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March 25, 2004

Balance of power shifting out West?

When it comes to recruiting, Florida, Texas and California are annually regarded as the Big Three states for producing more top prospects than any other state in the country.

Out West, it's usually safe to assume that the top player from California will also be the top player in the region, but this year things look a little different.

In fact, you can make an argument that not only is the top player out West this year from outside of California but the top four overall players as well.

At last year's Nike Camp held in Palo Alto (Calif.), three underclassmen lit up the camp and showed that not only were they as good as it gets in their own class, but could more than hold their own against anyone in the region.

Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral defensive lineman Ekom Udofia is our early choice as the top overall player in the West heading in to the spring and summer evaluation period.

In fact, Udofia would have probably been the top defensive tackle prospect in the West last year as a junior. At a rock solid 6-1, 265 pounds, Udofia clocked a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash, 4.16 in the shuttle, jumped 30 inches in the vertical and did 29 reps on the bench at the Nike camp. Those marks were as good as any linemen tested during the entire Nike tour.

Testing aside, it's what Udofia did during the position and one-on-one drills that caught everyone's eye. Competing in a group that included All-American's Jeff Schweiger (USC) and Phillip Mbakogu (Cal), Nike camp line coach Marty Spaulding said Udofia was clearly the best player he worked with that day.

"That kid is a monster," Spaulding said. "He's big, fast, strong, tough, and he loves to compete. He wants to get better and listens to everything you tell him and is then able to go and implement it right away. I couldn't believe it when someone told me he was just a junior. He's a beautiful player, no doubt about that."

Udofia showed he's not just a workout warrior either earning Student Sports Underclass All-American honors for the second year in a row as well as Rivals.com Junior All-American honors. Despite constant double and triple teams inside, Udofia still finished the year with 72 tackles, 32 for loss, 12 quarterback sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Just behind Udofia, and the early choice as the top offensive player in the region is Lacey (Wash.) Timberline running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart, 5-11, 215-pounds has several similarities to Udofia in that he was a Student Sports Sophomore and Junior All-American as well as a Rivals.com Junior All-American.

Like Udofia, Stewart also dominated one of the Nike Camps, earning camp MVP honors following the Nike camp in Oregon and was the only underclassmen to be honored in such a way.

Stewart clocked a 4.57 in the 40 on a slow field turf surface to go along with a 4.19 time in the shuttle, 37 inch vertical jump and did 23 reps on the bench.

He showed a great burst in the position drills and no one could hang with him in the one on one drills showing great hands coming out of the backfield. The athlete is basically one of the few players you can watch and not find one discernible weakness. He runs with speed and power, can get the tough yards between the tackles or hit the home run from anywhere on the field. He has the ability to cut and slash yet has the size and toughness to run over defenders.

As a junior, Stewart rushed for 2,592 yards and 36 touchdowns. In what is shaping up to be a very good year nationally at the running back position, the Northwest star will try and prove he belongs among the nation's elite.

As earlier mentioned, Udofia was one of three underclassmen who lit up the NorCal Nike camp. Two others we loved that day were Matt Reynolds, a 6-5, 265 pound defensive lineman from Provo (Utah) Timpview and Ryan Reynolds, a 6-2, 220 pound linebacker from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman.

Matt Reynolds was a sophomore on the Timpview team that included All-American defensive tackle Brian Soi, offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds, Matt's older brother, and quarterback Michael Affleck but he was already considered the best player on the team.

And he proved why at the Nike Camp where the lineman competed right alongside Udofia and was tossing aside opposing linemen a year older than him like they were rag dolls.

Reynolds started as a freshman and was another player to earn Student Sports Sophomore and Junior All-American honors. He's easily one of the most versatile linemen in the nation and could play on either side of the ball although he prefers defense. He has the size and strength to play on the inside but the quickness to play on the edge. Reynolds really uses his hands well, has all the moves and a non-stop motor that is always running high.

Ryan Reynolds is another four year starter who earned Rivals.com and Student Sports Junior All-American honors. He clocked a 4.72 in the 40, 4.08 in the shuttle, jumped 30 inches in the vertical and did 32 reps on the bench. He was the top cover linebacker of the day and had a great showing blanketing the running backs during the one on one drills.

As a junior, Reynolds finished the year with 96 tackles, 12 for loss, six sacks and one interception. He has great speed coming off the edge, can pursue sideline to sideline because of his athleticism and is relentless in pursuit of the ball carrier.

Now saying all this, there's still some serious talent in the Golden state as there is every year. Competing with Reynolds for top linebacker honors in the region will be Lakewood's (Calif.) Luther Brown and Eureka, Calif., stud Rey Maualuga. Both Brown and Maualuga have college body's right now, reat speed and can hit like a truck.

North Hollywood's, Calif., Marlon Lucky is just a hair behind Stewart in the running back department and there is very little separating the two at this time.


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