There's a strong chance the Rancho Verde High School (Moreno Valley, Calif.) football team will be back in the CIF Southern Section Central Division championship this coming season, aiming to avenge a one-point loss last fall in the big game.
With a nucleus of offensive lineman Tevita Halalilo, quarterback Sheriron Jones and wide receiver slash defensive back, slash kick return specialist Cedric Peterson back for senior seasons, there's a strong chance the Mustangs will reign once again in SoCal.
Rancho Verde's three juniors project as Division-I players, potentially suiting up in the Pac-12, and all three are being actively recruited by the Colorado Buffaloes. Jones and Peterson enjoyed trips to CU over the Feb. 22nd weekend for unofficial visits, the recruiting networks reported, and the way things are going, it won't be the last time they're in Boulder.
Rancho Verde offensive line coach Andre Smith took a few minutes recently for a phone interview with BuffZone, noting that head coach Tommy Duffy was under the weather, to talk about the recruitment of the school's trio and CU's chances of landing the 2015 prospects.
Smith has been with Rancho Verde for six years and spoke highly of the school's student athletes. He also had good things to say about the Buffs' efforts, led by Andy LaRussa, to lure Halalilo, Jones and Peterson to the Centennial State.
Being an offensive line coach, Smith spoke first about the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Halalilo, who is rated as three-star prospect by Rivals and a four-star by Scout.
"Really aggressive kid, really good hips, he's really fluid, a really good athlete," Smith said. "You know, super competitive. All three of those guys, Cedric Peterson and Sheriron Jones, are all team guys first, they care about the team."
Halalilo is one of the top high school offensive linemen on the West coast and in the nation; colleges are taking notice.
"Tevita, he has ... Mississippi State just offered, Arizona, Arizona State and I believe Washington State," Smith said of Halalilo's offers other than the Buffs. Halalilo also recently received an offer from UCLA, which 247 Sports reports is his dream school.
The junior guard anchors Rancho Verde's offensive line, which opens up the passing game -- and running lanes -- for the Mustangs' 6-foot-2, 189-pound signal-caller.
"Sheriron Jones, he's a quarterback. He's a dual-threat kid," Smith said. "He can really throw the ball very well, super athletic, a good leader, great quarterback."
According to Smith, Jones leads on and off the field.
"Leadership skills are there, he does all the right things," Smith said. "[Jones] really throws well on the run, elusive when he gets there as a runner. I think some people don't give him enough credit for passing the ball, he's a hell of a passer, he has a big-time arm."
Big-time arms lead to big-time offers.
"He's got Akron, both the Arizona schools are on him, Indiana, getting a little contact with Maryland. ... [Texas] A&M talked to him a little bit last year," Smith said of CU's competition in landing the dual-threat QB. Nebraska is also heavily interested in signing Jones come the all-important day in early February.
Smith said he would put Jones, who is rated as a four-star by Rivals and Scout, in the upper echelon of California quarterbacks for the 2015 recruiting cycle. It's high praise considering the SoCal class includes QBs who are committed to Notre Dame and the local USC, to name a few programs.
"Since I've been here, Sheriron Jones, he's the best quarterback I think we've had," Smith said. "The state of California has some top guys this year; he's up there with them."
Jones' top target, Cedric Peterson, does a little bit of everything for Rancho Verde. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound, three-star prospect holds reported offers from California, Indiana, Nebraska, Washington State and CU.
"He's phenomenal ... in the classroom, on the field," Smith said of Peterson. "He's probably a 4.4 kind of guy in the 40 [yard dash], plays DB and receiver. I think he's probably a better DB at the next level, but he can do both."
Defensive back could be Peterson's position of choice in college, mixed with a heavy dose of kick returns.
"He's a special kid in the return game. He's just a big-play kind of guy, big time home-run hitter kid, catches the ball well," Smith continued. "He's going to play a little more defense for us this year, but offensively he's played since he was a sophomore ... he's been a special guy for us."
If there's one thing this Mustangs trio has learned in the prep game, it's how to win.
"We played in four consecutive championship games ... we've won one," Smith said. "They know what it takes."
So, what are CU's chances of landing one, two, or all three of the Rancho Verde prospects?
"They've been coming in pretty tough, recruiting the guys," Smith said of the Buffs. "I know they like them a lot. I talk to LaRussa, he's the coach who always comes down here.
"I think they definitely have a shot recruiting these guys. I think they'll be in the fold, especially since they've established relationships with them early on."
Smith was referring to relationships that started almost two years ago.
"Probably sophomore [year]," Smith said of when CU first began its pursuit. "But I know they did a really good job this year staying in touch with them. I know they'll touch back in the spring. Relationships for those three guys are pretty important.
"Building relationships with them is the super big thing. They won't get caught up in all the glitz and glamor."
Smith said Rancho Verde's seniors-to-be wouldn't mind playing on the same team at the next level.
"That's kind of a thing for them. ... They kind of want to do that," he said. "It'd be nice man, that's the plan."
It'd be nice, too, for CU fans if these Mustangs decide to run with the Buffs.