HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL : HEAD OF THE CLASS : Informal Poll of Recruiting Services Produces List of Top 22 Football Prospects in Southern California

Times Staff Writer

In discussing the high school football talent pool in Southern California this year, scout Dick Lascola admits that it is not a bumper crop.

"It's not as bad as some (years) but not as good as others," says Lascola, who operates the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn.

He says it doesn't match the talent supply of last season when seniors such as running backs Russell White of Crespi, quarterback Curtis Conway of Hawthorne, offensive lineman Bob Whitfield of Banning and defensive lineman Marcellous Elder of Long Beach Poly were considered among the premier college prospects in the nation.

But "there's still quality out there," Lascola said.

He sees quality at linebacker and quarterback while the ranks appear thin among defensive backs and offensive linemen.

Possibly the best overall prospect is linebacker Bruce Walker of Compton Dominguez. "There are some who think that Walker is the best player in the state, and others say he's the best in the country," Lascola said.

Linebackers Willie McGinest of Long Beach Poly and Nkosi Littleton of Carson and quarterback Charles Levy of Lynwood also have drawn attention from major colleges.

In addition to Lascola, The Times turned to national recruiting services such as G & W Recruiting Report of Pennsylvania, Tom Lemming's Prep Football Report of Illinois, Houston-based scout Max Emfinger, Super Prep magazine of Costa Mesa and the Florida-based Steve Smith's Blue Chip Report to determine which Greater Los Angeles and Orange County seniors are receiving national attention.

Bishop Amat, Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly lead the way with two players apiece on the list.

Here, in no particular order, are the Terrific 22:

* Michael Wynn (San Fernando, quarterback)--San Fernando has been known more for running backs over the years, but Wynn is in the spotlight this season. Wynn passed for 1,614 yards last season. Emfinger ranked him No. 2 nationally among quarterback prospects. Wynn (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.

* Todd Gragnano (Los Alamitos, quarterback)--Perhaps the most touted quarterback in the Southland, Gragnano (6-1, 185) earned his reputation with an impressive junior season in which he passed for 2,324 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has a strong arm, a quick release and is mobile in the pocket. Super Prep compares him with former Orange County standout Bret Johnson of UCLA. He also plays baseball and is an excellent student.

* Dan O'Neil (Mater Dei, quarterback)--Regarded as one of the top prospects on the West Coast, O'Neil is certainly one of the most accurate passers. As a junior he completed 58% of his attempts, passing for 2,100 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's 6-2, 185, reads defenses well and rushed for 350 yards last season. An all-around athlete, O'Neil also placekicks and plays basketball and volleyball.

* J.J. O'Laughlin (Glendora, quarterback)--When scouts talk about O'Laughlin, they usually speak of his potential. "He has all the tools to be a good one," Lascola says. Super Prep ranks him No. 6 among quarterbacks on its All-American team. He is a pure dropback quarterback with outstanding arm strength and a nice touch. O'Laughlin (6-3, 200) passed for 1,465 yards last season and has nearly 3,000 in his career. He also plays baseball and basketball and has a 3.9 grade-point average.

* Charles Levy (Lynwood, quarterback)--This year's version of Curtis Conway, who starred for Hawthorne last season, Levy is a quarterback who plays like a running back. An all-around athlete, he can pass but is regarded more for his dangerous running. Levy (6-1, 180) has brilliant speed--4.5 seconds in the 40--and exceptional moves. He piled up 2,400 all-purpose yards last season. Lascola projects him as an option quarterback in college and others project him as a defensive back.

* Michael Jones (Montclair Prep, running back)--In discussing Jones, scouts use the words power and speed . Jones (6-2, 210) can bench press 315 pounds and he runs the 40 in 4.5. He has great vision and knows how to sidestep a tackler. He rushed for 1,514 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior. While his future may be at running back, scouts also think he could play safety or linebacker in college.

* Marshawn Thompson (La Puente Bassett, running back)--Bassett has never had a reputation for producing major-college prospects and scouts had reservations about Thompson. But he may have erased any doubt by rushing for 1,717 yards and 16 touchdowns in 301 carries last year. Thompson (6-1, 200) runs the 40 in 4.6 and, as Super Prep says, "He looks slower than he is."

* Chris Peery (Canyon, running back)--For sheer power running, it would be difficult to find a better back than Peery (6-1, 216). He takes full advantage of his great leg strength and a solid upper body to punish opponents. He bench-presses 315 pounds. But Peery also has speed--4.6 in the 40--to break away from tacklers and displays good moves for his size. A starter since his freshman year, he rushed for 1,418 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.

* Jerome Casey (Sylmar, running back)--Speed makes Casey a prime attraction among college scouts. Casey (6-0, 180) has above-average strength. It's just that scouts tend to notice his breakaway speed first. He runs the 40 in a blazing 4.4 and is effective both as an inside and outside runner. He is also an outstanding long jumper.

