January 18, 2012

California was atop the recruiting world just 10 days ago when not one or two but three top recruits verbally committed to the school on national television during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.

It's the type of haul that had potential to set up a school for years. Now, it might all be over.

The sudden departure of assistant Tosh Lupoi, who left to become defensive run game coordinator at Pac-12 rival Washington, has left a stellar recruiting class feeling "blindsided."

One player, five-star defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy, already has left, announcing on Monday that he is headed to UCLA. Others could follow.

Five-star defensive back Shaq Thompson, who committed to Cal, then decommitted, then committed again at the Army Bowl, has said his recruitment is open.

"It's a business," he said via Twitter on Monday. "My family told me and [I] have to do what's best for me."

Four-star receiver Jordan Payton said he is open to looking at other schools, too.

Four-star linebacker Michael Barton commented that he's still committed to Cal, but admitted the loss of Lupoi has had an impact on him and other commitments.

"It's a huge deal," he told BearTerritory.net. "It blindsided everybody.

"He came by the house a couple days ago and we were talking and he said he was going to stay with Cal but after I talked to him a lot of things kind of unfolded the next few days and led to his decision. I know he did what's best for him and his family but it's kind of tough because he's a player's coach and everybody felt really connected to him."

College recruiting is fickle by nature.

Verbal commitments are just that, a non-binding proclamation of where a recruit intends to go. Nothing is official until an athlete signs a National Letter of Intent on National Signing Day (Feb. 1 this year).

So even though a verbal commitment is intended to end the recruiting process, it doesn't. Schools continue to recruit players -- especially when a coaching change occurs.

Usually it's the hiring or firing of a head coach. But in Cal's case, it's clearly the departure of Lupoi, named the Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year in 2010.

"The relationship I built with Coach Tosh was a big factor in my decision to go to Cal," McCarthy said via text message.

Cal is now scrambling to rebuild its relationship with its commits. It has until Feb. 1 to do so. And while that may not seem like much time to repair relationships that were years in the making, the program only needs to look at how this weekend unfolded to see how quickly things can change in the recruiting world.

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