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It’s Decision Time for Prep Football Seniors

Times Staff Writer

John Morton and Howard McCowan have never met or crossed paths on the football field, yet they share the same recruiting story.

Morton, a swift wide receiver from South Torrance High, and McCowan, a hard-hitting safety from Carson High, are two of the Southland’s blue-chip college prospects. Both are gifted athletes, good students and come from supportive families.

And both want to play for USC.

Morton and McCowan know that now, but they came to that realization only after exploring their options. Both gave USC verbal commitments, then reconsidered and visited other colleges.

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“I wanted to see if I had made the right decision,” said McCowan, who took an additional visit to UCLA. "(USC Coach) Larry Smith didn’t want me to, but the other (USC) coaches felt it was a good idea.”

Morton visited Washington and Stanford after giving USC a non-binding verbal commitment. Prep seniors can officially commit to a college beginning Feb. 8, the first day of the national letter-of-intent signing period.

“I had second thoughts,” Morton said. “I wanted to go (to USC), but I wanted to take other trips and see how it went.”

After seeing if the grass was greener somewhere else, Morton and McCowan have both decided to sign with USC.

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But their stories demonstrate the difficult decision many seniors face in choosing a college.

“It’s always been hard for kids to say no ,” Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle said.

Several area standouts have told colleges Yes . Among them:

Serra linebacker Erik Simien gave a verbal commitment to Notre Dame, then took trips to UCLA, Alabama and Penn State. “I had already decided (on Notre Dame),” he said. “No other school compared.”

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Hawthorne quarterback Curtis Conway committed to USC in November, but he plans to take a trip to Texas next week. His future is further clouded because he has not scored 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), needed to be eligible as a freshman.

Carson running back Errol Sapp, the L.A. City 4-A Player of the Year, gave Arizona a commitment Tuesday, choosing the Wildcats over Oregon. Like Conway, he needs a 700 score on the SAT.

Banning offensive lineman Andy Gonzalez was leaning toward Colorado but did an about-face after visiting UC Berkeley last weekend. He will sign with the Golden Bears.

Palos Verdes quarterback David Walsh canceled trips to Texas A&M; and Colorado because he decided on Arizona State after a visit to Tempe.

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San Pedro defensive lineman David Samperio, the school’s most heavily recruited player in several years, picked Colorado over Arizona State and Texas-El Paso.

It should be stressed that verbal commitments are not official. If a player changes his mind and signs with another school, he can do so without penalty or recourse from a college.

While that’s unlikely, the possibility worries recruiters.

“An oral commitment, at least from what a lot of recruiting coordinators have told me, is a scary commitment,” said Allen Wallace, publisher of Super Prep, a Costa Mesa magazine that specializes in football recruiting.

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“If you don’t treat a kid just as special as when he walked in the room, you run the risk of someone coming along and making a pitch for him.”

In other words, high school players can be fickle.

Take Banning’s Bob Whitfield, for example. The 6-7, 275-pound offensive tackle, rated the No. 1 prospect on the West Coast at any position by Super Prep, has kept recruiters guessing by changing his campus visits.

Whitfield recently substituted UCLA and Stanford for planned trips to Alabama and Georgia. He will decide among Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA and Stanford. He also visited Miami.

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“It’s a great case of recruiting turnaround,” Wallace said of Whitfield. “In talking to him over the last three months, never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d end up anywhere other than Michigan or Notre Dame.”

While UCLA may still be a long shot, Stanford has definitely jumped in the running for Whitfield since Dennis Green was named head coach. Green visited Whitfield’s home last week, and the brainy lineman (1,010 SAT) will reciprocate this weekend by making Stanford his final recruiting trip.

John Becker, Banning recruiting coordinator, doesn’t expect Whitfield to make a decision until the signing period.

Simien, Serra’s All-Southern Section linebacker, was just the opposite. He knew almost from the minute he walked onto Notre Dame’s campus that he wanted to become part of the Fighting Irish tradition.

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“I like it because it’s different,” he said. “I like the athletics, the academics and the area. I wanted to get out of L.A.”

At Notre Dame he met linebacker Arnold Ale, a freshman from Carson who earned a starting spot on the national championship team.

