When you operate in a state with 40 million people — accompanied by good weather and a bazillion football-playing high schools — you don’t have to look far to find accomplished, next-level talent.
Such was the case for UC Davis and coach Dan Hawkins as the Aggies announced Wednesday that 11 of California’s next-level players are headed to town.
“Excellent, just excellent quality,” came the coach’s reply when asked about his bumper crop. “It was kind of an abnormality our first go-round; we signed 32 guys. This group is smaller in number, but I’m really, really impressed with overall athleticism. Again, the Davis model is the well-rounded guy, the good student who has done some other things than sports … and played some other sports.
“I like (all that) about this crew, and a lot of these guys have been on championship teams and have that expectation and know what that’s about.”
The bounty comes just two weeks after UCD finished its most successful season in its decade-long Division I history, going 10-3 while ranking as high as No. 2 in one Football Championship Subdivision poll and coming within one minute of advancing to the postseason Final Four.
Going into the 2019 campaign, a relatively young Aggie squad has veteran talent at almost every position. It graduated only 15 seniors. But there is one huge hole to fill — replace two-time All-American Keelan Doss at wide receiver.
With veterans like Jared Harrell, Khris Vaughn, Carson Crawford and Wesley Preece returning, it’s not like quarterback Jake Maier will be lacking for quality targets. But just in case the next Doss lurks in the Class of 2023, the Aggies went strong in signing six incoming pass-catchers.
New to the receivers’ fold will be…
Chaz Davis (Bear Creek High) 6-3, 180 — A swift kick-return man, the fleet prepster averaged 20.5 yards per catch, while turning in 133 yards worth of all-purpose yardage a game. He also plays basketball and runs track.
He caught 57 passes for 712 yards and nine scores as a senior.
Blake Thorpe (Las Lomas High) 6-3, 225 — Ranked by HERO Sports as one of the top tight-end recruits and a three-star athlete from 24/7 Sports, the busy receiver is an accomplished blocker who excelled at making the big catch.
His 56 receptions resulted in 17 TDs and more than 1,000 yards as his Knights finished 12-1 after going 0-10 in 2016. Las Lomas also captured the 2018 NorCal basketball crown with Thorpe providing defensive and rebounding prowess during a 31-4 season.
Orlando Ornelas (Chaparral High) 6-0, 175 — The Temecula native comes to campus as a wide receiver after finishing a brilliant career as a quarterback and defensive back. Ornelas — who was involved in myriad campus and community service projects, including an anti-DUI program — threw for 1,636 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
As a junior, Ornelas caught UCD’s eye when he collected 18 passes (483 yards), played well on defense and served as the Pumas’ kick-return threat. Like most of the Aggie recruits, he was a first-team all-league selection.
Duncan Smith (Burbank High) 6-4, 250 — Given the Aggies’ sterling 2018 campaign, the Southern California three-star recruit was wrested away from several Mountain West schools. With more than 700 yards receiving each of the past two years, the big tight end set a school-career standard with 23 receiving touchdowns as the Bulldogs were 17-8 during his watch. His Pacific League MVP season in 2017 helped his school to its first football conference title since 1972.
He is also a knock-you-out defensive force, collecting 110 tackles, 13 sacks and 23 stops for losses in his prep stay.
Evan Bearden (Sonora High) 6-5, 240 — Tight end? Defensive lineman? School is still out on which side of the ball Davis might find Bearden more valuable. He finished 2018 with 239 receiving yards and a truck-load of pancake blocks for a Wildcats team that rushed for 3,399 yards. His 93 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions helped put Sonora at the top of the Mother Lode League standings. He also plays basketball.
So, coach, what about Bearden and Smith on defense?
“Well, they’re definitely very athletic. Let’s kinda see what happens. I mean Bearden, probably, is a guy that’s a little more (a defensive candidate) right now, but we’re bringing those guys in as tight ends and we’ll go from there,” Hawkins said.
With veteran DBs Vincent White and Isiah Olave lost to graduation, UCD hopes two new Aggies will help retool a deep cast of secondary characters…
Sequoia Magdalena (Notre Dame High) 6-3, 195 — Highly rated (third overall by HERO Sports), the big, cat-quick safety competed in this year’s Honor Bowl — an important West Coast gridiron showcase.
But Magdalena flew under many people’s radars.