* Jeremy Smith (Bishop Amat, wide receiver)--Lemming labels Smith "a high school superstar," and you will not find much disagreement among other scouts. As a junior he caught 82 passes for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns and returned two punts for scores. Smith (5-11, 185) possesses 4.5 speed in the 40, runs excellent pass patterns and has great hands.

* Kevin Copeland (Dorsey, wide receiver)--If Smith is the best wide receiver in the Southland, Copeland is not far behind. Said Lascola: "They don't get much better. He's one of the tops around." He is definitely one of the fastest with a best of 10.6 in the 100 meters. Copeland (6-0, 170) runs pinpoint patterns and is a constant deep threat.

* Elic Mahone (Muir, tight end)--Mahone is a physical specimen at 6-5, 220 pounds. He also possesses good hands and speed of 4.5 in the 40--outstanding for a tight end. Mahone also plays defensive end, although he wants to play offense in college. Mahone, a brilliant leaper, has cleared 6-5 in the high jump. Off the field, he has a steady 3.3 grade-point average.

* Jason Green (Bishop Amat, tight end)--Talk about double trouble. With Smith and Green, Bishop Amat will pose a nightmare for secondaries. Green (6-3, 220) presents match-up problems for defenses because of his size and 4.6 speed. He has soft hands and is an exceptional leaper, which he demonstrated on the basketball team last season. He caught 41 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns.

* Chris Andresen (Warren, offensive lineman)--Regarded as one of the top offensive line prospects in the nation by most scouts, Andresen combines great size and strength with above-average quickness. He is 6-4, 285 and bench presses 400 pounds. Emfinger lists him as the nation's No. 1 prospect at offensive guard.

* Ryan Motherway (Mater Dei, offensive lineman)--Mater Dei has produced several outstanding line prospects in the last two seasons, but scouts think Motherway (6-4, 255) may be best. Lascola calls him the top offensive line prospect in the area. He plays end on the defensive line and excels in basketball.

* Justin Yarro (Loyola, offensive lineman)--At a school that always seems to produce an abundance of college prospects, At 6-4, 250, scouts say he has a future as an offensive guard.

* Keith Navidi (Esperanza, defensive lineman)--Navidi (6-6, 255) runs the 40 in 5.0. Regarded for his aggressiveness and pass rushing, Lascola calls him the best defensive line prospect in the Southland.

* Bruce Walker (Dominguez, linebacker)--In the eyes of scouts, Walker may be the best prospect in the state at any position. Emfinger gives him the highest rating of any player in the nation at 9.99 out of 10. Lemming calls him "a holy terror on defense with great football instincts." Walker (6-4, 235) has 4.5 speed.

* Willie McGinest (Long Beach Poly, linebacker)--Another formidable prospect in a talent-laden position, McGinest (6-6, 220 pounds) has been viewed by some scouts as the top senior linebacker in the state. With speed, McGinest has the size, speed, aggressiveness and instincts to be an impact player in college. He is a strong student with a 3.9 grade-point average.

* Nkosi Littleton (Carson, linebacker)--He is not as physically imposing as Walker or McGinest, but Littleton usually leaves an imprint on opponents. Super Prep describes him as "this year's killer defender." Lemming calls him "a hitter from the word go ." At 6-2 and 210, he may need a little more bulk for college.

* Jason Jones (Long Beach Poly, defensive back)--At first glance, Jones may appear small to be a major-college prospect. However, the 5-10 and 175 cornerback makes up for any size disadvantage with other attributes. He has outstanding instincts and blazing 4.5 speed.

* Errol Small (Notre Dame, running back-defensive back)--One of the better all-around athletes on the squad, Small has stood out in basketball and football. In football, his future is probably as a safety. Lascola thinks he is one of the best defensive backs in the Southland. He is a hard hitter, tough against the run and strong on pass coverage. Small (6-2, 210) has 4.6 speed and the ability to excel at running back.

THE TERRIFIC 22

Name School Ht. Wt. Pos. Michael Wynn San Fernando 6-3 210 QB Todd Gragnano Los Alamitos 6-1 185 QB Dan O'Neil Mater Dei 6-2 185 QB J.J. O'Laughlin Glendora 6-3 200 QB Charles Levy Lynwood 6-1 180 QB Michael Jones Montclair Prep 6-2 205 RB Marshawn Thompson Bassett 6-1 190 RB Chris Peery Canyon 6-1 216 RB Jerome Casey Sylmar 6-0 185 RB Jeremy Smith Bishop Amat 5-11 185 WR Kevin Copeland Dorsey 6-0 170 WR Elic Mahone Muir 6-5 220 TE Jason Green Bishop Amat 6-3 220 TE Chris Andresen Warren 6-4 285 OL Ryan Motherway Mater Dei 6-4 255 OL Justin Yarro Loyola 6-3 250 OL Keith Navidi Esperanza 6-6 260 DL Bruce Walker Dominguez 6-4 240 LB Willie McGinest Long Beach Poly 6-6 220 LB Nkosi Littleton Carson 6-2 220 LB Jason Jones Long Beach Poly 5-10 175 DB Errol Small Notre Dame 6-3 205 DB

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