Bears Unveil New Recruits

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Schools across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday, when high school football players were finally allowed to make their college choices official.

And at an informal press conference complete with game film of each prospect, Cal head football coach Tom Holmoe announced his 2000 recruiting class.

Seventeen preps faxed their national letters of intent to Holmoe's office yesterday, which marked the beginning of the high school signing period. An additional seven junior college players inked their letters of intent last month.

"We feel very good about the addition of these new players," Holmoe said. "We identified our key recruits early and they responded when we made scholarship offers. We were pretty much done with the bulk of our recruiting effort by the end of December, which is a pretty positive sign showing we got the players we wanted."

This class is a step down from last year's haul, though. Last year's class was rated in the top-20 by most recruiting publications, and included top prep prospects Kyle Boller, Nnamdi Asomugha and Atari Callen.

The coach insisted he didn't settle for second-best this year.

"Last year, we really benefited from a strong rated class led by a couple of real highlighters," he said. "But we recruited almost all of (this year's recruits) right from the very beginning. We feel each one of these guys has a definitive thing that we want them to do, and some of the guys are going to help us in a big way."

Still, the jury is out on the class. D.J. Williams, the consensus top high school football player in the nation, is still deciding between Cal, Miami and Florida State, and Holmoe said he expects to sign another prep wide receiver within the next few days.

The coaching staff targeted a few positions for improvement through recruiting, and managed to meet its needs in those areas. Wide receiver is the Bears' biggest concern going into next season - Cal lost its only reliable target, Mike Ainsworth, to poor grades - and Holmoe has added some immediate help at that position.

"Our first intention was to improve the wide receiver position," Holmoe said. "It was something we needed with the change in the personnel at wide receiver over the last year."

Holmoe expects junior college transfers Charon Arnold (El Camino City College, Wilmington, Calif.) and Chad Heydorff Glendale CC, La Canada, Calif.) to come in and compete for starting spots this spring.

"We're hoping that the JC guys will come in and have an immediate effect," Holmoe said. "We're counting on those guys to come in and play."

Arnold is a 5-foot-10 speedster (4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash) who Holmoe hopes will give the Bears a big-play threat.

"He's shifty and very elusive, and he gets deep," the coach said. "He'll give us a dimension we haven't had."

Heydorff, who is ranked the No. 66 junior college player in the country by Superprep, who led the state with 86 catches for 1,616 yards, should also contend for starting duties in spring practice.

"We needed production, period," Holmoe said. "Is he a possession receiver? No. But he possessed 86 balls, and we like that a lot."

The most intriguing story in Cal's 2000 class is junior college transfer Derek Swafford, who Holmoe recruited as a receiver. Swafford signed with Northwestern out of high school before being selected in the third round of the major league draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Swafford spent five seasons in the minors before returning to Ventura Junior College, where he played half a season before quitting the team due to a personal conflict with his coach. The 25-year-old sophomore signed with Cal and received a scholarship, although the Pirates will pay part of his expenses.

"I like the fact that he's had work experience," Holmoe said. "If you go through five years of the minor leagues, you gain maturity."

Preps Geoff McArthur (Palisades High School, Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and Mario Hagan (Chaparral HS, Las Vegas) round out the Bears' receiving class. Hagan is a converted running back, while McArthur led California high schools with 91 catches for 1,779 yards.

"It's kind of hard to describe," McArthur said of signing with the Bears. "Cal was one of my top choices. It's something I always dreamed about doing."

Holmoe also addressed the Bears' critical lack of depth at quarterback by signing two slingers. Junior college transfer Eric Holtfreter (Los Angeles Valley CC, Lancaster, Calif.) is expected to take the majority of the snaps this spring while returning starter Boller recovers from the shoulder injury he sustained last season. Holmoe called Holtfreter a "drop-back quarterback" with good arm strength and limited mobility.

On the other hand, prep signal-caller Reggie Robertson (Suhuaro HS, Tucson, Ariz.) is known for his creativity and mobility. Holmoe said he doesn't possess the arm strength of either Holtfreter or Boller, but he is an accurate thrower who will probably redshirt this season in hopes of taking over once Boller leaves.

The Bears also inked five prospects on the offensive line, which Holmoe listed as a target position. Junior college transfers Eddie Martinez (Glendale CC, Los Angeles) and Nofoaalii Tuitama (El Camino CC, Torrance, Calif.) are expected to compete for immediate playing time. Neither player is enrolled at Cal for the spring semester, so the earliest they can join the team is next August, when the Bears begin fall training camp. They will be joined by preps Micah German (Newark HS, Newark, Del.), Eric O'Brien (Wooster HS, Reno, Nev.) and Marvin Phillip (Oak Ridge HS, Cameron Park, Calif.)

In addition to addressing his team's offensive needs, Holmoe nabbed a few highly rated prospects on defense. Linebacker Wendell Hunter (Carson HS, Los Angeles) was named the Los Angeles City Player of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, and is rated an All-American by Prepstar. Defensive end Tosh Lupoi (De La Salle HS, Concord) is rated the No. 80 overall prospect in the Far West by Superprep, and safety Perron Wiley (Clovis West HS, Fresno, Calif.) was rated No. 93 in the Far West by the same publication. James Bethea (Cleveland HS, Reseda, Calif.), who Holmoe called the fastest member of the class, is a Prepstar All-American and rushed for 1,929 yards as a running back his senior season. He is projected as a safety at Cal.

Holmoe conceded that the relative dearth of highly ranked prep athletes in his class is partially a result of last season's 4-7 record.

"We need to get to a point where we are getting to bowl games winning them, and having winning seasons," he said.

But the Bears may also receive a lift from a pair of players they hoped to have in the lineup last season. Linebacker Chris Ball (Mt. San Antonio CC, Rialto, Calif.) signed with Cal a year ago but needed an additional class to fulfill entrance requirements. He took care of that last fall and has re-enrolled this semester, and is expected to compete for starting duties after the Bears' three starting linebackers graduate this spring. Meanwhile, defensive end Johnny Jackson (Sacramento CC, Sacramento, Calif.), who also failed to meet transfer requirements last semester, is petitioning the NCAA for readmission. A decision is expected next week.


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