Akili Calhoun Jr., who announced this week that he will skip his senior season at Liberty High in Brentwood in order enroll mid-year at Cal, says that was his plan even before the California Interscholastic Federation pushed fall sports to the winter in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And Calhoun, a four-star defensive end, is not the only Cal recruit who plans to graduate high school early to arrive in Berkeley by January.
Tight end Jermaine Terry of Richmond made the same announcement this week, and Calhoun says at least three more fellow Cal commits — offensive tackle Bastian Swinney of Edina, Minnesota, cornerback Kaleb Higgins of Folsom and outside linebacker Moses Oladejo of Elk Grove — plan to make the same move.
All five of those players are on the list of candidates for the SI All-American team, which was unveiled last week.
Calhoun and Terry, two of the highest-rated prospects committed to the Bears, have talked about doing this for quite some time.
The CIF's decision wasn't the primary motivating factor.
“Our conversation related to graduating early has always been the same thing — we want to be great,” Calhoun says. “We don’t want to just be a regular class. We want to be different. We want to stand out. We’re in the process of standing out right now.”
Calhoun and Terry demonstrate Cal coach Justin Wilcox’s determination to re-establish a local footprint for recruiting after previous coach Sonny Dykes spent less energy here and focused recruiting in Texas and the South.
“I’m honestly really proud of that. It’s been a long time since it’s been like this. Wilcox is bringing something different to Cal,” Calhoun says. “The past few years that he’s been there, since 2017, their record has just been getting better and better. He’s building something.”
Calhoun dreams of Cal pursuing a berth in the College Football Playoffs. “Possibly national championship,” he adds. “
Calhoun, whose father played for the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1990s, is aware of Cal’s long Rose Bowl drought.
“Oh yeah . . . we were all talking about it just the other day. We want to make a Rose Bowl,” he says. “That’s a big thing for us, too.”
So Calhoun is working out this summer, aware that he won’t play in another football game until at least the fall of 2021. He has the fall term of high school in his future, but not his senior football season.
He acknowledges having some mixed emotions.
“I know I’m going to miss it. Because Liberty became like my family,” Calhoun says. “It’s saddening because it feels like I’m leaving family behind. At the same time, I’m going to create new family once I get to Berkeley. People are already embracing me. Just like I said in my announcement, sometimes you’ve got to have doors close to open up new ones.”
The CIF’s decision to postpone the high school football only solidifies Calhoun’s decision because now it would be impossible to both play his senior season and enroll early at Cal.
“I really does make it easier, even though it’s a hard decision,” he says. “In reality, if I’m going to go on to the next step in my life, I’m going to have to do it.”
Calhoun says his energy right now is focused on getting himself into the best shape of his life. Workouts have given him an outlet during the coronavirus outlet, and a distraction from all that is happening in the world right now.
The George Floyd killing and subsequent nationwide protests merely point out a sad reality to Calhoun.
“It just shows some of the issues in America that still need to be fixed. We’re not going to be able to keep on developing as a nation when we have things like this going on,” he says. “It’s a crazy world. There’s no way we can say America’s great until we fix the problems that we have.”
Calhoun’s workout sessions are his sanctuary.
“Honestly, it keeps you occupied. It keeps you focused, keeps you thinking about the future instead of staying stuck in like, `Oh man, I just can’t get out of the house,’ “ he says.
“You have to think positively. I think that sports and being able to have those outlets like workouts and things like that, it helps you to release that stress. It keeps me from going crazy.”
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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