Arizona State welcomes these border crossers
Corona Centennial High is only 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles, about 350 from Tempe, Ariz.
But looking at Arizona State’s football roster, you’d never know it.
Corona and nearby Norco almost qualify as Phoenix suburbs when it comes to Sun Devils recruiting.
Six players from Corona Centennial High and five from Norco High, both perennial Southern Section powerhouses, are on the roster of an Arizona State team that will face USC on Saturday night at the Coliseum.
Former Centennial linebackers Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons, defensive linemen Will Sutton and Lee Adams and receiver Angelo Magee have been dubbed the “Corona Six-Pack.”
The Norco contingent includes starting center Garth Gerhart, running back Deantre Lewis, linebacker Carl Bradford and offensive linemen Kyle Johnson and Adam Tello.
Many are playing major roles for a 4-4 team trying to keep its bowl hopes alive.
Burfict, a sophomore who made a verbal commitment to USC but later signed with the Sun Devils, has started all but one game at middle linebacker and is regarded as a top pro prospect.
Magee and Lyons flanked Burfict as starters for the first three games of the season, but Lyons had foot surgery recently for an injury suffered a few weeks ago against California. Sutton is redshirting after being declared academically ineligible. Adams was suspended from the team last month, shortly after his arrest on suspicion of burglary.
Burfict and Magee are the Sun Devils’ top tacklers.
“It makes you wonder, ‘How did we ever give up a point?’” joked Centennial Coach Matt Logan, whose teams have won five Southern Section titles and a state championship.
Logan, a 1985 Norco graduate, said the pipeline from Centennial to Arizona State was forged by former Sun Devils recruiting coordinator Matt Lubick. During his three seasons with the Sun Devils, Lubick would fly from Phoenix to Ontario, set himself up in a hotel room, and then canvas one of the most fertile recruiting bases in California.
“If you did a breakdown of where all the kids at Division I schools come from, I think that area would rank with or ahead of any of the others in Southern California,” Lubick said.
Indeed, USC has successfully tapped Corona through the years and opened the season with four players from Corona on its roster. UCLA had two.
Lubick has moved on to Duke, where he is in his first season as passing game coordinator and recruiting coordinator, but his Corona connection continues: Brandon Connette, a Duke freshman quarterback, is from Corona Santiago High.
Centennial has been the hot spot.
Last weekend, for example, Arizona State offered Centennial quarterback Michael Eubank a scholarship.
Lubick credits Logan for keeping college coaches informed and for nurturing Pac-10 talent.
“The kids from Centennial, they all play with a motor, they all play with passion,” Lubick said. “The practices at Centennial are the most intense high school practices I’ve seen.”
The intensity has helped forge bonds between players that they’ve carried to Tempe.
Burfict declined to be interviewed for this story, school officials said, but Brandon Magee, a junior, tabbed that closeness as one of the reasons that Burfict passed on USC and joined him and Lyons in college.
“We just love being around each other,” Magee said.
That closeness extends to their places on the Sun Devils’ numerical roster.
Lyons and Magee changed their jersey numbers during the offseason so quarterbacks staring across the line of scrimmage could see Lyons’ No. 6, Burfict’s No. 7 and Magee’s No. 8.
“We consider ourselves brothers,” Magee said. “We thought it would be cool.”
Arizona State’s players from Corona and Norco would like nothing more than to end the Sun Devils’ 10-game losing streak against the Trojans with a victory at the Coliseum, where Arizona State has not won since 1999.
Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin would like nothing less.
Stopping the flow of Southland talent to Pacific 10 Conference opponents is one of Kiffin’s top priorities. Kiffin, who returned to USC after three seasons away from the program, cited Burfict and Sun Devil cornerback Omar Bolden, from Ontario, as prime examples of players that got away.
“When you lose kids that are right here you have to play against them,” Kiffin said. “Their two best defensive players were right here in our backyard.”
Until further notice, the property around Corona and Norco remains Arizona State’s.