For the past two weeks, as he's recovered from ACL surgery, 6-foot-3, 215-pound Mountlake Terrace (Wash.) athlete Devante Downs has had some time to reflect.
He knew he wanted to attend a school as much for the academics as the football. He knew he wanted to enroll early. As the days wore on, it became clearer and clearer that California was the place for him.
"I want to be a pharmacist. I've wanted to be that since my sophomore year. I took a chemistry class and did really well in it and enjoyed it," says Downs. "They have the No. 1 chemistry department in the nation, and with a highly-respectable program like that, it was an easy decision."
Downs has been in regular contact with Bears head coach Sonny Dykes and running backs coach Pierre Ingram since even before tearing his ACL at an Oregon State prospect camp, and both coaches have seen something quite special in Downs, who – when still healthy – ran a 4.6 40.
"Specifically, they told me that they saw me as one of the players they had at Louisiana Tech: Kenneth Dixon," says Downs. "He was their running back, and they said me fitting in just like him."
Dixon – at 6-foot, 215 pounds – led the Bulldogs in rushing, with 1,194 yards on 200 carries with 27 touchdowns. With Downs' size and speed, he's a perfect fit for the point of the diamond in the bone formation
Downs is a big, athletic prospect who has the tools to make an impact at no less than three different positions on either side of the ball, including running back, fullback, H-back/TE, rush defensive end (in a 4-3), outside linebacker and inside linebacker, but in high school, most of his action comes out of the backfield.
Downs has great patience and lets his blocks develop in front of him before setting his sights on a particular direction, a skill aided by the fact that he has very quick feet for any back, much less one who has weighed as much as 230 pounds, as he did as a junior. Downs is very patient reading his blocks, and does a good job of putting his foot into the ground to make sharp cuts upfield.
With a nice short-area burst after his cuts, Downs can put plenty of distance between himself and defenders, and in the open field, he's very adept at making defenders miss, or at the very least, not allowing them to make clean contact. Because of his size and strength, even when Downs does take contact, he's able to bounce off and gain even more yards. He's not a burner, by any means, but he's gotten faster each of his past two seasons.
On the defensive side of the ball – which is where Stanford wanted him – Downs flashed strong potential as both a run defender and pass rusher as a 3-4 outside linebacker, with his short burst speed helping to track down scrambling quarterbacks. That same ability also allows him to quickly beat pass protectors, and though his pass-rush techniques are a bit of a question mark, his feet, reaction time and athleticism could make for a very strong pass rusher. When in coverage, he shows good agility and awareness.
After a May visit to Berkeley, Downs set himself to researching just how the current Cal staff uses backs like him, and he liked what he saw, to say the least.
"When I went there, I really liked it, but I didn't know much about the coaching staff," he says. "Since then, I've been researching and looking up what they're all about, and I'm really excited about them. That's why I committed."
Another big reason for Downs' decision was his chosen career path.
"I want to be a pharmacist," says Downs. "I've wanted to be that since my sophomore year. I took a chemistry class and did really well in it and enjoyed it. They have the No. 1 chemistry department in the nation, and with a highly-respectable program like that, it was an easy decision."
Both of Downs' parents value education, and though they've stayed mostly at arm's length during the process, they more than approved of his decision to commit to Cal.
"They really value academics, and that played a huge role in this decision," says Downs, who's father went to Maryland. "They were definitely comfortable with me picking Cal."
While Downs had planned to commit several weeks into his team's 2013 season, he saw no reason to wait once the right choice became clear.
"We've been talking a lot the past two weeks, me and coach Dykes," says Downs. "I want to go there, so I was like, ‘Why wait?' I called him and told him and he was really excited."
Downs -- who will visit during the weekend of the Ohio State game -- is close with several Bears targets in the Northwest, particularly defensive lineman Marcus Griffin.
"We talk every day or every other day," says Downs. "He's committed to Wazzu right now, but you never know."