Honored for his grades, Magdalena is involved in his school’s Peer Leadership program, the Black Student Union and Astro Club (quantum mechanics and space study). He was named team defensive MVP and earned second-team all-league honors as a junior, despite missing his senior season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Jehiel Budgett (Monterey Trail) 6-0, 184 — Local fans already know about Budgett, who led the Mustangs to a 12-1 season, while ranking third in MTHS history in career rushing yards (2,985) and TDs (39).
An all-Sac-Joaquin Section selection, Budgett’s 1,564 yards and 25 visits to pay dirt turned a lot of universities’ heads. But at this point, it’s Budgett’s prowess on defense that piqued Hawkins’ interest.
From the You Can Never Have Enough Quarterbacks Department come two new signal-callers. While UCD currently sports five who play the position — including the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year Jake Maier — the Aggies nonetheless convinced two other QBs to come hither…
Miles Hastings (San Marcos High) 6-0, 175 — With more than 5,000 passing yards these past two seasons, Hastings is a two-time San Diego all-CIF and all-Avocado League first-teamer.
His 50 touchdown throws propelled the Knights into the CIF Open Division semifinals and quarterfinals in 2018 and 2017, respectively. He’s also a two-time all-academic honoree at his school. His family has a rich background in music: Mom owns a music studio in Encinitas, dad plays guitar and sings and his sister majors in music at USC, from where his technical musician brother graduated.
“UC Davis has a very explosive offense with great talent … and the way they throw the ball around, (it) definitely got my attention,” Hastings reports, adding: “I loved the coaching staff and players at UC Davis. It’s great … that I will be playing for a head coach with that kind of résumé.”
Trent Tompkins (Central High) 6-0, 195 — How does 65 touchdown passes sound … in a single season? That’s what the four-time academic honor roll QB did while throwing for 5,001 yards — numbers that were second in the nation among all prep players. He was the only player in the nation to throw for 5,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more.
On Dec. 7, in the state semifinals versus Folsom, the Fresno-based Grizzlies lost, 84-46 — a game in which Tompkins threw for 482 yards and five touchdowns.
Central went 36-5 in Hastings’ three seasons running the show. Twice, the Grizzlies won the section title.
Tompkins comes by his athletic prowess honestly: His father played college basketball and is a world-champion BMX racer, while his mom was a Fresno State cheerleader. Tompkins is currently playing basketball, and later baseball, for the Grizzlies.
Hawkins said he’s delighted with his two new QBs. Harkening back to the hurry-up offense Hawkins and offensive coordinator Tim Plough put on getting current Aggie All-American Maier from Long Beach City College, Tompkins and Hastings have been on the UCD radar for awhile.
Not least talented among UCD’s new crew are a SoCal linebacker and a Stockton running back with eye-popping numbers…
Felipe Figueroa (Franklin High) 6-0, 200 — The San Joaquin Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year scored 17 touchdowns. He rushed for 1,325 yards and caught passes for another 302.
But the head-turning line among his many notable stats? Figueroa returned three punts for touchdowns. In itself, a nice accomplishment. A closer look reveals the senior’s punt-return TDs went for 93, 99 and 99 yards.
Accorded Starbucks Black Hat Team honors (an all-star selection from prep leagues throughout the 209 area code), the Yellowjacket did all his damage while his Stockton-based squad struggled to a 1-9 record this fall.
Calvin Mouisset (Junipero Serra High) 6-1, 205 — Competing in the rugged Trinity League, Mouisset was the circuit’s MVP. A two-time team captain, the linebacker recorded 85 tackles as a senior at the San Juan Capistrano school. On pass coverage, he broke up seven throws. A fumble recovery was on his stat sheet, as were an impressive six blocked punts this fall. Not bad considering that Trinity is home to the likes of football powers Mater Dei and St. John Bosco.
The Aggies aren’t finished with this recruiting class, which has another signing period in February.
“Next go-round we’ll probably be in the three or four range,” explains Hawkins, who spoke with The Enterprise by phone from Idaho, where he’s visiting family for the holidays. “We have some guys (now), walk-ons who deserve some (financial support). We’ll see how it shakes out.”
Hawkins praised his staff’s work in bringing these 11 to campus, adding that most aspects of student-athlete life at UC Davis are elements that sell themselves.
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