Berkeley MSL sets the pace

Over 225 high school football prospects worked out in front of coaches, scouts, and even NFL coaches Saturday and Sunday during the MSL combines held at Memorial Stadium on the Cal-Berkeley campus. There were some standouts, some sleepers, and some definite underclass gems who worked out in hopes they might get noticed. They did.

Current San Francisco 49'ers secondary coach Ron Lynn and 24-year NFL coaching veterans Milt Jackson and Willie Shaw were on hand during the two-day event to time players during their 40-yard dash. Prospects received a sobering dose of reality in terms of how professionals view 40 times, as only one player ran a sub-4.6 on the field turf of Memorial Stadium.

The MSL combines, run by Johnny Battle, Shawn Garrity and Sara Ellison, run prospects through the gamut of a 'combine experience'. Everything from physical tests to mental tests to on-the-field competition is balanced with position coaching - led by well-known quarterbacks coach Roger Theder - and one-on-one battles that gives players a chance to put their games on display and also gives them an idea of where they stand with other players of similar age.

Here's a capsule look at the top offensive performers of the weekend.

Many coaches felt that the quarterback group at Berkeley rivaled any other QB group of the previous nine MSL camps held throughout the country. Led by Willie Tuitama (Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's), Kevin Lopina (Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and Kyle Reed (Oakland (Calif,) McClymonds), Saturday's group was very impressive.

Reed, who claims offers from Oklahoma, did not have the combine he expected, and did not run a 40 time. What he did do, however, was show glimpses of just why Theder considers the McClymonds signal-caller to be one of the best QB's in the country. He's very quick, has a strong arm and release, and shows a very natural presence about himself on the field. Nothing fazes Reed.

Tuitama and Lopina had better throwing days, but aren't quite the athlete Reed is. Willie has an offer from Nebraska, and showed a nice arm and accuracy during the one-on-ones. Lopina was slowed a bit by a knee brace, but the Spartan from De La Salle has plenty of game and ability. Arizona State is a big leader for Kevin right now, and the Sun Devils have offered, along with Nebraska.

Stanford's T.C. Ostrander was on hand to check things out Saturday, so some of that Menlo-Atherton love must have rubbed off on current M-A QB Clark Hagman. The 6-3, 190-pound Hagman had the best day of all the impressive quarterbacks early, showing great arm strength, mobility and accuracy while throwing on the run. Unfortunately Clark had to leave half-way through, so we didn't get to see him finish off his fine showing.

Here are the other quarterbacks that fared well during the weekend:

K.C. Patterson - Roseville (Calif.) Oakmont
Scott Tully - Berkeley (Calif.) St. Mary's College
Patrick Davenny - Granite Bay, California
Ryan Meyers - Fairfield (Calif.) Vanden
Keoki Burbank - Eureka (Calif.) St. Bernard Catholic
Tony Smith - Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill
Greg Mangan - San Francisco (Calif.) St. Ignatius Prep

There were also a couple of very solid junior quarterbacks present Saturday. Hillmar, California QB Nathan Costa is a very good-looking prospect for only being a sophomore. If he continues to develop, who knows how far Costa will go. Turlock (Calif.) Pittman QB Colin Kaepernick hasn't filled out physically, but he's got the frame to do so and he's also been coached very well to this point in his development and has a lot of upside if he continues to improve.
Running Backs:
One of the top athletes at Berkeley during the weekend was Lompoc (Calif.) Cabrillo RB Lydell Sargeant. Sargeant, at 5-9 and 179 pounds, could also be a lock-down corner, but showed too much shake and bake to be ignored carrying the ball. He also caught the ball well out of the backfield. Washington is also showing a bunch of early interest.

Chris Morris is a player that hasn't received a ton of notice statewide yet, but he should be. The 5-11, 211-pound RB from Cupertino (Calif.) Homestead, ran a quick 4.65 40 time, one of the fastest all day on Sunday. He ran for nearly 2000 yards as a junior.

Connie Sowels, from El Cerrito, California, has a nice fullback leading the way in Mario Cox, but I'll talk more about Mario tomorrow. The 6-1, 180-pound Sowels is a physical specimen and will definitely be one to watch in the Bay area this fall.

There were also some notable juniors, such as Fresno (Calif.) Clovis East's Tracy Slocum, Berkeley (Calif.) St. Mary's College RB Josh Tatum, Sunnyvale (Calif.) Fremont RB Jay Atkins and San Jose (Calif.) Independence RB Robert Phillips.

Wide Receivers:
It was tough to pick out one player from this group of outstanding athletes. Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West's Beau Miller, Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln's Deric Davis all were worthy of camp honors, but another Pittsburg receiver - Jason Crawley - gets the nod here.

The 6-3, 175-pound Crawley, who showed up a little late Sunday, definitely showed up where it counted - on the field. Crawley used his exceptional size and speed to handle all the various coverages without much of a problem. Jump balls were all his, and his 4.67 40 was one of the top-5 times of the day. Jason has a lot of game, and he brought all of it to Berkeley.

One 'sleeper' prospect that just couldn't be ignored Saturday was Concord (Calif.) De La Salle WR Brian Williams. The 6-0, 175-pound Williams never dropped a ball and had some downright remarkable catches against tight coverage. When it came to the 'Ohhh factor', Williams got his share of the action. Add to it his 4.80 40 and 33.5-inch vertical jump and you have an athlete worthy of notice. As of Sunday, no school had been in contact with Brian. We'll see if that changes after his MSL performance.

The top tight end of the camp was Roseville (Calif.) Woodcreek's Ehab Tayeh. Tayeh, who ran a very respectable 4.93 40, looked comfortable catching the ball and blocking. In fact, he may have been one of the best pure receivers at camp. He's got nice size (6-3, 225). All he needs to do is polish his game and work on the little things to become a smoother athlete, but the raw material is there in spades.

Offensive Linemen:
There were plenty of big men out in force this past weekend in Berkeley, but only a few stood out as coordinated athletes that have the potential to break it big in D1 ball. As is the case with most high school OL, athletes emerged that are riped to be coached up. The talent is there, all that's left is the teaching.

John Merritt-Sharp from San Jose (Calif.) Independence emerged Sunday as a big player with great footwork that just needs to crank his game up a notch or two. At 6-2 and 304 pounds, John moves very well for a man his size, almost sneaky fast. He has an athletic way about him, and could be shaped into one heck of a player with the proper coaching.

Adam Juratovac from Palo Alto (California) Henry M. Gunn also established themselves as top-rate prospects that will garner D1 interest. Two other offensive linemen were notable for their sheer size and ability to move. West Linn, Oregon's Daniel Patricio from Van Nuys (Calif.) Birmingham are on the recruiting radars of many Pac-10 schools, hoping these mammoth men will continue to get stronger, quicker, and more coordinated as they mature. Don't be surprised if one of these guys end up on a D1 roster next season.

Another lineman who piqued interest is 6-2, 255-pound Kyle Pearson from Modesto (Calif.) Modesto Christian. Pearson looked the part as one of the more 'ripped' players to come to MSL this past weekend. It's hard to know if he's got enough frame to add the 40-plus pounds surely needed to play OL in college, but he could be an interesting choice at defensive end or could try and retain his weight and play an inside linebacker position. With 96 tackles and 6 sacks to his credit last year, he definitely has a nose for the ball.

Click on the MSL Combines Website link for more information on who MSL is and the locations for the various high school combines.

Part Two on the defensive standouts will run Tuesday

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