Donahue Prep Combine goes deep for talent

Mission Oak High Coach Marty Martin, left, with his quarterback Daniel Gonzalez, California Showcase staff coach and donor Michael Young, and Mission Oak linebacker/tight end Lazaro Ortiz. Young coordinated with Martin, who brought a group of 11 players from the San Joaquin Valley to Irvine.(Photos by Larry Stewart)

Mission Oak head football coach Marty Martin takes 11 local football players to the Terry Donahue Memorial California Showcase; five players come from Mission Oak while four hail from Mt. Whitney

IRVINE – A second chance.

That is what the Terry Donahue Memorial California Showcase prep combine provides high school football players not recruited by Division I colleges. It bears the name of the late legendary UCLA coach because he founded the California version of the Showcase concept.

The 11th such prep combine was held Saturday at Great Park in Irvine, bringing overlooked players together with coaches from Division II, Division III and NAIA schools from throughout the country. California community colleges are also represented, and some of the participants are players from community colleges.

In the past, the brunt of participants came from Los Angeles and Orange County. On Saturday there was a contingent from the San Joaquin Valley and at least one participant from Arizona. That could be the signal of a trend, as organizers look to expand their target areas to increase participation in this one-day, free non-profit event.

The players go through morning drills for three hours as the small college coaches look on and jot down notes and bib numbers. The drills are conducted by a crew of “staff coaches” consisting of former NFL and college players and coaches. There were some 60 on hand Saturday.

After the morning drills, the players get a chance for one-on-one meetings with the small college representatives.

Through the first 10 California Showcase combines, more than $40 million has been awarded in scholarship and financial aid to some 1,100 athletes who made college rosters. Approximately one in every four participants end up on a college roster.

The showcase concept is the brainchild of Phil Camp, a former Houston high school coach. The first one was held in 2006. There are now six throughout the country.

Camp, often called the “godfather” of showcase combines, was again an invited guest at the weekend event in Irvine. A dinner at an Irvine hotel Friday night kicked off the event. 

The seven-member board of directors for the California Showcase, headed by Pat Donahue, a younger brother of Terry, would like to see growth in the number of participants.

“We need to get their coaches more involved,” said board member Mike Groff, a former CEO of Toyota Financial Services.

One coach who did get involved was Marty Martin of Mission Oak High in Tulare, Ca.

He brought 11 players down from the San Joaquin Valley, five from his state finalist team, four from Visalia’s Mt. Whitney High, one from Bakersfield’s Liberty High and one from nearby Stockdale High, the alma mater of Fresno State stars David and Derek Carr.

The group traveled in style, making the 300-plus-mile trip in a Mercedes Sprinter Van and a stretch limo and spending Friday night at a Doubletree Hotel in Irvine. As a California Showcase donor, UCLA alum and staff coach Michael Young coordinated the trip. Young spent 10 years as an NFL wide receiver, including four with the Los Angeles Rams and four with the Denver Broncos. He later served as a chief revenue officer for the Broncos and then the Dodgers while also making astute real estate investments.

“We didn’t intend to get that elaborate with our mode of transportation,” Young said. “We got what was available.”

Young, from Visalia, got to know Martin after he began coaching at Young’s high school alma mater, Mt. Whitney. Young played on a 1978 Valley championship team that also featured UCLA cornerback Lupe Sanchez and USC lineman Don Mosebar, who both also played in the NFL.

Daniel Gonzalez of Mission Oak High in Tulare was one of the most impressive quarterbacks at Saturday’s California Showcase prep combine. (Photos by Larry Stewart)

Martin is in his second year at Mission Oak, a 16-year-old public school with an enrollment of 1,500. Until last season, the school had never won a Valley title in any sport. Martin’s football team, led by quarterback Daniel Gonzalez, made it to the state D-4 championship game, where Palma of Salinas defeated Mission Oak, 42-19. Gonzalez was one of the most impressive quarterbacks during the morning drills in Irvine on Saturday.

Coach Martin’s group did not come the farthest to Saturday’s combine. That distinction likely went to Jalen Herring, a lineman who came with his father and coach, Derek, from the Phoenix area. Jalen is now at a community college that does not have football, and the Native American and honor student hopes to land at a four-year school, where he plans to major in sports broadcasting while also playing football.

His father Derek said, “This type of event is very important to high school players in Arizona. We have three only Division I schools – Arizona, Arizona State and Northern Arizona — and no D1 and D2 schools. High school football is big in Arizona and we have a lot of good players.”

That’s the kind being sought by Pat Donahue and the other Showcase organizers. Terry Donahue’s goal was to create a path for qualified players to reach the next level. That goal is now part of his legacy.

“This is one-stop shopping,” Pat Donahue said. “Everything is in one location.”

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