Twelve former Sacramento-area prep stars make it to NFL
The 10 area players who’ve earned a chance to make a living in the NFL as first-year pros could help field a pretty impressive team. You won’t find many skill positions (well, one), but you could certainly fill the trenches and then some. Let’s line them up:
Ahkello Witherspoon, cornerback: The 49ers’ third-round pick out of Colorado and Christian Brothers is such a late bloomer, he’s still blooming. From 5-foot, 100 pounds as a high school freshman to 6-3, 195 now, Witherspoon vows to become as good a tackler as he is coverman.
Eddie Vanderdoes, defensive tackle: The Raiders’ third-round pick out of UCLA and Placer High was so giddy about getting his new helmet that he deemed it, “joining the dark side.”
Vanderdoes said he is in the best shape of his life, having suffered through knee and ankle ailments his last two seasons and shedding nearly 40 pounds during the winter.
Tanner Vallejo, linebacker: The Bills’ sixth-round pick out of Boise State and Nevada Union was limited last fall with braces on both arms due to several injuries, leading to surgery on his right wrist. Vallejo said he’s fit and ready to go as he follows in the NFL footsteps of one-time Nevada Union and Packers linebacker Spencer Havner.
Jordan Carrell, defensive tackle: The Cowboys’ seventh-round pick out of Colorado, American River College and Roseville High impressed Dallas defensive line coach Leon Lett during a three-hour workout in Sacramento leading up to the draft. Said Carrell, “I’m going to be a great investment.”
Gavin Andrews, offensive line: An undrafted rookie free agent signee with the Bills, Andrews played four of five line spots at Oregon State after graduating from Granite Bay. He endured illness and injuries at OSU, though he produced his best season as a senior.
Cole Hikutini, tight end: The undrafted rookie free agent signee with the 49ers out of Louisville and Pleasant Grove was a projected draft pick midway through his senior campaign before a knee injury and relatively slow 40-yard dash time (4.85 seconds) at his Pro Day eliminated leverage. Hikutini appears to be a developmental material on the practice squad, which is still a coveted job.
Nate Iese, tight end: The undrafted rookie free agent signee with the Packers could find himself competing at several positions. That was the case at UCLA and at Sheldon High. Iese has played fullback, different linebacking positions and tight end. He’s proof of why playing multiple sports in high school is important.
UCLA coach Jim Mora watched a shirtless Iese in a basketball practice thunder-dunk and race up and down the floor. Mumbled Mora, “We gotta have that guy.”
Steven Moore, offensive line: The undrafted rookie free agent signee with the Titans is, in a word, versatile. He played four line spots at Cal after also doing so at Elk Grove, and at 6-6, 310 pounds, he’s a field-tilting, shadow-casting presence. Moore aspires to get into law enforcement after his playing days conclude.
Marcus Rios, cornerback: The undrafted rookie free agent signee with the Broncos out of UCLA and Cosumnes Oaks is thrilled to be alive. He was given a grim diagnosis in 2013 during a 10-week stay in a Los Angeles hospital as scores of physicians tried to comprehend a rare and exceedingly aggressive fungal infection in his nasal passage that was ravaging his body, dropping his weight from 185 to 130.
Rios recovered, became a UCLA starter and impressed in NFL workouts.
Thomas Sperbeck, receiver: The undrafted rookie free agent signee with the Buccaneers is the lone skill player of the local haul this year. Sperbeck played quarterback at Jesuit and set career receiving marks at Boise State, and he impressed with his 4.53-second 40 at Boise State’s Pro Day.