Fresno Edison coach Tim McDonald isn’t sure he’ll ever see the talent that the Tigers have set up for this ever again.
“We may down the line have some players like this, a couple of linemen, maybe, but I don’t think you’ll see something like this around here any time soon,” said McDonald.
The talent that the Tigers have has been a long time in the making. One of the most fertile schools in the West, Edison has been sending top prospects to schools for the better part of the last decade.
But even McDonald, an all-American safety at USC and an NFL all-Pro with the Cardinals and 49ers after playing at Edison, knows that the group he has this fall is special.
Never was it more evident than earlier this week when three Tiger players were selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl: cornerback Cliff Harris, receiver Rolando Jefferson and safety T.J. McDonald.
“We have had some great players the past few years, who when you look back at what they’ve done, you’ll see the doors were starting to open,” said McDonald. “Last year with Robert Golden being named to the Army game and the work that Courtney Viney did the year before showed our players could play on a national scale.”
And that has been the case.
Viney was an all-combine pick at the 2006 U.S. Army National Combine, though he was inexplicably left off the Army Bowl roster. Golden followed a year later with an all-combine performance and he was the breakthrough that the Edison program needed, being named to the Army Bowl and starring all week for the West.
With Harris looking on that weekend, when Golden started for the West, he followed it up and earned top defensive back honors at the combine, making it a third straight year that an Edison defensive back was on the squad.
But that wasn’t the first time that Harris stood out on a big stage. A year ago, at the Scout.com Combine in Los Angeles, Harris was named the top defensive back there, despite never having started a game on varsity, and earning more kudos than his counterpart, Golden. McDonald was also an all-combine pick. The two would then stand out at the B2G Elite Football Program that summer.
Meanwhile, flying below the radar was Jefferson, labeled by each of the Edison defensive backs as the best receiver they’d seen. Jefferson missed the L.A. Scout Combine and the B2G, letting the Edison defensive backs continue to improve.
But when Jefferson stepped foot on the field for the first time last fall, he showed why he just may be the best receiver in the West, if not more.
After their season ended with a disappointing loss to Clovis West, the core of the 2008 squad continued to work towards their goal of a section title and more.
“We were 1-2 plays away from playing for the state title and really having a chance to show what Edison could do,” said McDonald. “These guys have only lost around 2-3 games since they started playing high school football. They know what it takes.”
When talking about California football, most of the attention, and deservedly so, is focused on SoCal. But McDonald said that his players, and teams from the past, have had every bit the talent, just never the attention.
“These kids know they’re not in Southern California, or the Bay Area, where they can get all of the attention, so they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulders,” said McDonald. “They know that they can play, that they deserve the attention. For these three to be named to the Army Bowl is an incredible honor and shows that there is some good football being played in the Valley.”
What’s scary is that Harris, Jefferson and McDonald aren’t the only elite prospects on the team.
Sure, Golden is leaving for Arizona, Brandon Leslie for Georgia Tech and Jerry Davis for Buffalo, but the Tigers will be loaded in 2008.
Aside from the big three, TE/DE Nat Harrison, RB Marquise Cooper and WR Rashaun Schaefer all return this fall to put their stamp on the program. Tevin McDonald, the younger of the McDonald brothers, will play alongside his brother in the secondary as a junior.
Harrison is one of the more intriguing players in Central California, capable of playing 3-4 positions in college, though strongside linebacker may be his best spot. Cooper is a cat-quick back who will be the primary ball-carrier for the Tigers. Schaefer doesn’t get the attention that Jefferson does, or even Harris, an occasional receiver, but he’s a big target for Edison.
Which leads McDonald back to the original point, that this “lightning in a bottle” may not occur again.
“We’re set up to have a very big season, and these guys are hungry,” said McDonald. “The honor of being named to the Army Bowl is a big one but it’s only a small part of our goal, of our focus. These guys want to win.”
And with the talent at Edison, the pieces are in place.