Hometown Report

Why Placer County is becoming a talent pool for football stars

Cameron Smith, a linebacker out of Granite Bay, leads USC with 79 tackles this season.
Cameron Smith, a linebacker out of Granite Bay, leads USC with 79 tackles this season. The Associated Press

What’s going on in Placer County with all of the football talent sprouting across the country?

Offense, defense and special teams, they are everywhere, be it the NFL, the Pacific-12 Conference, the Mountain West, the Big Sky or small programs.

Leading the rampaging charge is Eddie Vanderdoes, the pride of Placer High School. The Raiders’ third-round pick has started every game at defensive tackle for Oakland this season.

When familiar faces meet after competition, they tend to embrace, reflect, take photos, etc.

Trey Udoffia and Kyle Wells met Saturday afternoon, the Del Oro graduates rooting each other from afar coming in. A cornerback and The Bee’s 2015 Defensive Player of the Year, Udoffia led Colorado with nine solo tackles in a 44-28 win over Cal, where Wells starts at tight end.

Wells scored one this season for every walk-on hopeful as proof that effort and talent pay off. He is now on scholarship.

Other starters across the land:

▪ Cameron Smith of Granite Bay leads USC with 79 tackles, including 16 against Utah. A projected first-round pick in April, Smith is a semifinalist for the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker.

▪ Jordan Kunaszyk of Roseville and Ameriacn River College had 16 tackles for Cal against Colorado, and the linebacker earned Walter Campo National Player of the Week honors earlier this season when his 11 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception keyed a 37-3 blitz of then-No. 8 Washington State.

▪ Kolton Miller of Roseville casts a shadow at offensive tackle for UCLA. He is 6-foot-8 and 310 pounds.

▪ Austin Paulhus of Granite Bay and ARC leads Nevada with 79 tackles. He went from a lightly recruited linebacker to a guy who is impossible to ignore, including leading the Wolf Pack with 10 tackles for loss.

▪ Tony Ellison of Granite Bay has been a deep-threat receiver for Arizona. The redshirt junior leads the Wildcats with 395 receiving yards and averages 18 yards per catch, third in the Pac-12. Speed thrills.

▪ Justin Holmes of Oakmont is the most experienced receiver at San Jose State with 32 games played over four seasons. But the wins have been scarce. The Spartans are 1-8, ravaged by injury, including losing a team leader in Brandon Monroe of Del Oro, who has played running back, fullback and on defense. He had knee surgery in September but expects to return next fall.

▪ Offensive linemen Jacob Capra of Oregon and Johnny Capra of Utah, both of Placer, met during warmups Saturday in Eugene, Ore. The brothers compared hair length, depth charts and holiday plans.

▪ Stone Sander of Placer starts at tight end for Sacramento State, which has relied on the return of its entire offensive line to post four victories, doubling last season’s effort.

▪ Tyler Meteer of Del Oro has made 172 tackles in 32 career games over three seasons for Sac State, and he has played hurt and inspired throughout.

▪ Zac Cunha of Roseville is a four-year starter at Minot State University in North Dakota, and the quarterback had his best game of the season Saturday. The fifth-year senior passed for three touchdowns in a 42-35 victory over Minnesota Crookston for the small program’s second victory of the season. Cunha has endured season-ending injuries and more losses than he cares to remember, but he values the experiences and relationships.

▪ Max O’Rourke of Rocklin and ARC is the kicker for UC Davis, and he’s proof of perseverance. O’Rourke overcame a grisly leg break and initial hip cancer scare in high school to bounce back. He lives to kick.

▪ Wesley Preece of Rocklin has dazzled at tight end for UCD, which is 4-4, eclipsing last season’s victory total with four games to go.

Preece had three touchdown catches in a 48-24 win over North Dakota on Sept. 30, and he hauled in two scoring strikes from Jake Meier on Saturday to ignite a 31-28 victory over Cal Poly. Meier said to see Preece get open is “licking your chops.” Meier passed for 459 yards and four touchdowns to earn Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Said UCD coach Dan Hawkins, “I’ve coached a lot of guys who made it to the NFL. Wesley’s as good as any of them.”

The professional ranks could soon have a lot more Placer County flavor.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD