USA TODAY Sports
It is still in the very, very early stages of the 2014 college football recruiting season, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a handful of prospects out West who have already established themselves as next year's elite recruits.
The 2013 recruiting season has just been put to bed, but to some all that means is that the 2014 recruiting season is just getting started. Even though the recruiting season is ramping up earlier and earlier each year, the picture of which players will be highly sought after by schools is still a little bit fuzzy in February.
However, schools are especially targeting the best cream of the crop, five-star level type recruits earlier in the process and putting the full court press on them so even more than 11 months out from the 2014 National Signing Day there is an idea of which recruits will be the most sought after nationally.
So even though it is still very early, there is already a handful of guys out West who assuredly will be the most fought over recruits in the class of 2014.
RB Nathan Starks 6'0 190 - Las Vegas, NV - Bishop Gorman
Possibly the most highly-regarded recruit to ever come out of Las Vegas and almost assuredly the top running back on the West Coast in 2014, Starks is a physical back that already looks college ready. He isn't a blazing speedster, but definitely has enough to get the job done and is the kind of guy a school can turn into an every down back that can shoulder a big load of carries and break the big runs when they are there.
Starks is already starting to get flooded with offers from the country's top programs, including Texas, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, but he has yet to really tip his hat in any direction. Every school in the Pac-12 will assuredly make a run at Starks and the closest schools to Vegas, USC and UCLA always seem to pop on his list, though Arizona might be a dark horse as Gorman's starting quarterback in 2012, Anu Solomon signed with the Wildcats.
WR Michiah Quick 5'11 170 - Fresno, CA - Central High School East Campus
Like many of the top prospects out West in the class of 2014, Quick could play a number of skill positions, but either wide receiver or cornerback seems most likely. As a receiver, Quick has the potential to be the most heralded wide out receiver in the West since George Farmer. Quick isn't the biggest target, but he definitely fulfills his surname, as a quick receiver that moves well in small spaces and has sticky hands. While those are skills that offensive coordinators and quarterbacks like to have out wide on offense, they could also be well suited for the defensive backfield.
Quick has kept his college interests close to the vest thus far, but keep an eye out for Notre Dame, Oklahoma and UCLA as all three have hit Fresno, and Central High East, hard in recent seasons. With that said, Quick is still wide open and expect elite Pac-12 schools like USC and Oregon to also take major swings at the coveted playmaker.
CB Adoree Jackson 5'10 170 - Gardena, CA - Junipero Serra
Jackson looks to be the next in line in the West Coast's rich history of track and football stars like Reggie Bush, DeSean Jackson and De'Anthony Thomas. Jackson is flat out fast but also an interesting athlete in that he is challenging national long jump records. He has the skill set to be a game-breaking wide receiver or a shut down corner, but his toughness and physicality might be what pushes him to the defensive side of the ball.
Jackson is among a very, very small group of prospects to already hold an offer from USC and the with the Trojans recent success at Juniperro Serra in signing Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and George Farmer, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Jackson end up at USC. There is a lot of turmoil swirling around the Trojans right now though, so expect pretty much every big time program in the country to go after Jackson hard, especially UCLA.
QB Keller Chryst 6'3 215 - Palo Alto, CA
It is a weak crop for quarterbacks in 2014 both nationally and out West and Chryst appears to be head and shoulders above any other signal callers in Pac-12 country for the class of 2014. Chryst is big, strong-armed and prolific as he threw 28 touchdowns as a sophomore and as a junior. He is a standard pro-style, drop-back passer with a great football pedigree as his father Geep is the 49ers quarterbacks coach and his uncle Paul Chryst, head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Quarterbacks make their commitments much earlier than any other position and they usually stick to them so Chryst's recruitment is probably further along than most other prospects right now and it looks like it is likely going to be a two-horse race between Stanford and USC for his signature. With Chryst literally calling Palo Alto home already, the Cardinal clearly have the local pull, but the USC quarterback allure assuredly will also be a factor. The advantage could be for the Cardinal if competition plays a factor for Chryst though as the Trojans signed the Class of 2013's top-rated signal caller in Max Browne.
DE Nifae Lealao 6'270 - Sacramento, CA - Capital Christian School
You rarely see 270 pound high school players with the kind of quickness and athleticism that Lealao possesses and because of that, he looks like the best big body prospect out West early on. Lealao is a dynamic athlete that is also a standout basketball player, something you love to see from linemen, that can move all around the defensive line. He is already as big as some defensive tackles who are starting in the Pac-12, but Lealao's ideal position is probably defensive end where he is a tackling machine, racking up 87 as a junior.
Lealao plays for a small, Christian school, so there aren't any school connections that provide any hints, but nearby Stanford was his first offer and the Cardinal's academic prestige and focus on tough linemen could be big for them. As with all of these guys though, it is very early and expect not just the big boys of the Pac-12, but of every major conference to pull out all of the stops in his recruitment.
CB Budda Baker 5'10 175 - Bellevue, WA
Almost like a Northwest version of Jackson, Baker is a track star that is electric with the ball in his hand, but also a defensive standout. Starring for powerhouse Bellevue, Baker is probably the best defensive back prospect to come out of Washington since Taylor Mays and he is every bit the freak athlete that Mays was but in a much diffeent way. Also similar to Quick and Jackson, Baker could play a number of positions while also being a big time guy in the return game.
Washington has done a poor job of keeping their elite in-state prospects at home in recent seasons, but Baker will assuredly be the top guy on Steve Sarkisian and his staff's target list in 2014 and Baker is rumored to be a guy who might be interested in staying close to home. It is extremely early in the game though and Baker will have the option to play for pretty much any program in the country though, so it is going to be a colossal battle for the Huskies to keep him at home.