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Late defections take toll on Cal recruiting class

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POSTED February 1, 2012 8:22 p.m.

BERKELEY  (AP) — Instead of celebrating a top 10 recruiting class that featured some of the most heralded prospects on the West Coast, California had to settle for a class that will end up in the middle of the Pac-12.

The Golden Bears finalized their class Wednesday led by strong-armed quarterback Zach Kline, receivers Bryce Treggs, Darius Powe and Kenny Lawler, versatile athlete Cedric Dozier, and offensive linemen Freddie Tagaloa and Christian Okafor.

But this year's group is more notable for the prized prospects who backed out on commitments to Cal and signed elsewhere after ace recruiter and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi left for Washington last month.

"Anyone would say it's been incredibly tough for them," said Adam Gorney, the West recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "They've gone from having a tremendous class to piecing together a class. I don't remember a time when an assistant had such an effect on a class whenever they left."

Safety Shaq Thompson, defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy and receiver Jordan Payton all committed to Cal at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 7, giving the school a shocking haul of talent. Star defensive lineman Arik Armstead also was leaning toward Cal, giving coach Jeff Tedford four of the top prospects on the West Coast to rebuild a program that had fallen into mediocrity the past few seasons.

But the defections began shortly after Lupoi, the nation's top recruiter in 2010, left along with receivers coach Eric Kiesau, for more money to join the Huskies.

"It's been a challenging couple of weeks here," Tedford said. "I really believe this is about the guys who chose to come here for the right reasons. I feel like it was a great fit for them."

McCarthy was the first to decommit, deciding to go to UCLA instead. Thompson ended up signing with Washington, Payton and fellow receiver Kenny Walker also opted for UCLA and Armstead signed with Oregon.

"Cal was the story of that All-Star game from a commitment standpoint, and then it's all gone in a couple of weeks," said JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director for 247Sports. "If they had never had that, it wouldn't have been as tough a pill to swallow. They say it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. In recruiting, it's better to have never loved."

The defections took Cal from a class projected to rank in the top 10 and compete with USC for the best on the conference, according to analysts, to one that is out of the top 20 nationally in most rankings.

Cal was ranked 22nd by ESPN, 24th by Rivals, 25th by 247Sports and 38th by Scout.com. The Bears finished in the middle of the conference. The class was tilted toward offense with the strengths at receiver, line and quarterback.

Tedford said the timing of Lupoi's departure made the process difficult, but he said he didn't want to get into any "mudslinging" over that topic and tried to steer the conversation to the players who did sign rather than the ones who got away.

"I wouldn't say we're in trouble," Tedford said. "We have a lot of great recruits here. ... I don't want this to be a big Tosh thing. This is about the recruits who are here."

The class is not without talent, most notably Kline, who is widely considered to be one of the best pro-style quarterback prospects behind Notre Dame's Gunner Kiel. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes this past season for 3,630 yards and 36 touchdowns at San Ramon Valley High School in nearby Danville.

For a school that has been searching for an elite quarterback since Aaron Rodgers left for the NFL, Kline could be a major addition.

"He has a great arm, has great pocket presence," Tedford said. "He's very accurate throwing the ball, can throw any ball on the field. He's a student of the game. He really likes being a student of the game. That's the next phase for him to be even more a part of that. I'm really encouraged by his eagerness to learn. I don't think there's any doubt about his capabilities."

Kline and Okafor of Houston enrolled in school last month and are expected to participate in spring practice, with Kline getting a chance to compete with incumbent Zach Maynard for the starting job.

Among the other notable recruits are Treggs, the son of former Cal star Brian Treggs, Powe, Dozier, Tagaloa, and linebacker Michael Barton of nearby Concord. Lawler announced late Wednesday that he also would go to Cal.

"It's still not a bad class," Shurburtt said. "It's not the end of the world. They got a quarterback. If that position keeps trending the way it's trending nationally, you almost want to count those guys double because they are so valuable."

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