SoCal quarterback class of 2015 has chance to be best ever
MAY 06, 2014 11:00a ET
What used to seem early now has become perilously late. That's how much the recruiting calendar has shifted in the past few years for college football coaches as they crisscross the country scouring for talent as part of this year's spring evaluation period that began on April 15.
Need a quarterback? You're probably too late if you haven't already locked in on one. A few of the top QB recruits actually committed before their junior seasons were over. Most of them had already announced which school they wanted to attend before the spring evaluation period started.
One college offensive coordinator still trying to zero in on the quarterback he hopes to land calls the 2015 group a better crop than what has come out of high school in the past few years. The biggest thing that stood out to him as he sized up the QB crop of 2015? How loaded Southern California is with elite quarterback prospects.
"Five of the eight quarterbacks we liked the most are L.A. kids," the coach said. "Usually that area's overrated for quarterbacks. This year, it seems to be the opposite."
FOX Sports asked seven college coaches who they saw as the best quarterback prospect in the country. Five of them named Josh Rosen, a UCLA commit from Manhattan Beach, Calif., as the top guy. Blake Barnett, a Notre Dame commit from Corona, Calif., and Kyler Murray, an uncommitted recruit out of Allen, Texas, got the other two first-place votes.
Rosen and Barnett are just two of the many SoCal QBs who have generated a lot of buzz this spring with college coaches and recruiting analysts. Ricky Town (St. Bonaventure), a one-time Alabama commit now committed to USC, Brady White (Hart), who just committed to Arizona State last week, and Travis Waller (Servite) are the other L.A. area quarterbacks who are consensus Top 100 recruits.
Town, who draws raves from college coaches for his pocket presence and football savvy, is ranked by 247Sports not only as the nation's No. 1 QB but also as the top prospect in the entire 2015 recruiting class, with Rosen ranked second overall. Sheriron Jones from Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley, a 6-foot-2 dual-threat QB, is ranked by the recruiting sites just outside the Top 100.
Greg Biggins, a Southern California-based national recruiting analyst for scout.com, who spent over a decade evaluating quarterbacks for the Elite 11, viewed as many as six or seven of the area’s quarterbacks as potential Top 100 recruits, when the norm is to have only one such prospect.
Biggins says right now he ranks Rosen as the nation's No. 1 QB prospect, crediting how much he has matured, but adds that Travis Waller's stock is soaring and he could actually end up as his No. 1 guy. The 6-3, 195-pound Waller, who doubles as a standout triple jumper and sprinter on the Servite track team, is still uncommitted but has seen his offer list swell in the past few weeks as colleges have flocked to his high school to check him out.
"Travis and Barnett are the most raw," says Biggins. "Travis has only really played quarterback for like a year. I saw him play in Week 3 against (Bay Area powerhouse) De La Salle and he was good. He made some plays, hung in there, but then to see how much better he was in the playoffs against Alemany. The jump he's made is astronomical.
"Then, I saw him a few weeks ago (at a Las Vegas 7-on-7 tournament, where Rosen, Town and the other touted SoCal QBs also competed). Travis was the guy that everyone wanted to play with. He just keeps getting so much better. His floor isn't as high, but his ceiling is the highest."
Said one college QB coach of Waller, who saw the Servite star's film for the first time only a few weeks ago: "He's a 'wow' kind of athlete. I am really curious to see what he blossoms into."
Both Waller and Barnett say they do pay attention to the online recruiting rankings, which has served as a motivator for them knowing how many other elite QB prospects are in their backyard and as a measuring stick of sorts. (Rosen's team and Waller's team are Trinity League rivals, and the future Bruin won that meeting 42-21 last season behind Rosen's three TDs passing and a fourth rushing.)
Barnett said all of the top quarterbacks are friends and it's created an "awesome" dynamic. "I like it a lot because I get to come out here and compete with all of them at camps and even in games,” he said.
