Corona (Calif.) Centennial defensive back John Plattenburg grew up in Texas. He spent his freshman year at Houston (Tex.) Lamar. He grew up with two colleges dominating his thoughts: USC -- his mother's alma mater -- and LSU -- the school out of which much of his father's side of the family matriculated.
He never thought of California that way. The Golden Bears were all but friend-zoned.
"I used to watch Marshawn Lynch back in the day. I've watched Keenan Allen, DeSean [Jackson], I watched [Aaron] Rodgers. I watched a lot of people at Cal. I never really thought about Cal like that," Plattenburg says. "But, I knew of Cal, and I knew how prestigious the academics were, and how they also did in football."
The reason he moved out to the Golden State with his mother -- who gave him a choice as to whether to stay in Texas or come with her to the West Coast -- was, in fact, to garner more attention from the Trojans. He was a running back, after all, and with three senior tailbacks ahead of him – even though he knew he could perform -- he felt that the greener pastures lay out west.
Then, during Cal's Elite Junior Day, that nice girl who you just hang out with got a lot prettier.
"When I went up there, it just felt amazing to me," says Plattenburg. "It was like seeing a beautiful girl on the spot. It's an eye-opener. The way they spoke about the academics and the graduates and how much pride they take in the academics, and how much they invest in their players, it really put a big smile on my face at the time, at Junior Day. It got me going."
That smile had hardly faded when, on Wednesday, after watching Plattenburg win the 100m and 4x100 races against Corona (Calif.) Santiago, that beautiful girl finally called back.
"Oh, man, oh, my gosh, a couple weeks ago, coach Stewart and coach Buh told me that they were going to come watch me run track, because they wanted to see the explosiveness, so I've been waiting for this day," Plattenburg says. "I usually do high jump, but I knew Cal was coming, so I told my coach to let me just focus on my running, and he was alright with that."
Defensive coordinator Andy Buh and defensive backs coach Randy Stewart were quite taken with Plattenburg's speed. On film, they'd already seen that, despite being right on the border of a cornerback and a safety at 5-foot-11, 187 pounds, and despite only playing defense for the first time in the first round of the playoffs this past season, he was a football player. Above all, they saw that Plattenburg is a pure athlete.
Back at Lamar, Plattenburg participated fully in track and field, not only running, but also throwing. The first time he threw a discus in a meet, he hit 118 feet. Now at Centennial, he's been poking and prodding 2013 Cal signee Garrett Hughes to get him to throw the shot put, but, sadly, to no avail.
"Naw. He should!" says Plattenburg, who goes on to remark that Hughes's big lower half is perfectly-suited to chuck the old 12-pound iron around. "That's what I'm saying! That's what I keep trying to tell him. Even before this year -- my sophomore year -- I did every single event ... I've been trying to tell him. It's something about football players at our school. In Texas, we were bred to do more than one sport, but out here, they just stick to one sport. I'm like, ‘You've got to live life in high school, man. Have fun. Get some medals or something.'"
Plattenburg's high-energy personality has meshed well with the new Bears staff, and particularly with Stewart, who kept right up with his defensive backs during drills in spring camp.
"Man, that right there, that's probably the second thing I want, right after academics, is the atmosphere," says Plattenburg. "The vibe that I get from the coaches, the vibe that I get from the players around me, that's what gets me even more excited to play at an even higher level. Knowing that they're that interactive with us and that high-energy, and that they can run with us, and talk to us about it, that just puts them on another level, and that's what I love about it."
As much as he loves Cal, it was exceedingly difficult for the three-star prospect to not commit to the Bears on the spot.
"Hoohoohoo, I wanted to, but honestly, I have to talk to my parents and go through the process," says Plattenburg. "The way I'm trying to handle it is not to rush it, because I don't want to go into it not having taken my visits. I don't want to be the guy who committed, but at the end, decommit.
"It meant a lot to me, because I know that Cal doesn't offer everybody off the bat. That's not how they do it. It meant a lot to me for them to actually come out with it. I want to make sure that there's nothing else out there. I still want to explore, even though I do love Cal."
Plattenburg isn't waiting long before going on his second date with the Bears. After being invited to the NIKE Football Training Camp at Laney College in Oakland -- to be held on May 19 -- one of the first things Plattenburg did was make sure he worked his schedule so that he got into the Bay Area a day early.
"I'm going to come out maybe Friday night or Saturday morning, and then I've got the NFTC on Sunday, and I told coach Buh and coach Stewart that I'll stop by on Saturday, if I can," says Plattenburg. "Then, I'll be back in the fall for maybe an official."
After waiting so long for his Cal offer, Plattenburg says that the Bears are the leaders in the clubhouse.
"Mmmmm, I think so," he says. "I mean, even though that's really the only school -- besides USC, but I don't count USC -- right now, as of what I've seen and what they've spoken to me -- and I've actually met every single person on the coaching staff -- I would say, yes, they are. Yeah, they are."
Love Story in the Making for Plattenburg
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