“I talked to him while I was there, and he likes it,” Simien said. “He said the only thing you have to get used to is the cold. Other than that, it’s a great place.”

As usual, Banning and Carson dominate the list of South Bay prospects.

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Becker said at least nine Banning players will sign with four-year schools, including three with San Diego State--linemen Carlson Leomiti and Tom Siufanua and defensive back Eric Williams.

Carson appears to have eight solid prospects. One is All-City offensive lineman Morris Unutoa, who has visited Brigham Young and Arizona and still has trips to Hawaii and Nebraska. Unutoa needs to take the SAT again after scoring 690 on his first attempt.

Carson defensive back Greg Lindsey, who has visited Colorado, Alabama and Iowa, also needs to take the SAT.

USC and UC Berkeley have each garnered three verbal commitments from South Bay players. Morton, McCowan and Conway have committed to the Trojans, while Berkeley has nabbed Gonzalez, Carson quarterback Perry Klein and St. Bernard defensive back Darryl Brown.

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Arizona, which landed one of the area’s top players in Sapp, is in the running for Unutoa and linebackers Terrell Edwards of Morningside and Doug Nelson of St. Bernard.

Arizona State beat out Texas for Walsh, a 6-4 left-hander who was one of the area’s top passers last fall, and is competing with Washington State for Banning safety Paul Montgomery.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Player School Pos. Ht. Wt. Darryl Brown St. Bernard DB 6-0 185 Curtis Conway Hawthorne QB 6-2 175 Terrell Edwards Morningside LB 6-3 205 Andy Gonzalez Banning OL 6-4 245 Perry Klein Carson QB 6-3 180 Greg Lindsey Carson DB 6-2 180 Alabama Howard McCowan Carson DB 6-1 180 Paul Montgomery Banning DB 6-1 180 John Morton South Torrance WR 6-0 190 David Samperio San Pedro DL 6-3 250 Errol Sapp Carson RB 5-10 170 Erik Simien Serra LB 6-3 225 Morris Unutoa Carson OL 6-3 245 Hawaii, Nebraska David Walsh Palos Verdes QB 6-4 210 Bob Whitfield Banning OL 6-7 275 Michigan, Stanford

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Player Leading contenders Darryl Brown UC Berkeley* Curtis Conway USC* Terrell Edwards Oregon, Arizona Andy Gonzalez UC Berkeley* Perry Klein UC Berkeley* Greg Lindsey Colorado, Iowa, Howard McCowan USC* Paul Montgomery Wash. St., Ariz. St. John Morton USC* David Samperio Colorado* Errol Sapp Arizona* Erik Simien Notre Dame* Morris Unutoa BYU, Arizona, David Walsh Arizona State* Bob Whitfield Notre Dame, UCLA,

BEST OF THE REST

Player School Pos. Ht. Wt. Leading contenders Todd Auvaa Carson LB 6-4 205 Utah, Wash. St., Hawaii, New Mexico Vincent Bonner Westchester DB 5-11 170 Oregon, Iowa St. Erik Evans El Segundo RB 5-11 180 Hawaii, West Point Fred Gatlin Carson QB 6-2 180 TexasA&M;,Hawaii, Iowa St., UN Reno Shawn Jackson B. Montgomery DL 6-2 225 UN Reno Johnny Lawrence Banning WR 6-0 185 CS Fullerton* Carlson Leomiti Banning DL 6-4 340 San Diego St.* Jason Lucky St. Bernard WR 5-11 175 Pacific Samila Manu Carson FB/LB 6-1 215 Hawaii, Pacific Doug Nelson St. Bernard LB 6-2 220 Arizona, Iowa St. Lamont Shedrick Banning WR 6-0 175 N. Arizona* Tom Siufanua Banning OL 6-4 225 San Diego St.* Terrill Steen St. Bernard LB 6-3 205 San Diego St.* Eric Williams Banning DB 5-9 185 San Diego St.* Jerone Williams Serra TE 6-4 215 Oregon St., New Mexico Randy Woolridge Banning LB 6-1 210 UN Reno, N. Ariz.

* Verbal commitment

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