The 6-4, 205-pound Barnett, a gifted dual-threat quarterback, who has worked diligently to tighten up an elongated delivery from his days as a pitcher, was under the radar before the start of his junior season, but then in the season opener on a nationally televised game on FOX Sports West, he matched the touted Brady White of QB factory Hart High in a 56-49 shootout. White completed 35 of 46 passes for 471 yards and three touchdowns in a winning effort while Barnett threw for five touchdowns and ran for 100 yards.
"That kind of sparked it for me, and then coaches started to coming to my games and then the offers started to come in," Barnett said. "Before the season my name was nothing. It wasn't relevant at all to be honest."
Rosen's rise has been even more head-spinning. The son of parents who were both champion ice skaters from the East Coast, Rosen grew up as a standout competitive tennis player. But at 12, he grew weary of the solitary life of a budding tennis star, his mom Liz says. Last season, he led St. John Bosco to a 16-0 season and the California state championship. On the season, he threw for 3,200 yards and 39 touchdowns, completing 69 percent of his passes.
"I think his physical tools are awesome," says former USC assistant coach-turned-Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth, who also works as a coach for the Elite 11. In early March, Rosen's performance at the NIKE Football Training Camp in Redondo Beach earned him a "Golden Ticket" to the Elite 11 finals in Oregon later this summer. Barnett actually landed the Elite 11's first Golden Ticket with his showing at a regional event in early January.
"I don't know what Troy Aikman looked like in high school, but I bet this is what he looked like," Roth said of Rosen. "The ball rips out of his hand. He's got a good frame, and on tape he's athletic."
One college coach who has seen Rosen throw in person said his arm is already better than some NFL quarterbacks playing in the league.
Says another college OC, "He's the best high school deep-ball thrower I've ever seen."
Brian Stumpf, who has been evaluating talent for Elite 11 and traveling the country while helping Nike football training camps for 15 years as Student Sports' VP of football events, said he doesn't recall a year where there's been as many as five quarterbacks picked for the Elite 11 like he expects there will be this year. Stumpf, a former wideout at Cal, said Murray, a 5-10 dual-threat quarterback, probably had the best individual workout for the Elite 11 staff this year, but noted that Murray -- the son of former Texas A&M star Kevin Murray -- is not 6-4.
"Rosen is, and he's really good physically,” Stumpf says. “He's probably the safest bet."
Just where this group could rank is a tough proposition. Long-time reporter Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times has been covering high school football since 1976. He says he doesn't think this group is the best he's seen.
His choice: the 1999 group led by Kyle Boller (Cal), Chris Lewis (Stanford) and J.P. Losman (UCLA, Tulane). Both Losman and Boller ended up as first-round draft picks. Lewis battled through an injury-plagued career and spent the 2004 season on the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad.
Sondheimer actually covered future Hall of Famer John Elway of Granada Hills when he was a top prospect in the area along with two other QBs who ended up in the NFL, Tom Ramsey and Jay Schroeder. Former CFL QB Steve Clarkson, who has made a fortune as a private quarterback coach, and trains White and Waller, among others, also was a record-setting local star from Wilson High in that '79 class. That group, especially given the magnitude of Elway's career, would seem tough to beat.
Another QB group of note: the 1987 class led by Todd Marinovich (USC via Capistrano Valley); Bret Johnson (UCLA and Michigan State via El Toro) and Darian Hagan (Colorado via Locke High). The QB who had the best football career of the '87 group was former Washington star Mark Brunell, who played two hours north of L.A. in the Santa Barbara area.
"Potentially, this is an all-time year for (Southern California quarterbacks)," Stumpf says. "But we'll have to see five or six years down the road to really know."
One SEC offensive coordinator pointed out that for as gifted as Barnett, Rosen and company are, it's a different SoCal high school quarterback that he thinks may be better than all of them. That kid? Malik Henry, a baby-faced 6-2 quarterback from Westlake Village, but he's in the 2016 recruiting class.
"He can throw the (bleep) out of it," said the coach. "Now he really could be special."
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.