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December 6, 2011
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It's the Showdown in Oak-Town. The Brother vs. Brother Bowl. The Cal vs. Cal Championship.
On Saturday at 3:30 at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland, at least two future California Golden Bears will be on opposite sides of the ball, fighting for a North Coast Section CIF title.
Cal quarterback commit Zach Kline -- the Gatorade California High School Football Player of the Year -- will lead Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley (10-3) against Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and Bears linebacker commit Michael Barton in a rematch of the Spartans' homecoming, in which De La Salle stomped the Wolves 40-3.
"They're a really good team," Barton says. "Their offense is just really productive, and Zach is the main concern, obviously. He makes so many plays, even out of nothing. He knows how to create a play. Our main concern is going to containing Zach Kline and making sure he doesn't complete passes. We've got to get pressure on him and we've got to have strong coverage behind our front seven."
In that game, Barton led all players with eight tackles, but did not record one of the Spartans' seven sacks on Kline. That honor went to another Cal target: 2013 defensive end Austin Hooper.
"Our defensive line did a great job of putting pressure on him, so that definitely helps," Barton says. "He can't throw if he's going to be on his back, so we did a great job getting pressure on Zach, and when it came time to convert on third downs, we made sure he couldn't complete a pass in coverage, in third-down situations, especially. Keeping Zach off the field was what we did really well that game, and that kept our offense on the field."
Keeping the De La Salle offense on the field means keeping Wisconsin quarterback commit Bart Houston and the dangerous Spartans ground attack on the field, as well. This season, Houston has completed 83 of 146 passes for 1,664 yards and 15 touchdowns, while throwing six interceptions. He's also run 78 times for 280 of De La Salle's 3,026 rushing yards.
Kline has authored quite the senior campaign, going 212-for-310 (68.4 percent) for 3,325 yards and 35 touchdowns with just seven interceptions, notching a QB rating of 131.99, by the NFL formula.
He ranks 11th in the state of California in passing yards, fifth in passer rating, second in completion percentage, eighth in touchdowns and has thrown the 15th-fewest picks.
The match-up between two of the best teams in Northern California is expected to draw a very large crowd, which only fuels Barton's competitive juices.
"A lot of our teams are from Danville, so it's kind of like a rivalry thing, too," Barton says. "Every time two of the best EBAL teams are going against each other, it draws a big crowd, because the EBAL is a really competitive league, and anything can happen. San Ramon has a prolific offense and they can do a lot of damage, so I think it'll be a good game. It'll draw a lot of interest."
This weekend was supposed to be both Barton's and Kline's official visit weekend, but with the title game looming, both will have to postpone their trips until the playoffs -- including the state title bowl games -- are over. That's not a huge concern to Barton, though, who wants the rest of the official visitor group to take a bit of a side trip out to Oakland to watch some of their future teammates in action.
"That would be awesome," Barton says. "I know Zach takes this game seriously, and this is the biggest game of my career so far as a high school player, so we're definitely going to bring our A-game. It'd be fun to have those guys come out and see who they're going to be playing with, to see how good a player we each can be."
Barton's official visit will have to wait until after the first of the year, most likely. He's planning on playing football for at least two more weeks, after all.
"My official will actually not be until January, because next weekend will be the state championship, if we win this game," Barton says. "If we win this game on Saturday, we'll have a state championship game, and then, following that, I'll be in Arizona for the Marine All-American game. Probably the best time to do it will be in January. I've talked to coach [Tosh] Lupoi, and he said January's fine, so I'll end up doing it in January with a few other guys. Not sure who, yet, though."
Then, Barton will get the chance to shine on his own as a recruiter, a role he's already fallen into with teammates Hooper and Michael Hutchings, a high-level 2013 linebacker prospect.
"I just tell them straight up why I chose Cal," Barton says. "I let them know that Cal's going to be a great opportunity for us. We have a great class coming in, and I know we're going to be one of the top teams in the Pac-12. I just let them know why I chose it: it's a great education and it's local, too. I just tell them why I chose it, and hope that they feel the same. I know that Hutchings, he really likes Cal, and I know Hooper likes Cal, as well, so there's definitely a great possibility of those guys coming with me up there."
As soon as the game is over on Saturday, both Kline and Barton will take off their helmets and put on their recruiting hats, and will join their fellow recruits, helping out the sure-to-be beleaguered Bryce Treggs, who will have to do the lion's share of recruiting without Kline for much of the weekend.
"I'm going to go back to school and we're having a little dinner thing, and after that dinner thing, I'll be up at Cal to see all my boys who are going to be committing," Barton says. "I'll be up there, so I'll have a big day Saturday."
Barton will go from trying to put Kline on his back to tag-teaming the recruiting event in a matter of hours, but that doesn't mean he'll take it easy. Will he be able to sack the Zach?
"I think so," Barton laughs. "I might help him up, though. On the field, he's not going to be my friend at all. Zach's still my boy off the field, though."