California may be the nation's trendsetter in many respects, but it remains a stubborn holdout to college football's latest recruiting craze. In a year when so many other elite prospects have made verbal commitments before the start of summer, most of California's top recruits are carefully weighing their options.
"I'm not in any hurry," Mission Viejo safety and Rivals100 prospect Max Redfield said. "I want to make sure it's the right choice. I think that's what the others are doing also. They want to make sure they make the right decision."
The difference between California recruits and the rest of the country is striking.
As of Tuesday, 54 members of the 2013 Rivals100 were verbally committed, while just two of the 11 Californians in the Rivals100 had made decisions. Westlake Village cornerback Dashon Hunt (No. 58) committed to UCLA last August, but he's listed as a soft verbal and is still planning other visits. Redlands East Valley defensive end Kylie Fitts (No. 81) pledged to USC last month.
Two other top California prospects could join that list soon. Stockton Lincoln running back Justin Davis (No. 48) is scheduled to announce his choice Thursday, and Vista Murrieta safety Su'a Cravens (No. 5) is expected to decide by June. Both are reportedly leaning toward USC.
The majority of other California recruits, however, plan to wait much longer.
"A lot of junior days have just finished up here," said Rivals' recruiting analyst Adam Gorney. "They're a little later here than they are in other conferences. I think kids on the West Coast are often offered later by SEC and Big 12 schools, so unless they're sitting on a Pac-12 school they want to go to, a lot of them wait until the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 coaches come out and see them during practice."
Those certainly are logical explanations. But there also might be another reason for the delay, one unique to this cycle in particular. When Washington hired Tosh Lupoi away from California two weeks before National Signing Day, it sent shockwaves through the 2012 West Coast recruiting scene. The aftermath of that move is still making an impact.
"That whole thing that happened with coach Lupoi, I think it sent a message to everybody here in California that you have to wait until that point where everything's about to be finalized to make your decision," Atwater Buhach offensive tackle and Rivals100 recruit Aaron Cochran said. "Anything can happen."
Cochran should know. He's the younger brother of Matt Cochran, a 2012 three-star center who verbally committed to California two weeks before Lupoi's departure. Though he signed with California anyway, the Golden Bears lost several other coveted prospects. Among them: Sacramento Grant safety Shaq Thompson (Washington), Monrovia defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy (UCLA) and Westlake Village wide receiver Jordan Payton (UCLA). All three were Rivals100 recruits.
"It really showed me that you can't just go to a school because of a coach, because the coach can leave any minute for a better job," Cochran said. "I really need to make my decision based on the school and not just the people there."
Part of it is basic geography. If a California recruit is targeted by an SEC, ACC, Big Ten or Big 12 program, visiting that campus can prove to be tricky. Even a trip to the Oregon or Washington schools requires time. Compare that situation to a recruit in Georgia considering SEC or ACC schools within driving distance, and the decision to wait makes sense.
"I feel like down in SEC territory, they know what their group of schools is," said De La Salle linebacker Michael Hutchings, the nation's No. 17 recruit. "They know what's there and they have a good idea of what their schools are going to be. The schools aren't that far from each other, and they want to stay in SEC territory. Here, the schools are a little more spread out. The states are a little bigger. I feel like it's a tougher decision. We're going farther than the SEC guys are."
Another part of it is attachment. While some California recruits have developed strong early connections to particular programs, many others haven't. Those prospects will need more time to make their decisions.
"I just think [California] kids tend to wait a little bit longer to decide, tend to wait until right before their senior season, just so they get a full idea of just who exactly is recruiting them," said Gorney. "They have some chances during the summer to take some visits far from home and stuff."
Some top prospects will likely decide this summer. Others won't even set a timetable. But as the national trend continues to move towards early declarations, California seems more than content to take its time.
"I know there are a lot of people committing, but for me there's no rush," said Sherman Oaks Notre Dame running back Khalfani Muhammad, the nation's No. 108 recruit. "I don't feel a rush in this process. Picking a college is a big decision, and I feel personally you should get to know as many things as possible before making a decision like this."