Team Central Cali Makes Mark in Vegas

Cody Kessler

In the third year of the Badger/New Level Athletics Passing Tournament in Las Vegas, one region in the West finally had a strong presence – Central California. With no players from Fresno to Bakersfield at last year's camp, this season 15 of the area's prospects comprised a squad that finished 3-1 in the first day of action in arguably the camp's toughest pool…

Bakersfield (Calif.) QB Cody Kessler, Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West RB Kendall Brock, Fresno (Calif.) RB Rob Johnson, Fresno (Calif.) Edison LB Shaquille Moseley, and Fresno (Calif.) CB Tevin Ivy are not only some of the best players in Central California but showed last weekend they are some of the best players in the West.

Kessler displayed his stellar arm and walked away arguably the best passing prospect in the two-day camp. He shared reps with Fresno (Calif.) Central sophomore quarterback Mike Baker, who as well had his moments.

Brock and Johnson had the most outstanding performances on both sides of the field.

Team Central Cali entered the camp with only three true defensive backs but with five linebackers. Offensively, the squad featured only three receivers. Furthermore, most teams used five, six and even seven defensive backs on defense. Team Central Cali Coach Tony Perry had to make adjustments, which included starting Johnson at safety and using Brock at corner in certain packages, and using both as the team's primary receivers.

The moves paid off.

Offensively, no one could over Brock. Defensively, he held his own covering the nation's top rated player, DeAnthony Thomas, aka The Black Mamba, in game four on Saturday.

Johnson was a ferocious on defense nabbing two interceptions and breaking up multiple balls. On offense, he displayed his deceptive speed and superb hands.

Moseley was arguably the most physical defender at the two-day camp. At nearly 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he is long and athletic. He makes up ground faster than most defensive backs, and he has an impressive vertical leap.

Ivy shutdown every receiver he faced. He didn't allow one score to his side of the field nabbing two picks while dropping at least two others. Despite giving up a considerable size advantage, he used an excellent back-pedal, quickness and good recovery speed to defend every pass thrown his way.

Team Central Cali started Saturday on a tough note dropping its first game to eventual tournament champion B2G by one point. What compounded the issue was Brock dove for the apparent winning touchdown, but it was subsequently waved off. Apparently, an offensive player cannot dive forward.

Notwithstanding, Team Central Cali came together after that call.

In its second game, CC built a 15-0 lead over Team California-4 and held on for a 15-14 win.

In game three, CC offensive coach Joe Marquez, linebacker coach Donald Speed and Perry decided that Kessler and Baker sharing reps each game hurt their rhythm. So Baker got the start versus Team 1925. Kessler, being as competitive as he is, had his ankles wrapped and decided to help the team at receiver before getting the start in the final game.

Team 1925 featured Mater Dei quarterback Max Wittek and three of top receivers in the West: Victor Blackwell, Michael Thomas and Jordan Payton. But Kessler came away as the impressive receiver making two huge receptions in the game, including the game-winner giving CC a 12-6 win.

The final game on Saturday night versus Cathedral was the most intense of any game played over the two-day tournament. Thomas was practically un-coverable all day Saturday. He was just too fast and too quick for just one player to cover. He had led Cathedral to a 2-0 start with wins over B2G and Team 1925, making Cathedral an early favorite. However, they stumbled against California-4 but were expected to beat Central Cali and enter Sunday as a top 4 seed.

Nevertheless, CC found a way to control Thomas after falling behind 6-0.

Brock had a huge game on both sides of the ball. First, he contained Mamba – as he is impossible to stop – keeping him out of the end zone the rest of the game. The game was a physical, defensive struggle. Tied at 6-6, Cathedral had a first down inside the five-yard line but failed to convert. With time winding down, CC would have one final offensive attempt.

The ball was placed at the 40-yard line, and Kessler dropped five yards back and threw a 55-yard pass to the back of the end zone to stretched-out hands of Brock to secure the 12-6 win on what was the final play of the game.

Drawing the No. 5 seed, the first game was against Gridiron Football Academy. A squad comprised of some Inland Empire athletes.

Kessler got the start in the single-elimination format on day two. And CC was rolling playing its best game of the tournament. After building a comfortable 18-7 lead, most were already penciling CC in the semifinals.

Then GFA rallied scoring two late touchdowns to secure a 19-18 lead. CC's final drive fell short as time expired.

GFA would win its next game and reach the semifinals before losing to Team Utah-1. Team 1925 would also make the semifinals losing to B2G.

Despite the loss on Sunday, Team Central Cali made their mark as a physical bunch. Moseley, Johnson, Ivy, Tee Shepard and Jerry Haymon comprised an aggressive bunch in the defensive backfield. Moreover, all 15 kids played as a team. The energy after their third win on Saturday night is something these kids will never forget.

And for the four sophomores – Baker, Shepard, Josh Lang and Jorray Hammond – they will get to experience it again next season.

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