Man among boys
The sky's the limit for OL Westerman, who has already proved himself against the elite
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was a summer day in Los Angeles when it became evident that offensive tackle Christian Westerman (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) was one of the top overall prospects in the country for the 2011 recruiting cycle.
During USC's Rising Stars Camp, which annually features some of the top talent in the country, Westerman had a breakthrough performance in one-on-one drills against the likes of Texas signee Jackson Jeffcoat (the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2010 class) and others.
"It was a good experience going against some of the best guys in the country," he said. "It's good going against great competition and not just average guys. It's good to go against guys that are actually going to play at the next level. Talent-wise in Arizona, there are a lot of good players that come out of here at the skill positions."
Westerman showed tremendous feet, balance, quickness and strength, probably due in part to his training in boxing and lots of basketball when he was young. Those skill sets have helped him be an important part of back-to-back state championship teams at Hamilton High School, and that has dozens of high-level programs salivating at the thought of him becoming part of their program.
Football is in Westerman's blood. His father, also named Christian Westerman, signed with California from the Class of 1986 out of El Toro High in Southern California. He played linebacker for the late Bruce Snyder in Berkeley.
"Recruiting wasn't like this when I came out," he quipped, mentioning the numerous interview requests he gets on a daily basis.
That's no surprise when you look at the younger Westerman's offer list. It reads like a who's who of college football. Texas, Alabama, Florida, USC, Notre Dame, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Florida State, California, Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, Michigan, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington, Auburn, Colorado and a host of others have offered the 6-foot-5, 288-pounder. Some think he's the most coveted prospect in the country.
"Recruiting is not too bad," he said. "I get a lot of phone calls. I call a lot of people and talk to a lot of people. It's cool right now and not too hectic yet. I enjoy talking to the coaches from Texas like [Longhorns head coach] Mack Brown. I also enjoy talking to [USC head coach] Lane Kiffin, and I liked talking to [former Trojans head coach] Pete Carroll when he was there. I also like [Florida head coach] Urban Meyer. He's a good guy to talk to."
Westerman did attend Texas' junior day in February and enjoyed his trip. He plans to make several additional unofficial visits and trim his list to five or seven schools over the summer. His family has discussed the possibility of moving to be near whatever school he chooses.
Here's a look at three recruiting areas that will get interesting during this recruiting cycle and well into the future:
Los Angeles: With Rick Neuheisel and UCLA finishing with the nation's No. 10 class in the 2010 cycle and Lane Kiffin and his staff looking to continue what Pete Carroll started at USC, there will be quite a few battles in the top talent-producing area on the West Coast. This is a departure from earlier this decade, when it seemed the Trojans could cherry-pick the elite Los Angeles talent.
Detroit: The Motor City has long been an underrated metropolitan area for football talent. Michigan has had its choice of the top prospects here for some time, but Michigan State has become a major player under Mark Dantonio, landing top talents like 2011 linebacker Lawrence Thomas (Detroit/Renaissance) and 2010 Under Armour All-American defensive end William Gholston (Detroit/Southeastern).
Virginia's Tidewater: First-year Virginia coach Mike London has deep roots in this talent-rich area on the coast -- a region that has long been dominated by in-state rival Virginia Tech. It will be interesting to see if the Cavaliers can make a dent in the Hokies' stronghold. The Cavaliers already landed two big commits (as mentioned below) this past weekend.
Speaking of Virginia
London scored a strong recruiting victory Saturday when ESPNU 150 Watch List athlete Clifton Richardson (Newport News, Va./Menchville) committed to the Cavaliers over a host of other programs.
"They treat you like you are already part of the family," Richardson said. "They don't even really talk about football. They talk about you coming there and getting an education. They want to develop you as a person, and I really feel that I can talk to them about anything."
The talented athlete said late last week that the Cavaliers were in the lead, and he pulled the trigger on a pledge during an unofficial visit to Charlottesville this past weekend. He said right now he is a "soft commit" to Virginia, but explained his position.
"I talked to Coach London about it and told him that I was a soft commit," he said. "I am going to keep looking at all of my options, but deep down in my heart I know that I am going to be a Cavalier."
The Tidewater area is a key recruiting battleground for the Cavaliers program. Richardson was the first 2011 commit from that area, but isn't the only one. Defensive tackle David Dean (Virginia Beach, Va./Green Run) also committed to Virginia over the weekend. The 6-1, 275-pounder picked the Cavaliers over Louisville, Duke and West Virginia.
