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Zach Kline, QB, San Ramon Valley (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

Assuming National Signing Day offers little in the way of surprises, the 30th edition of the Cream of the Crop will be remembered for one big development.

This was the year Cal took back the Bay Area.

For only the third time in the last 30 years, six of the region's top 20 prospects are headed to Berkeley. Known to many as members of the "#CalGang," the group of six has become a close-knit bunch intent on opening a newly refurbished Memorial Stadium in style.

"It's just a matter of everybody feeling that Cal was going to be something special," said #CalGang member and De La Salle linebacker Michael Barton. "Seeing that Cal was one of the best programs and it being in their backyard is icing on the cake."

San Ramon Valley quarterback Zach Kline is the headliner in this year's group, earning the nod by the narrowest of margins over Salesian offensive lineman Freddie Tagaloa.

They'll both be Bears, with Kline's huge arm and Tagaloa's athletic prowess at tackle giving Cal fans plenty to be excited about.

Set to join Barton, Kline and Tagaloa in Berkeley are Kennedy-Richmond receiver Kenneth Walker, Bishop O'Dowd linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr. and Livermore athlete Damariay Drew.

Making Cal's haul even more impressive is that this is also the year the Crop grew up a little. For the first time, players from Santa Clara County are included in the list. And, the best of San Mateo County returns.


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What that means is this group might be the deepest in recent memory. The addition of stars such as Oregon-bound running back Byron Marshall of Valley Christian-San Jose and Oregon State-bound defensive back Cleveland Wallace of Oak Grove made this year's list a star-studded ranking that was tougher than ever to crack.

Oregon was the other winner in this year's class, landing commitments from three of the top 20 recruits. Marshall heads that group, as the speedy running back will head to Eugene with Bishop O'Dowd defensive end T.J. Daniel and Monte Vista quarterback Jeff Lockie.

"He's probably one of the top three running backs in the nation," one recruiter said of Marshall. "He's the complete package."

This year's class was the decisive sort. Nineteen of the 20 have made oral commitments, and the only one who hasn't, De La Salle receiver Anthony Williams, is expected to choose soon.

Finally, the always-popular Cream of the Crop trivia:

  • For the first time in the 30-year history of Cream of the Crop, no Oakland Athletic League players made the list. Three made it last year, and five were members of the 2010 Crop. McClymonds quarterback/defensive end Eddie Heard garnered consideration, but his future likely lies as a pitcher.

  • This is the 10th class to include three or more quarterbacks.

  • Drew is only the fourth Livermore player to be included in Cream of the Crop, and the first since 1995. Offensive lineman Jeff Cronshagen was the No. 2-ranked player that year. He went to Stanford.

  • Speaking of the Cardinal, this is the second year in a row that Stanford is not represented in the Crop. That's not to say that there's no local talent on the Farm. Brett Nottingham, the 2010 top Cropper, will be in the mix to replace Andrew Luck at quarterback next season. He'll throw to the No. 3 pick in 2009's Crop, tight end Zach Ertz. Coaching them will be another Crop alum, David Shaw, a wide receiver from James Logan who ranked 18th in 1990.