With the Under Armour All-America Game practices starting today in Orlando, the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl practices beginning on Wednesday and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl kicking off next Monday, Scout takes a look at the five key storylines involving prospects from the West in the big three All-American games.
1) Who's Going Where?
Three of the top players out West will be making their commitments at the upcoming All-American Games.
At the Under Armour All-America Game, Gardena (Calif.) Serra athlete Brandon Burton will choose from Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford and UCLA. We've always felt this was a Noles/Bruins clash and right now, it looks like a very tight battle. Burton loved his visit to FSU and Nole commit Malik Henry is one of his closest friends. We still feel the opportunity to stay close to home and play on both sides of the ball gives UCLA a slight edge but again, it's a close one.
McKinley visited Notre Dame, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington and the Irish and Huskies are locked in a tight one. We've gone back and forth on where McKinley could end up and we're confident in saying he has as well. The Huskies have been recruiting him harder and longer than anyone but our gut feel is the Irish land the talented pass catcher.
Crawford recently came out with a final six of Miami, Michigan, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Washington but the Wolverines look very solid here. Crawford had a great official visit to Ann Arbor and Oregon, his other co-leader looks about full at the receiver position, making this call a little easier than the others.
2) Who's Number One?
Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West linebacker Caleb Kelly started out the cycle as the top prospect from the West and after the summer, Lake Stevens (Wash.) quarterback Jacob Eason, a Georgia commit, moved to the top and has stayed there.
Five of six players in the West that are five-stars are playing in the Army Bowl. The one who isn't, Gardena (Calif.) Serra defensive end Oluwole Betiku, who committed to USC last week, is at Under Armour but will miss the week of practice game with an injury.
So all eyes will be on San Antonio, where Eason, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, tries to seal the top spot in the region while Kelly, the High School Butkus Award Winner who's considering Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Oregon, tries to recapture the No. 1 ranking.
And factoring in there heavily is the No. 3 player in the West, Torrance (Calif.) North outside linebacker Mique Juarez, who's the top outside linebacker nationally and may be the best all-around football player in the West. Juarez was originally set to announce his decision in San Antonio, but will push it back to closer to Signing Day, so his only worry that week will be his play on the field, while UCLA, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Washington and Alabama worry about where he'll pick.
3) Who Has the Most to Prove?
Los Angeles (Calif.) Windward defensive end Breland Brandt, a commit to UCLA, first made a name for himself at the Army Combine two years ago and then at the Nike Camp a few months later, but the former basketball star had focused on hoops for his school in the offseason.
Plus Brandt played at a small school, Windward, known for its hoops but not really for its football, so Brandt, who played high level AAU basketball, will really get his first major exposure to another level of football at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
The four-star Scout 100 member has the skill set and athleticism to more than hold his own but he's eager to get out there and prove it against some of the other players from the West who play at more high-profile schools.
Long Beach (Calif.) Poly quarterback Malik Henry has been a known name for a while in the Southland, but his senior year was up-and-down after having to sit out some games after transferring from IMG Academy in Florida.
The California native started his prep career at Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian then transferred to Westlake (Calif.) Westlake Village as a sophomore and junior, where he really put himself on the map, and was at Westlake when he committed to Florida State.
He decided to spend his senior year at IMG Academy, but when former Florida State quarterback and IMG coach Chris Weinke left to coach in the NFL, Henry left IMG not long after and played his final season at Long Beach Poly.
Now, back in Florida, where he'll play in college, Henry, who's always shined at national showcase events, will try to show what made him one of the most heavily pursued passers in this class.
And few players have been better on big national stages like La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat athlete Trevon Sidney. At almost every 7on7 tournament and camp that Sidney participated in the past two years, he's been one of the best players, if not the best overall performer, at those.
But his senior year, in pads and on Friday nights, didn't always match the offseason performances so Sidney will look to show that his big performances weren't just limited to the offseason when he's in San Antonio.
4) Who Could Jump to Five-Stars?
Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian athlete Michael Pittman is the highest-rated four-star in the West, just a few spots out from being a five-star.
Few players had the impact on their teams this year like Pittman did, and the longtime Scout 100 member really settled in as a receiver this year for the Lions.
Initially, we thought he was best suited for the defensive side of the ball but the more we watched him this fall, the more its clear he's a receiver, and an impact receiver at that, when he gets to USC.
While Pittman is rated as an athlete, Westlake (Calif.) receiver Theo Howard and McKinley, are right behind Pittman and have both been in the mix as the West's top receiver in the 2016 class, which USC commit Tyler Vaughns from La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat has held on to for over a year.
Howard was the star of the Warriors offense this fall and he's the fastest receiver in the West in this class. McKinley has been one of the most productive players in the region the past two years for the Huskies.
Defensively, the player with the best chance to move up to five-stars is Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei linebacker Curtis Robinson, a commit Stanford. Like Mique Juarez and Pittman, Robinson is in the discussion for the best all-around football player in the West.
5) Who Got Snubbed?
We know not every deserving player will make one of the big three All-American Games but there were four players we felt definitely belonged in either Orlando, Southern California or San Antonio.
The biggest snub in our eyes was Concord (Calif.) De La Salle defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa. Tagaloa is the top rated interior lineman out West and a Scout 100 selection. He's a three year starter for the Spartans and was the best player on the field in their state title win over a very good Centennial team. He's big, strong and active and a load to handle in the middle.
Brandon Wellington is another player who belonged in one of the games. The Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Catholic standout and Washington commit is one of the most versatile players out West and has the ability to play running back, linebacker or safety in college. He's simply a winner as well and led his team to back to back state titles over traditional power Bellevue.
UCLA linebacker commit Krys Barnes is a very talented player who we could see making an early impact in college. The Bakersfield (Calif.) Liberty standout has size, strength, loves to hit and is very instinctual as well. He's a player we liked a lot over the summer during the 7v7 circuit and is even better with the pads on. Barnes could end up at outside or inside 'backer in college but we're confident he'll make a lot of plays for the Bruins.
Last but not least, after the season he had, we really felt Gardena (Calif.) Serra athlete Khalil Tate deserved to play somewhere. You can make an argument that there wasn't a more dynamic player in the state this past season than the Arizona commit. As a dual threat quarterback, he was always good for 2-3 big plays every game and can hurt a defense with his arm or his legs. He could have also played wide receiver or safety if needed and offers the positional versatility that is always needed at these types of games.
National recruiting analyst Greg Biggins contributed to this report.