Tilting at Goalposts 

More than 90 percent of high school football players will never suit up in college, let alone the pros. But that doesn't stop them from pursuing their dreams.

Page 7 of 8

With his high SAT scores and above-4.0 GPA, Archie should be able to pick his school. He's considering Sacramento State, USC, UC Davis, and others. Over the summer, Harvard's cornerback coach invited Archie to a tournament. "The first few hours we weighed in, ran the 40, did the bench press," he says. "Then we did drills with the position coaches. I met with the cornerback coach — he's the one recruiting me. Afterwards we played with the whole squad."

Archie qualifies for an academic scholarship — and could perhaps even go to Harvard — but that's a fallback if he can't find a school willing to give him an athletic scholarship. "I've been playing since I was nine, and I love the game," he explains. "I love to be part of the team and to contribute. There's adrenaline, excitement, and when you win, happiness. There's a bond that a team has."

He admits that 2014 has been different. "Last year it was more wins, more good times after games. This year it should have come together more." Archie is all about competition; he loved playing on the opposite side of the field from cousin Adarius Pickett. "Other coaches knew about Adarius' scholarship offers, so they were testing me all the time. I liked that."

Pickett became a running back at UCLA. "He did it so he could get on the field sooner," Archie explains. "You take whatever position the coaches think you'll fit better."

Kahn believes Archie is not getting the attention he deserves. "He's coming off an injury. And he's slender. But he's so fast and he's such a good athlete." Washington should be getting more looks too. "Washington has good size and speed. And he works really hard."

Kahn shakes his head. "I thought we'd be 8-2. I really did."

January

It's only a few weeks until February 4, National Signing Day — or NSD, as it's known on college and sports sites, now packed full of predictions for four- and five-star players. Seventeen-year-olds call press conferences to verbally commit to a school, then "decommit" a week later or take "secret" trips to another school. Players committed to one school send fans into frenzies when they wear another school's jersey (especially those belonging to Texas or Texas A&M). But no one is committed — hard-core committed — until they fax in a signed letter of intent.

None of this fun stuff is happening at El Cerrito High. Kahn now believes that Washington will go to Asuza Pacific or a junior college, Archie will go to University of San Diego or Lewis and Clark in Oregon, and Nunley will go to Contra Costa College and try to transfer.

Washington got sick toward the end of the year, missed some school, and then headed down to Southern California to play in an all-star football game to which he'd been invited. "He'd get seen, get exposure," explains Kahn. "Those things are important. But his math grades and English grades suffered." Now Washington struggles to make up tests he'd missed.

Banks, recovered from his minor injury (an Achilles strain), licks his wounds by playing on El Cerrito's varsity basketball team, now 20-3 and ranked 18th in the state. He's lost 25 pounds ("my football weight") and looks sleeker. But when Kahn mentions that football conditioning starts in February, Banks perks up. "I'll be there," he promises.

Banks is relaxed and confident, compared to the others who fear their dreams are going up in smoke. He is not waiting on scholarship offers, though he receives mail every week from big-name schools such as Ohio State and Florida. Junior Darius Powe is also in a sweet spot: He gets letters from Arizona and Colorado, among others.

Injuries, losses to schools far larger than El Cerrito High ("Everyone thinks I'm crazy to schedule these D1 schools," says Kahn, who notes that most D3 programs — El Cerrito's ranking — refuse to play the mighty Gauchos), dissension among the coaches, players being funneled into positions they preferred not to play all factor into whether students who deserve scholarships get offers. No one wants to be this close to February 4 without an offer in hand.

February

On the first day players are allowed to sign letters of intent, the focus is on which program will win the recruiting battle: Nick Saban's Alabama? Urban Meyers' Ohio State? Or will Jim Harbaugh's recent exodus to Michigan change its recruiting fortunes?

Archie thinks a partial scholarship to D1 University of San Diego is his most likely landing spot. He likes this idea because it's not too far from the East Bay but "not right here" either. The Toreros (coached by Jim Harbaugh in 2005 and 2006) scored a good recruiting class. "And they played in a bowl game," Archie points out — though the 14-52 loss to Montana can hardly be called stellar. Montana is also a possibility for Archie if the school's first choice signs with another program. The Grizzlies are competitive in the Big Sky division, finishing second last year with a 9-5 record.

What if Washington had not been required to sit out junior year? What if Archie had not sustained his high ankle injury? If another boy this season had the ability to read the field and throw spirals, El Cerrito's multi-talented quarterback could have played the position he preferred. What about a weight room and a training program — or a field on which the kicker could practice with hash marks and uprights?

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