Over the past two weeks, all four California Pac-10 schools -- Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA -- have hosted junior days, but it's the Bears who were the big winners as far as overall talent and buzz coming out of the event.
"I went to USC and UCLA two weeks ago but the visit to Cal was by far the best one for me," said Encino (Calif.) Crespi offensive lineman Jordan Simmons. "I freaking loved it there, it was an incredible time. I loved the coaching staff, meeting all the other players there and seeing what Cal is doing with their remodel on their facilities.
"The talent all around us was insane and Cal is in everyone's head right now. I got a great vibe from being there and really like the new offensive line coach, Jim Michalczik. He was with the Raiders last year and is a great coach and a great guy. We had about a 45-minute conversation and I'm definitely feeling the Bears right now."
It was a junior day that saw Sacramento (Calif.) Grant safety Shaq Thompson, a member of the ESPNU Watch List and one of the state's top prospects, announce for the Bears and featured a loaded roster that highlighted two of the strongest positions in the West -- offensive tackle and wide receiver.
"The timing was just right," Thompson said. "I'm not one of those guys that has to play things out and have a big press conference. I knew Cal was the best place for me and committing at junior day around all the other top prospects just seemed like the best move for me and the program."
One player many thought could pull the trigger for the Bears was Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco athlete Bryce Treggs. The Cal legacy (his father, Brian, played receiver in the early '90s) held off committing, but the Bears are definitely in a good spot right now.
"It was a great visit, the talent there was sick," Treggs said. "Cal had all the top guys in the state and it was fun to be there and get to know everyone. I'm real close with Zach Kline [Danville, Calif./San Ramon Valley] and he has been talking to me about Cal for a while now. Honestly though, he doesn't need to do that because I like Cal a lot on my own and already know a lot about the school since my dad played there and it was my childhood favorite.
"I liked the new facilities they're working on now and also liked talking with the new receiver coach, Erik Kiesau. I actually first met him when he came to my school about a month ago but we got to spend a lot more time together and of course I really like coach [Jeff] Tedford too. Shaq Thompson committed and that's huge and I think Cal is going to have an incredible recruiting class in 2012."
A pair of USC receiver commits, Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian's Jordan Payton and Los Angeles Dorsey's Jaydon Mickens, were also in attendance and both came away raving about their time in Berkeley.
"I'm not going to lie, I had a great visit," Payton said. "There were a lot of ballers there and you can tell Cal is really building something special. This was the first time I ever visited Cal but I felt like I fit in really well. I talked a lot with Zach Kline and he's a real cool kid. Me and Bryce [Treggs] are real tight and play on the same seven-on-seven team and I think Zach is going to be playing with us this year so it was cool to connect with him a little more.
"I loved the coaching staff, the campus the city, all of it. Berkeley is definitely a little different than what I'm used to, but I still liked it a lot. Coach [Erik] Kiesau is the man and we're real close. I spent over an hour with him, just drawing up plays and going over stuff, it was real cool. I'm still committed to USC, of course, but I'm definitely going to give Cal a look as well."
Other receivers of note included the Lakewood (Calif.) duo of Darius Powe and Malik Gilmore. Powe has offers from just about every top program in the region and beyond and Gilmore has seen his stock rise steadily in the last month.
Another position of strength was at running back, where two of the region's best players, Byron Marshall (San Jose, Calif./Valley Christian) and KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash./Mariner), not only took in the event, but actually talked about playing together in college.
"Me and Byron just met but we're already really good friends," said Russell, who visited Stanford on Friday. "It's funny how you can just meet someone and immediately click and that's how it happened for us. We hung out together the whole time, toured the campus, ate together, went crazy at the basketball game, it was just a really good visit for both of us.
"Cal is an awesome school with great academics. They have a great reputation for putting running backs into the league [NFL] and I love the offense and how [they] run the rock. Me and Byron actually talked about committing to the same school and being like Reggie Bush and LenDale White were at USC. I'm taller but he weighs more so I'm not sure who would be Bush and who would be White but it would be great to play with a guy that talented."
The ringleader in the group and the one player everyone seemed to mention was Kline, the Cal commit from Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley and one of the top QBs in the state.
"Man, I went around and was trying to talk to everyone," Kline said. "We got Shaq committed and I think a couple of others are close. There were some great receivers and I talked a lot with Bryce Treggs, Jordan Payton and the two Lakewood guys. We had some big linemen there too and I made sure they knew how much I would enjoy having them block for me if they came to Cal.
"We were all at the Cal-Stanford basketball game going nuts together and honestly, it seemed like we were already students there. There was just so much sick talent there, it was crazy and I loved being the one already committed and just going around selling the program to other guys because there is so much to sell with Cal right now and I can't wait to get started."
A few other notable players in attendance included linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr. (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O'Dowd), tight end Ian Taubler (Fresno, Calif./Bullard), receiver Kenny Walker (Richmond, Calif./Kennedy), defensive back Dalis Bruce (Danville, Calif./Monte Vista), Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente), Josh Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup), Freddie Tagaloa (Richmond, Calif./Salesian), Ryan Dillard (Buford, Ga./Buford) and Garrett Adcock (Mesquite, Texas/Dallas Christian).
In addition to the players who made it to the junior day Saturday, a handful of elite prospects were up on campus on Friday. As mentioned, offensive lineman Freddie Tagaloa made the trek as did linebacker Michael Barton (Concord, Calif./De La Salle), quarterback Bart Houston (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) and tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (Rocklin, Calif./Whitney).