Choosing futures: Looking at Cal football’s classes of 2021, 2022

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It’s year four of the Justin Wilcox era, and Cal football has used a stellar virtual recruiting strategy to put together a class of 2021 that is in the nation’s top 25. As the Bears seek to fill the few remaining holes in that class, they will also look even further into the future. On Sept. 1, college football recruiters were officially allowed to begin communicating with prospective students in the class of 2022 — Cal football coaches have already put together 46 offers for student-athletes entering their junior year of high school.

The blue and gold’s class of 2021 is loaded, and its strengths come from two specific areas. The Bears will be sharp through the air in years to come, as this class’s top four members all come on the offensive side of the ball. Four-star receivers J. Michael Sturdivant and Mavin Anderson will join tight ends Keleki Latu and the highly rated Jermaine Terry in catching passes from quarterback Kai Millner.

Cal’s defensive line will also benefit tremendously from those composing this class. Californian defensive ends Myles Williams, Derek Wilkins and Akili Calhoun are all ranked in the nation’s top 1,000 recruits by 247Sports, and Wilkins and Calhoun, in particular, are highly rated players. The linemen are tall and display a quick first step off the snap, traits that may haunt rival Pac-12 teams in the years to come.

While other position groups are not as highly rated, Cal has still found success. Outside linebackers Moses Oladejo and Patrick Hisatake are tall, rangy defenders who will join the blue and gold community. At first glance, the Bears offensive line and defensive backs units appear to be weaker, but they’re both positions at which Cal can develop talent.

Offensive tackle Bastian Swinney and cornerback Kaleb Higgins are plenty skilled. Offensive line coach Angus McClure is renowned for his recruitment and development of linemen, and Ryan Lange and Dylan Jemtegaard, whom he recruited, could blossom into key figures at Memorial Stadium. Likewise, cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns and safety Fatuvalu Iosefa are athletic defensive backs joining a Cal backfield that has produced plenty of previously underrated, intelligent players over the last few seasons.

The true holes in the Bears’ class of 2021 come at inside linebacker and running back — the blue and gold have no commits at either position, yet neither position has an immediate need. Though Cal lacks inside linebackers in the incoming freshman class of 2020, it has a whopping nine on its current roster. The running backs room is similarly crowded, with four incoming tailbacks joining four returners.

Talented recruits remain in the class of 2021, however. Running backs Justin Johnson, who will announce his decision later this month, and Byron Cardwell, one of the top 10 backs in the country, both consider Cal a potential destination. While the Bears may not add an inside linebacker, four-star outside linebacker Yanni Karlaftis remains uncommitted to a program. Bay Area local Kaleb Elarms-Orr could be the latest defensive end to make an academic and athletic home in Berkeley.

Such certainties are even further from many minds in the class of 2022. Even so, two of the top 10 players in that class have already announced commitments. Four Pac-12 schools have signed recruits. The Bears have been busy as well, likely discussing football, academics and career opportunities with prospective students. Cal’s holistic approach to recruiting has garnered much acclaim.

While the blue and gold have no commitments thus far, there are plenty of players interested in coming to Cal. Athlete Jalil Tucker, defensive end Gracen Halton and tight end Sam Roush are just a few of the many who could be Bears in a few years.

Committing your future to a particular school is not a simple process. It matters from football, academic and professional perspectives, as prospective students must choose a community and an education as well as a team. The Bears’ 2021 and 2022 classes will ultimately reflect those decisions.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football and is the deputy special issues editor. Contact him at [email protected].