Los Banos star is waiting for a star

01/31/2012 12:47 AM

01/31/2012 1:14 AM

LOS BANOS — Bryce Howard’s future plans are unclear.

At this point, the Los Banos senior does know he won’t be taking part in national signing day on Wednesday.

That’s when high school football players across the nation, including Buhach Colony’s Matt Cochran and Aziz Shittu, will be signing their letters of intent to accept college football scholarships.

It was only a few weeks ago that Howard had his plans for college all mapped out.

He was headed to Fresno State.

“It was set,” Howard said. “Pat Hill actually came down during their bye week and watched me play personally. He offered me a full ride. When he got fired it went all downhill from there.”

Ironically, Hill was scheduled to make an in-home visit with Howard on the day he was fired.

The new coaching staff, Howard said, basically strung him along.

They kept telling the Western Athletic Conference MVP to hang tight while they were figuringfigured things out. Howard was under the impression his scholarship offer was still going to be honored, with or without Pat Hill.

“They called me out of the blue and told me they’re not interested in me anymore,” Howard said. “They didn’t want me to come on my official visit. This was with just two or three weeks left in the recruiting season before signing day.

“When they called it was devastating. My life was set. You’re talking about your future right there. I had a free ride to college. I had made plans. I was getting ready. So when that was taken away I was pretty devastated. I just trust God that something will work out.”

It was a cruel reminder how college football can be a business; that verbal promises mean nothing until pen meets the paper.

Unlike Buhach’s Cochran and Shittu, Howard chose his school early. Shittu won’t announce his school until Wednesday. Cochran finally decided on Cal earlier this month.

Howard’s early commitment might have kept other schools from recruiting the 6-foot-5, 260-pound lineman.

Howard attended camps at Oregon and Oregon State this summer. Both schools told him to follow up and send tapes of his first three games this year. However, Howard quickly turned all his attention to Fresno State.

“I should have done more to get my name out there,” Howard said. “Maybe if I would have gone to more combines and camps I would have more options like Cochran and Shittu.

“Those guys went to the (Nike) Sparq combines and became national recruits. They’re both great athletes.”

Howard’s dream is far from dead.

His coach Dennis Stubbs, who recently left his post at Los Banos to become Golden Valley’s head football coach, made calls to San Jose State and Sacramento State and Howard visited both schools in the past two weeks. Sacramento offered Howard a scholarship.

“He’ll bounce back,” Stubbs said. “I really believe something will happen for him and he’ll make the most of it.”

There is the possibility that a school could come calling after signing day if they miss out on recruits who were still up in the air.

“Sacramento is a good option,” Howard said. “I want to keep my options open. I don’t want to settle and get thrown around again.”

Thunder and lightning

It's rare for any school to boast two blue-chip recruits such as the massive Cochran and the quick Shittu.

The 6-3, 330-pound Cochran is the nation's No. 5 center, according to ESPN, while the 6-4, 275-pound Shittu is No. 17 at defensive tackle. Each had their choice of schools -- and Shittu is still trying to decide.

He took a trip to UCLA this past weekend. Other finalists are Stanford, Cal and USC. He pledged early to Stanford, but now is reconsidering.

"I'd like be involved in medicine, so that's something I've been looking at when I study the schools," said Shittu, who has a 3.82 GPA with a few Advanced Placement classes. "I'm pretty tight with my family, and I like the idea of being close. That's not a big factor, but it's nice that my schools are all here."

Camps attract attention

Shittu became a recruiting sensation after he was named MVP at last April's USC Nike camp, an invitation-only combine. He's been offered by dozens of schools, and could end up playing outside the tackle or on the guard's shoulder.

Cochran, who arrived three years ago from Texas and has a 6-8, 310-pound brother who is a junior and another prized recruit, is more than a dominant center. He works at a food bank and plays drums for the choir at Friendship Baptist in Merced, and is involved in the Friendship of Christian Athletes at Buhach Colony.

He has committed to Cal.

"My brother (Aaron) took a lot of trips with me, so he got familiar with the process. It will help him," Cochran said.

The Modesto Bee's Richard T. Estrada contributed to this story.

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