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Fab 15: O.C. player projects well at college level
Newport Harbor's Cecil Whiteside isn't thrilled with how he played, but recruiters think his best days are ahead of him.
NEWPORT BEACH - Cecil Whiteside believes he played just "OK" during his senior season at Newport Harbor.
"I didn't get the best defensive player (award) in the Sunset (League)," he said. "There's always something you can work on."
Whiteside also didn't earn first-team All-County honors. He was a second-team selection for the second consecutive season.
But in the world of college football recruiting, Whiteside towers above his Orange County competitors.
On National Signing Day, the 6-foot-21/2, 220-pound linebacker is the county's highest regarded recruit, according to recruiting Web sites such as Rivals, Scout and ESPN.
He also has been selected to The Register's annual Fab 15 team, which recognizes the top recruits in the Western United States.
Whiteside received several scholarship offers but is expected to sign Wednesday with Cal.
LOT OF UPSIDE
Like many top recruits, Whiteside's stock is high in part because of how college football coaches recruit, said Greg Biggins, a West Coast recruiting expert with ESPN RISE.
Simply put: Recruiters try to forecast how a player's size and athleticism will fare at the college level, where most players have plenty of both.
How about on-the-field performance and stats?
"They definitely put more into (how players) project," Biggins said.
Biggins said Whiteside projects well because he has the "prototype" size and athleticism that college programs "love" from their linebackers. USC and UCLA were among the schools who offered Whiteside.
"He's one of the most athletic outside linebackers in the whole West region," Biggins said.
Over the summer, Biggins said Whiteside showed his athletic talents in the Champion Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 passing tournament in Florida. Whiteside shined filling in at tight end.
"He could be an elite tight end," Biggins said.
Whiteside played wide receiver for Newport Harbor.
But Whiteside's four-star rating from Rivals doesn't seem built solely on projection. And neither does his standing with Cal.
In ranking him the No. 7 recruit in California and the No. 38 in the nation, Rivals triumphs Whiteside's production in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last month in San Antonio.
Whiteside was the West's second-leading tackler. He also had a sack and earned an award for a big hit.
"I've watched the game like 20 times," Whiteside said. "I was just in the right spot at the right time."
Whiteside starred as a stand-up, weakside linebacker. He said Cal envisions a similar role for him in its 3-4 defense.
Whiteside grabbed Cal's attention with his play in 2008. He committed to the Golden Bears in the spring of his junior year.
"That's the film that Cal saw that made them want to recruit me," said Whiteside, a four-year starter. "They told me I'm the type of player that they are looking for: a guy who can come off the edge."
As a senior, Whiteside moved to inside linebacker.
"We (didn't) want guys running away from him all night," Newport Harbor coach Jeff Brinkley said.
"He played pretty well. ... At the next level, he'll be probably a specialist, a pass-rush guy. He'll probably be able to excel a little bit more."
Whiteside led the Sailors in tackles but learned he had detractors.
He read on recruiting Web sites that he played better as a junior. He also heard criticism that he wasn't quick enough.
Whiteside said he was motivated at the U.S. Army game to prove his critics wrong.
"Absolutely," he said.
A LOT TO LIKE
Whiteside has his legion of supporters, too. By halftime of the all-star game, he had received 15 text messages on his cell phone. And after the game, 20 more arrived.
USC also renewed its interest in Whiteside after its coaching change. Despite his commitment, the Trojans offered him a late recruiting visit but he declined.
Whiteside's connection at Cal already runs deep. He has family in Oakland and counts Cal quarterback Allan Bridgford (Mission Viejo) among his friends.
On one of his recruiting trips to Berkeley, Whiteside trekked to the top of Tightwad Hill, which overlooks Memorial Stadium in Strawberry Canyon.
"You could see the stadium, the (San Francisco) Bay and if you turned around, you see a whole bunch of redwoods," he said. "I liked (that) a lot."
Today, Whiteside's view of Orange County football is pretty spectacular, too.