BERKELEY – First-year head coach Justin Wilcox announced Cal's 2017 recruiting class Wednesday on National Signing Day. The group includes three student-athletes that rank among the nation's top 300 players overall and eight in the top 40 nationally at their position.
"We are excited about the student-athletes in this transitional year's recruiting class," said Wilcox, who was hired 18 days ago on Jan. 14. "They are great fits for the University of California and our football program, and they will make the Cal community proud of them both on and off the field. We are pleased that we were able to secure the commitments of many of the players initially recruited by the previous coaching staff and add several others just before signing day that we are really excited about."
The three players in the class that rank on prestigious lists of the nation's top players overall are QB Chase Garbers (No. 176, ESPN, Newport Beach, CA/Corona del Mar HS), DB Elijah Hicks (No. 232, Rivals, Long Beach, CA/La Mirada HS) and WR Taariq Johnson (No. 269, ESPN, Buena Park, CA/Buena Park HS).
The trio is also among eight members of the class that rank among the top 40 nationally at their respective position with Garbers (No. 10 Pocket Passer, ESPN) leading the way followed by OL Michael Saffell (No. 14 Center, 247Sports, Huntington Beach, CA/Edison HS), Hicks (No. 22 Athlete, Rivals), RB Biaggio Ali Walsh (No. 27, Rivals, Las Vegas, NV/Bishop Gorman HS), DL Gabe Cherry (No. 30 Strong-Side DE, Rivals, Bakersfield, CA/Centennial HS), TE Ben Moos (No. 30, ESPN, Pullman, WA/Pullman HS), OL Poutasi Poutasi (No. 32 OG, Scout, Las Vegas, NV/Desert Pines HS) and Johnson (No. 38, ESPN).
The eight top-40 position rankings cover eight different positions while the entire 14-player class consists of eight student-athletes on the offensive side of the ball and six on defense.
"We want to balance our roster in a way that will help us field the best football team we can," Wilcox said. "We want to be strong in all three phases of the game and will recruit in a way that will help us accomplish that."
Several members of the class stood out for the contributions they made to championship teams.
Ali Walsh ran for 4508 yards and 65 touchdowns while leading his three varsity teams to a 45-0 overall record and three USA Today national titles from 2014-16.
DL Alex Funches (Denton, TX/Trinity Valley Community College/Ryan HS) had career highs of 64 tackles and 7.0 sacks as a 2016 sophomore for a TVCC team that was 11-1 overall and won a second consecutive Southwest Junior College Football Conference title as well as the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl.
Garbers completed 589-of-854 (69.0%) of his career passes for 7970 yards while adding another 1290 on the ground for 9260 yards of total offense. He also threw for 90 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and rushed for another 27 scores to make him responsible for a total of 117 touchdowns. His four varsity teams from 2013-16 combined for a 47-7 overall record and a 20-0 Pacific Coast League mark while winning one Division 3 state title and four conference crowns.
Hicks helped his two varsity teams from 2015-16 to a 23-5 overall record and a state Division 3-AA title as a senior.
Poutasi contributed to the NIAA Class 3A title as a 2016 senior while helping his team to a 31-6 overall record during his three varsity campaigns from 2014-16. He was selected to play in both the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl and Polynesian Bowl after his high school career.
Saffell had a huge 2016 senior season individually and in leading his team. He was named the Sunset League Offensive Lineman of the Year for the second straight campaign and also earned first-team All-State (Cal-Hi Sports, MaxPreps), All-County, All-Region, All-Area, All-Southern Section and All-Sunset League honors for a squad that finished ranked No. 10 in California by MaxPreps after posting a 13-2 overall record while capturing both the Southern Section Division 3 and Sunset League crowns.
DB Branden Smith (Lancaster, CA/Paraclete HS) capped his prep career as a 2016 senior by helping his squad to a 3-AA state title after an 0-3 start with career highs on both sides of the ball. Smith picked up 38 receptions and 317 yards receiving on offense while he had 38 tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defended on defense.
Others in the recruiting class include LB Kyle Harmon (Oakley, CA/Freedom HS), WR Jeremiah Hawkins (Buena Park, CA/Buena Park HS), TE Gavin Reinwald (Elk Grove, CA/Elk Grove HS) and DB Daniel Scott (La Caņada, CA (St. Francis HS).
Cherry, Funches, Hicks and Johnson are mid-year enrollees already on campus while the remainder of the recruiting class is scheduled to arrive for Cal's summer bridge program in late June.
The class is comprised largely of California and West Coast players with all 14 signees from the Pacific or Mountain Time Zones including 10 from the Golden State.
"Our recruiting philosophy is to start in the Bay Area and work out from there," Wilcox said. "The heavy West Coast emphasis with this transitional class reflects that. We will certainly recruit nationally when it makes sense, but we want to do everything we can to keep the local talent that the Bay Area and the entire West Coast has to offer at home. We want all of our recruits to know everything that Cal can provide both athletically and academically."
Roster information for each member of the 2017 Cal football recruiting class is listed below with bios on the following pages.
2017 Cal Football Recruiting Class (as of February 1, 2017)
NAME – POS – HT – WT – YR – EXP – HOMETOWN (LAST SCHOOLS)
Biaggio Ali Walsh – RB – 5-10 – 190 – Fr. – HS – Las Vegas, NV (Bishop Gorman HS)