“Who was the coach at Cal before Jeff Tedford?” Brett Nottingham asked, as our conversation shifted from his current status of incoming Stanford quarterback to his upbringing as the son of two Berkeley graduates.
“Tom Holmoe, oh yeah,” he responded. “There were a lot of not-so-nice things people said about him in my house. I loved the Bears.”
Meet Brett Nottingham, a young man of completions -- and complete shifts of allegiance. Years before totaling almost 7,500 career passing yards and 91 touchdown throws at pass-happy Monte Vista High School, he regularly spent fall Saturdays at Memorial Stadium with his family. Nottingham says he was mature enough to heavily consider academics when choosing a college, but consider the scope of his youth: His lasting blue and gold memories are of packed crowds and consistent wins, two decidedly recent and Tedford-era developments.
“But now, my priorities are different,” he admitted.
A place the Spanish called the contra costa – as in the “other side” of San Francisco Bay – has its muy grande qualities. Where residents are known to work off a giant hamburger from Nation’s on one of Mount Diablo’s extensive trails, prep football in the Tri-Valley shows that passing is hardly limited to the 680 freeway.
The region has spent the last decade supplying major colleges with able-bodied quarterbacks. Nottingham walked the same halls as Kyle Wright, who succeeded Ken Dorsey, himself an alum of Miramonte High in nearby Orinda, as quarterback for Miami in 2004. Wright battled rival Sam Keller of San Ramon Valley for neighborhood supremacy. Keller went on to Arizona State before transferring to Nebraska.
Stanford receiver Ryan Whalen and tight end Zach Ertz graduated from Monte Vista. They hauled in passes from Drew McAllister, now competing for a USC starting safety spot. Nottingham predicts big things in 2010 for Ertz.
College football fans over the next few years will get to know the latest crop of arms. Joe Southwick (San Ramon Valley) is in line to eventually succeed Kellen Moore at Boise State. Mike Riley’s latest recruiting class at Oregon State features quarterback Sean Mannion, who starred for Foothill High in Pleasanton.
“You have a lot of coaches who’ve been in the area for years, and they’ve developed a high level of expertise,” said Mannion’s father John, a head coach at Foothill who’s now accepted a prep coaching position in Oregon. “It’s become the tradition, and kids seek it out.”
Mannion and Nottingham have yet to play a college game, but they’ve already faced each other on national television. ESPNU made a timely visit to Danville this past October. The host Mustangs got off to a tough start: Nottingham’s first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He recovered, however, throwing for 396 yards and leading Monte Vista to the go-ahead touchdown with 2:19 remaining.
The quarterback duel produced 786 passing yards, seven touchdown throws and one breaktaking finish. Mannion led a late drive that culminated in the winning touchdown with 50 seconds to play. Nottingham tried to answer, but his final pass found the grasp of a Foothill defender. The fireworks reminded locals of a similar night seven years earlier, when Keller and Wright produced an aggregate 713 yards and 10 touchdown passes during a Monte Vista/San Ramon Valley battle.
“My first pass, my last pass and the final score: with the exception of all that, it was an incredible night, something I’ll always remember,” Nottingham said.
UCLA courted Nottingham after his junior year, and the pair seemed like a logical match. He bonded with Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow. Now an orthopedic surgeon, Nottingham’s father Paul graduated from medical school and completed his residency at UCLA. He verbally committed to the Bruins last summer.
But a change in priorities occurred during his senior season. Nottingham says he wanted to play college ball in front of his family. A Stanford education – he’s considering majoring in economics or political science – was also something to consider. With Signing Day approaching, he phoned Neuheisel and told him the news.
“I thought he took it well,” Nottingham. “As decisions go, it’s definitely the most stressful thing I’ve had to do. I credit my family for being there. They were in it all the way with me.”
It’s a lineage where a Stanford connection existed even before that fateful decision. Nottingham’s grandfather graduated from Stanford before serving as an FBI agent. Credit this family for a willingness to change.
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