- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
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California prospects have made their mark on the Under Armour All-America Game over the past six years, but the game has earned something of a reputation for being top-heavy with talent from the southeast. That perception was largely shattered last year, when seven prep standouts from California -- including four of the state's top 10 players -- participated. And it will take another hit this January, as five of the Golden State's best are already committed to play in the annual showcase.
Those five -- all ESPN Watch List members who have a chance to be ranked highly in the state when the initial ESPN 300 is released later this month -- are quarterback Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto), athlete Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), athlete John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central) and tight end Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada).
Chryst is one of five quarterbacks on the roster at this point, though it isn't much of a surprise to see a California quarterback headed to the Under Armour Game. At least one California quarterback has been on the roster for all six editions of the game, including three -- Jesse Scroggins, Chase Rettig and Nick Montana -- for the 2010 contest. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound pocket passer holds early offers from Stanford and USC, but he has been and will likely continue to be very guarded with the recruiting process.
In the 2011 game, just three California prospects took part. This year, the state is already set to match that number just with high-quality players at the athlete position. Jackson, Smith and Quick all have the ability to make a mark on the game and the next level on either side of the ball, though all three have claimed a fondness for offense.
The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Jackson, who holds 20 offers, said the decision to play in the Under Armour Game was an easy one.
"Growing up as a kid, I'd always see that game on ESPN," Jackson said. "I said as a kid that I was going to play in it."
Originally from Illinois, Jackson said he doesn't feel any pressure to represent California or the West region in the game. Rather, he's headed down there to prove himself against some of the top talent in the nation and represent himself as a player.
"I want to show I can get out there, show my talent and have fun," he said.
Coming at it from a different angle is Smith, who is closing in on 20 scholarship offers. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound two-way threat said he chose the game because of the tremendous NFL talent it has had throughout the years. He added that no matter how many California recruits wind up making the cross-country trek with him, they'll all be working down there together.
"I'm going down there to represent the West, my team, my community and who I am," Smith said. "The players that I'll be playing with, we will represent the West."
The book on the 6-foot, 170-pound Quick is right at the top of his offer sheet and scouting report. He is one of the handful of California recruits with an offer from Alabama and the first line of his evaluation reads: "This dude is an explosive jet of a weapon and might be one of the best skill position players this class has to offer -- and at more than one position."
Luatua, at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, is the state's most highly recruited tight end and one of its most-recruited players overall. Like Chryst, Luatua will be the latest in a long line of California standouts at his position to participate in the game, including Blake Ayles, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and Marcus Baugh.
With the announced roster set to more than double by the time the final list is assembled, there will be an opportunity to add even more California standouts to the game. But as it stands now, with these five leading the charge, all indications are that California is back in the Under Armour Game in a big way.
California prospects have made their mark on the Under Armour All-America Game over the past six years, but the game has earned something of a reputation for being top-heavy with talent from the southeast.