At Least A Handful Of NorCal Football Players Aren’t Hanging On Every CIF Or State Health Department Announcement These Days — Early Graduates Are Focused On The Future Without Regret •
For the Bay Area’s handful of early graduate football stars, their bags are packed for college without the chance of playing in one final high school season.
For those graduating high school a semester early to get a head start on college, they are making that move laser-focused on the future and without regret. There’s a palpable sense of relief and confidence in making that major decision.
It’s full-speed ahead, characteristic of the drive it takes to finish high school early, especially under distance learning.
“It’s a weird thing being graduated early; you can’t follow in anyone’s footsteps,” Pittsburg senior offensive tackle Ryan Lange said, speaking with determination and assuredness in his choice. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Lange is set to move across the East Bay to Cal on Jan. 15 and start classes the following day.
In this strange school year contorted by the Coronavirus pandemic, these early graduates taking chances on a final delayed season — which remains in doubt as calendars are set to turn to 2021. Football stadiums were quiet this fall. So too were the competitive spirits of remaining high school football players, as a projected wintertime season is in question after the region enacted new stay-at-home orders in early December.
“It’s a sad situation because I did want to play my last season,” said Liberty-Brentwood senior Akili Calhoun Jr., an early graduate also headed to Cal. “But with this situation, I have to think about my family. Pick my friends or my family … It was tough. I cried about it, because those are my guys.”
“Whether football was going on or not, it was something I was going to do,” said Kennedy-Richmond tight end Jermaine Terry II (pictured above), who committed to Cal in February. “I’m really excited to get to touch the football. I haven’t been able to do that as much.”
The CIF put plans for sports practices on hold until at least the start of 2021 after the state’s surge in COVID-19 cases.
When January arrives for early enrollees, their future won’t be on hold. They’ll officially become college students. Lange said he didn’t even know graduating early was an option when he began high school.
By chance during his freshman year, Lange happened to work out in the same gym as Antioch’s Najee Harris, who drew the spotlight as the nation’s top recruit. That spotlight is even brighter at Alabama, where Harris is the overall FBS scoring leader as of Dec. 9. He graduated early from Antioch to join the Crimson Tide, and in that meeting Lange learned of that possibility.
“It was a process that I didn’t even know about,” said Lange. “But now I know two guys who have taken that route.”
With doubt hovering over high school sports, these seniors don’t regret taking themselves out of the equation.
“Everyone wants to play, but I see my future as coming up quickly. I felt it was something I have to do,” said Terry. At 6-foot-5, 260, Terry is a four-star recruit and a consensus top-five nationally at tight end.
“This is truly exciting; truly it is a blessing,” Terry continued. “A lot of people don’t get the opportunity I am getting.”
Lange said that while he feels he made the right decision, he realizes he won’t have senior experiences like “being a leader and running the flag onto the field.”
He said he’d developed “a good-hearted rivalry” with Calhoun, a mighty 6-4, 265 presence at defensive end. They lined up across from another whenever the two Bay Valley Athletic League teams met. Calhoun, whose father played for the Raiders in the 1990s, was first to offer congratulations when Lange announced his commitment in July.
“As soon as I got off the phone with Cal, I got a FaceTime from Akili, and it was ‘Hey, you are going to Cal too. … that’s so cool,’” Lange recalled. “That was such a warm welcome. My phone was getting blown up for the next day after that.”
Added Calhoun: “I was hyped; we were playing against each other since freshman year, and he’s always been my boy. He’s been my friend for years, even though we’d been playing against each other.
“It’s going to feel great, honestly, since I’m trying to be the best pass rusher in the Pac-12, and I can practice with the best guys.”
These recruits had their share of options. Lange’s includes the likes of Arizona, Washington State and USC, among others.
“You have to look at it from an adult standpoint,” Lange said. “Cal wasn’t the top choice at first, but the education is amazing and it’s right close to home. So what if they are maybe not one of the best teams in the Pac-12. That doesn’t matter in 20 years when you are looking at your degree.”
Lange is looking at studying orthopedics, along with chemistry.
“I developed that interest from playing sports, learning about your body and what you need to do after getting hurt. If you hurt a shoulder, ankle or tendon and how you deal with it.”
Calhoun’s focus is psychology; “learning about an individual and how to understand what he’s thinking.
“You can’t beat a Cal education,” he said. “It’s not a 4-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision. Because I’m not going to be playing football forever.”
Terry is eyeing pre-nursing or business studies. Always a physical presence, basketball was initially more appealing because life as a lineman didn’t have much appeal. Eventually he learned to become a pass-catcher.
“Once I entered high school, I knew I had a shot to do something with football,” he said. “I knew I could if I kept my head and worked hard.”
Going to Kennedy, Terry knows first-hand the challenges of growing up in one of the Bay Area’s toughest neighborhoods. It’s why he’s wishing his Kennedy teammates get the chance to go back on the field, while heeding to precautions.
“Being from my city, I know football is an outlet and a place for people to stay out of trouble,” he said. “So I hope everyone can play, but if they do it, they do it carefully.”
Calhoun committed to Cal right before the March outbreak that shut down schools and sports. He announced he’d be among the region’s early graduates as soon as CIF outlined its first delay in July. He did so realizing he’d miss out on a season that might not happen.
“I thought, what is the point of me wasting it when I could be getting better?”
Still he feels for his teammates, several who were also part of the school’s first state championship team in fall 2018.
“It’s a horrible situation, because this is a really important season for a lot of guys out there,” Calhoun said.
Heading out of high school without a final senior season, each has accomplishments they can hang their hats on, and can be proud of their teamwork in the trenches.
For Calhoun, he points to being part of that state championship team as a sophomore.
“Those are the moments they can’t take back, because at Liberty we got to accomplish that,” he said. “It’s leaving me with feelings that I don’t have any regrets about.
“You look to the left and you have your brother there and look to the right and have your other brother there, that is what matters. It’s what it’s all about.”