ESPNU 150 Watch List offensive lineman Austin Blythe (Williamsburg, Iowa/Williamsburg) has two major decisions forthcoming: where to go to college and what sport to participate in once he gets there.
The 6-3, 280-pounder is a Division I offensive line prospect with scholarship offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State and Stanford. However, he also is a two-time defending state champion wrestler and has college opportunities there.
"There's a better chance of me doing one or the other than doing both," he said. "I was talking to my coaches and my parents about the amount of time it takes [to do both] and the stress that I would be under doing both and also taking care of what I have to do to be a good student."
Regardless, wrestling has helped Blythe on the gridiron.
"It really helps you because it makes you work hard," Blythe said. "Also, it helps you with your drive and your competitiveness, and in football when you take on a guy one-on-one. It also helps with balance, which is very important in football considering the position I play. I think [wrestling] helps the bigger guys probably more than the little guys."
In terms of his school decision, the in-state Hawkeyes -- who have a proud tradition in wrestling and also won the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech last year -- are a team to watch. Plus, Iowa City is only 25 minutes up the road from Blythe's home town.
"Iowa is probably at the top of my list, just because I grew up following all of their sports teams," he said. "But, I also have several members of my family that went to and that follow Iowa State. Kansas State and Stanford also are good schools and have great programs. I will probably visit those schools as well. The biggest thing I am looking for is a place I can be successful both in academics and athletics. I also am going to be looking at proximity to home. I don't want to be at a place where I never see my family unless I come home."
Blythe says he's not close to making a decision on his sport of choice or a commitment to a college, but don't expect him to wait until national signing day.
"I plan to get my decision out of the way before next wrestling season," Blythe said. "This year, I sort of got engulfed in all of this [recruiting], and it took my mind away from wrestling and I dropped three early matches I shouldn't have."
Florida State's character
It's pretty obvious that first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher and Florida State are off to a terrific start for the 2011 recruiting cycle. Eight of the nine prospects committed to the Seminoles are ESPNU 150 Watch List members, but what many in that program are even more excited about is the high character they believe each of the nine players has. This is important when you are in Fisher's position: trying to recapture the former glory of a once-great program. Not only does it take talented players; it also takes players that have pride in what they are trying to accomplish.
Athlete Damiere Byrd (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek) continues to show he's one of the fastest prospects in the country. This past weekend, he set a Nike combine record with a 4.26-second 40-yard dash time in Philadelphia.
"I thought that I had run fast," Byrd said. "But I did not think that I had run that fast."
The 5-9, 155-pounder -- who holds offers from Iowa, Rutgers, Stanford, South Carolina, Duke, Maryland, Connecticut Cincinnati and Louisville -- projects as a slot receiver in college.
"[Speed] makes it easier when you are playing football," he said. "If you mess up a little on your technique or something goes wrong during a play, speed can help you make up for it."
Byrd does not have any unofficial visits planned at this time because he is in the midst of running track.
Cornerback Doran Grant (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent's-St. Mary's) had a great day of testing at the Ohio Nike combine. The 5-11, 172-pounder had a 41.2-inch vertical, a 3.97-second short shuttle and a 4.56 40-yard dash time. TCU picked up a commitment from what might be the most under-recruited linebacker in Texas earlier this week in Deryck Gildon (Arlington, Texas/Martin). Look for Arkansas to be more involved with prospects in the Las Vegas area, as receivers coach Kris Cinkovich, who was at UNLV last year, has ties to the area. The Razorbacks are showing strong interest in running back/athlete Brandon Wright (Las Vegas/Palo Verde), among others. The buzz around the greater Phoenix area is that defensive back JeRyan Butler (Tempe, Ariz./Marcos De Niza) is flying way under the radar during this recruiting cycle. One source said if Butler were in the state of California, he would be a high-level Pac-10 recruit. During the short time he was at the Under Armour combine Sunday in Glendale, Ariz. (it was cut short because of bad weather), he was impressive. Florida and Georgia are starting to show interest in defensive end Deion Barnes (Philadelphia/Northeast). He already holds offers from Pittsburgh and South Carolina. Look for the stock of running back Teondray Caldwell (Los Angeles/Venice) to rise in the coming weeks, and multiple programs from across the country are showing interest.
J.C. Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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