Bay-bound: 19 additions to Cal football made during early signing period

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Cal wrapped up 2020’s early signing period in style, tying down one of the nation’s top recruiting classes last week as a horde of new Bears officially committed their futures to Memorial Stadium.

The blue and gold put together an outstanding class this week, ranked as ESPN’s No. 21, 247Sports’ No. 26 and Rivals’ No. 42 class in the nation. It’s Cal’s strongest recruiting class in nearly a decade according to 247Sports, which also rated four of the incoming Bears as four-star recruits.

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox also spoke of the intelligence and academic ability that accompanied many of his new players’ commitment to work and football. His new class’s average GPA is 3.4.

There were few surprises as Wilcox and his staff enjoyed a day of simply tying up commitments from high school seniors around the country.

“No drama to speak of on Signing Day, which is always nice. We signed 19 guys,” said Wilcox, who had praise for every incoming player. “The big thing is with the versatility and the positions that the guys could play — it’s a very, very productive group.”

The Memorial Stadium faithful will hope that the recruiting class of 2021 can maintain its productivity at the collegiate level, but for now, they can take solace in the class’s high ratings.

In the words of Wilcox, the Bears signed an “entire 3-4 defense”, with three defensive linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs. Highly rated defensive ends Akili Calhoun and Derek Wilkins headline the defensive line and will work alongside fellow three-star recruit Myles Williams.

Two of Cal’s new linebackers will be Patrick Hisatake and Nate Rutchena; Rutchena may be a name familiar to the blue and gold fan base, as he was recruited with last year’s class but did not sign until this season. Kaleb Elarms-Orr and Moses Oladejo are the position group’s most acclaimed recruits. The duo brings more athleticism, range and versatility across the linebacker positions.

Cal’s recruiting drew, perhaps, the fewest headlines when it came to defensive backs. Despite sending two safeties to the NFL last season and cornerback Camryn Bynum’s development into a bonafide star, the Bears’ additions to that position were not as highly rated as some of their classmates. Wilcox still praised the incoming DBs work ethic and potential, however, and given the Cal coaching staff’s track record with finding underrated talent, it’s not unreasonable to bet on the potential of safeties Fatuvalu Iosefa and Hunter Barth and cornerbacks Kaleb Higgins and Lu-Magia Hearns.

“All those guys can play more than one spot,” said Wilcox. “They all have the ability to cover guys who are a little bit bigger. There are some different body types in there, but the position flexibility and the versatility is pretty evident in this class.”

Wilcox and his staff have also garnered praise for their local focus — more than half of the newest additions to the blue and gold roster hail from the Golden State, including some of the Bay Area’s finest high school football players.

“We’re always going to start here,” said Wilcox. “We’re really fortunate this year — there are great players in the Bay Area, and they’re great fits for us. Our coaches and our support staff and the program itself did a really good job of recruiting them.”

Elarms-Orr, Hearns, Higgins, Oladejo, offensive tackle Ryan Lange and tight end Keleki Latu are all Northern California locals, but the biggest name out of the Bay Area is four-star tight end Jermaine Terry. The 6’4”, 235-pound prospect received offers from three of the top five teams in the country but will stay close to his hometown, Richmond, for the next several years.

Terry was recruited to an incoming offensive class that, while not possessing the well-rounded nature of its defensive counterpart, is the drive behind Cal’s lofty ratings. Every four-star recruit is on the touchdown-scoring side of the ball. Quarterback Kai Millner, who has noted mobility and arm strength, will throw to Terry and wide receivers Mavin Anderson and J.Michael Sturdivant.

Wilcox praised Millner and Sturdivant’s individual highlights, as well as Anderson’s speed, playmaking and chemistry. The Bears’ head coach did not forget a single one of his new players, though, as he noted Latu and his complementary fit with Terry.

The size and versatility of offensive linemen Lange, Dylan Jemtegaard and Bastian Swinney was also a key point Wilcox noted and one that he spoke of when it came to his entire class. Just one player — Hearns — is under 6 feet tall, and more than half of the new Bears weigh in above 200 pounds.

“When all things are equal, the big guys usually beat the little guys. So, we want big frames, guys with wingspans. That doesn’t mean a short player can’t be a dynamic, great player, but as a general rule, we want to have a tall, long-armed team,” said Wilcox. “There are exceptions to every rule, but generally, that’s the case.”

The one position that remains notably empty in the latest batch of Bears is running back. Cal sent offers to nine tailbacks, but eight of them have committed their futures outside Memorial Stadium. The remaining rusher is no anonymous prospect, though. Cal, along with Oregon and UCLA, are favorites to land the commitment of Byron Cardwell, a four-star recruit from San Diego who is rated as one of the top 10 backs in the nation.

Cardwell will announce his decision Jan. 25. Should he choose Cal, he will join an unusually crowded football team in 2021. The NCAA’s exemption of seniors from eligibility requirements means the Bears may keep a few extra players on scholarships — those seniors who choose not to leave are eligible to stay without interfering with the roster’s size. Those players have yet to make that decision, according to Wilcox, and some will likely choose to move on to the NFL or other postgraduate careers.

Regardless of the exact shape of the roster, the Bears have brought in an excellent class. Wilcox credited his coaching staff, as well as the recruiting and social media teams, with putting together tours and graphic designs in a virtual recruitment cycle that has produced Cal football’s class of 2021.

“It’s overall a very good class,” said Wilcox. “The physical traits are there. The ‘want to’ and the character is there. And the academic profile is there, so we are really, really encouraged about this group.”

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football. Contact him at [email protected].