Cal, Stanford turn in surprisingly highly ranked recruiting classes
Despite finishing 5-7 last season, Cal signed nine of nation's top 150 players
Despite losing coach Jim Harbaugh, Bay Area rival Stanford had top 25 class
Value of degree, improved facilities have attracted recruits to both schools
BERKELEY -- On Wednesday, Cal football introduced its future in a 1950s-era recreation lodge in a wooded canyon, a building constructed with the intent of giving long-ago fraternity boys something to do other than conduct panty-raids on sororities.
Just a handful of reporters crossed the pool deck into the rustic building and settled in near vats of mustard and ketchup. No big screens TVs or applause from boosters. Just a projector set up in front of an old-fashioned white screen.
But despite the anachronistic setting, what Cal unveiled wasn't retro. Coach Jeff Tedford announced his state-of-the-art recruiting class, a testament to the Bears' ability to navigate the big business, high stakes, overhyped world of college recruiting.
Cal's defense-heavy class of 22 included nine players ranked among the nation's top 150 players. The Bears' 2011 class was ranked in the top 20 by most recruiting analysts.
The bounty was surprising, considering that Tedford's team finished 5-7 last season and missed a bowl game for the first time in seven seasons.
"This is kind of uncharted territory for us because we'd never had a losing season," Tedford said. "You don't know how it's going to affect recruiting. The only thing I can come up with is our body of work over a long period of time and our consistency in bowl games and winning seasons, I think said more."
His program's cross-bay rivals couldn't sell exactly the same message of consistency, having lost Jim Harbaugh last month to the 49ers. But David Shaw, Stanford's fourth head coach this decade, stressed continuity when introducing a class ranked 22nd in the nation.
"We're going to stay with what we do well, but do it better," said Shaw, who was promoted from offensive coordinator. He noted that most Stanford recruits were already familiar with him before he became the head coach.
Both Pac-10 teams landed top recruiting classes despite operating in a vacuum of modest interest and expectations.
There's an obvious reason for some of their combined success: Wednesday the weather in the Bay Area was a balmy, clear 70 degrees. On campus, students wore shorts, while ice and snow gripped much of the country.
And both football programs attribute much of their success to what they can offer academically. Tedford calls the Cal degree, "our number one recruiting tool." While Stanford lost a few recruits because of Harbaugh's exit, the pull of the university -- and encouragement from parents -- along with the program's newfound success proved to be more seductive.
Stanford's degree is now enhanced by the chance to play in a BCS bowl. In Berkeley the Cal degree also comes with new added value.
The most important change for the Bears will be new facilities, which will no longer be either retro or decrepit. The reason Wednesday's event was held in the quaint Strawberry Canyon Recreation Center was that a giant hole has replaced Memorial Stadium. An athletic center should be open later this year and the new stadium is expected to be finished in Fall of 2012, giving Tedford an important new recruiting tool.
Even the replacement facility for the 2011 season holds some excitement: the Bears will play at beautiful AT&T park, home of the world champion Giants. Meanwhile, Tedford and his staff have offices in trailers on the edge of campus.
"Our temporary facilities are nicer than our old facilities," Tedford said.
And while the 2010 football season wasn't a great one on the Cal campus, it was stellar for the wider visibility of the Bears program.
"They all want to play in the NFL," Tedford said. "And Cal had major representation through the playoffs."
Aaron Rodgers, DeSean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and Desmond Bishop (whose tackle of Jackson catapulted the Packers to their first playoff win) have all captured headlines. Tedford's team might not have figured out how to win the Pac-10 or make it to the Rose Bowl, but he has helped make the ultimate dream come true for several players.
Aside from nursing his star recruits through the final steps of signing, calling and checking on them until the signature rolled safely out of the fax machine, Tedford has spent his January days fielding questions about Rodgers.
While Tedford has produced other NFL quarterbacks, many -- such as Akili Smith and Kyle Boller -- were busts. But Rodgers has blossomed into a full-fledged star.
"You could see early on that he had such a command of what was going on," Tedford said.
No Cal quarterback has had that kind of command since, and Tedford's reputation as a quarterback guru has taken a beating. Wednesday's class included just one quarterback, Kyle Boehm from Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, who was listed by Rivals as the No. 7 pro-style prospect in the country. Boehm will have a chance to compete for the job against other candidates, including Brock Mansion, whom Tedford said only has an edge because he started five games last year.
Tedford went heavy on defensive help. His prize recruit is five-star player Viliami Moala, a defensive lineman out of Grant High in Sacramento.
"He's already got the Cal bench-press record before he even gets here," said Tedford, noting that Moala benches 490 pounds.
The class includes four other defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. One of the corners is Kameron Jackson from Long Beach Poly, who had originally verbally committed to Washington.
"We had a big need at corner," said Tedford, who has only two returning corners with any playing time and could offer recruits the chance to start. "We knew we had Kameron [Wednesday] morning when his letter came across. He was the last one we talked to last night and first one we talked to this morning, at about 6:45."
Several in the class have existing ties to Cal. Receiver Maurice Harris is the cousin of current Bears Keenan Allen and Zach Maynard. Offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee, a product of Rodgers' high school in Chico, Calif., is the younger brother of Cal's Tyler Rigsbee. Tight end Richard Rodgers Jr. is the son of the former Bear who made the final lateral in the "The Play" in 1982 against Stanford.
Stanford's class of 19 players, from 12 different states, is highlighted by linebacker James Vaughters of Tucker, Ga.
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