle of heavyweight recruiters in Tosh Lupoi and Orgeron.
"He's a huge kid with thick legs and impossible to move in the middle of a line," said ESPN RISE's Greg Biggins.
The No. 108 player on the ESPNU 150 is Christian Heyward from Point Loma High in San Diego. So far he has offers from all of Pac-10 (except USC and Stanford), as well as Nebraska, Oklahoma State and San Diego State. Heyward had 66 tackles and nine sacks last year. Nathan Falo from Inderkum High in Sacramento has Boise State and Washington State offers, but says UCLA is his leader.
There are plenty of talented defensive ends to be found as well led by the son of a former Oakland Raider.
Greg Townsend Jr. (6-3, 260), whose father enjoyed a successful NFL career, has a promising football career of his own. The Beverly Hills High star was named the Los Angeles NFTC D-line MVP and will play in the Under Armour All-American Game in January. USC was the first to offer and he calls the Trojans his leader, but he will camp at both USC and UCLA this summer and wants to take his trips before making a decision.
"Townsend Jr. has good size for the position, a good feel for rushing the passer and a good pass-rushing arsenal," said Haubert.
Another terrific athlete is Jason Gibson from state champion Serra High. There has been talk that Jason, who has played defensive end during his high school career, could end up being moved to linebacker in college. He currently has offers from his top five of USC, UCLA, Cal, Oregon and Florida. Jason had 98 tackles and 16 sacks last season.
"With his build and speed, Gibson should make a good fit as a linebacker but he has good quickness off the ball too, so he could continue to see some time at end in college in passing situations," said Haubert.
Defending state champion DeLaSalle is known for its national record winning streak and for putting out fundamentally sound football players. The latest on the list is Dylan Wynn, who has tremendous technique and motor. Washington State, Oregon State, SDSU and Oklahoma State have all offered the NorCal NFTC D-line MVP.
"Simply put, Dylan is a football player and will make an impact somewhere," said Biggins.
Among the other ends who will be pursued by college recruiters are Puka Lopa from Grant High (Valley Glen, Calif.) who has offers from Washington and Washington State, Arizona and Arizona State plus SDSU. Lopa combines great strength with a nice motor and superior quickness off the ball. Charles Burks (6-0, 225) from Edison High in Huntington Beach is a high motor pass rusher who had 14 sacks in the regular season but got hurt and was forced to miss the playoffs. He currently has an offer from Stanford. DeVante Wilson Corona High likes Washington, Colorado and Arizona, all of whom have offered.
There are also some linemen who could project either inside or outside at the college level depending on how they grow and the system they end up playing in.
At the top of the heap is Lakewood's Todd Barr, who is the highest ranked defensive lineman from California on the ESPNU 150 list at No. 30 overall. Barr is an Under Armour All-American and has offers from all of the Pac-10 schools except for USC, plus additional offers from Nebraska and Tennessee. Last year he had 87 tackles, 32 for loss and 12 sacks.
"He is a little undersized for a defensive tackle and needs to keep working to add good bulk but he has the athleticism and build to be a swing guy early in his college career," said Haubert
Mustafa Jalil (San Diego/Cathedral Catholic) originally committed to San Diego State, but later changed to Cal after taking a few trips to the Berkeley campus. He could play end for the Bears in a 3-4 but is also well suited for playing inside. Mustafa was a key player as a sophomore when his team won a state title.
One of the more interesting prospects to watch will be Stephan Nembot (Van Nuys, Montclair Prep). Nembot is originally from Cameroon and came to the United States with the intention of being a basketball player. He quickly became convinced that football was his future after playing for only one year and so far he has offers from schools such as WSU, ASU, UCLA and Washington. He's the definition of a project player who has all the tools to succeed.
Any way you look at it, colleges will be well served to make a stop in California if they need some defensive linemen for the Class of 2011.
Garry Paskwietz is a writer for ESPN affiliate and USC fan site WeAreSC.com.