Su'a Cravens can lean on rich family tree

Su'a Cravens has an advantage in the recruiting process by coming from a family with so many good athletes. Vista Murrieta High School

MURRIETA -- USC wants him as a halfback, Oklahoma hopes to slot him at linebacker or strong safety. Notre Dame, UCLA, Stanford or Boise State? They might feel lucky just to lure Su’a Cravens on campus for a visit.

These are just a few of the options for the nation’s hottest recruit in the class of 2013.

Cravens, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior for Vista Murrieta High School in Southwest Riverside County, already claims 17 scholarship offers from major colleges across the country.

Over the next 12 to 15 months, likely right up until National Signing Day, Cravens will certainly hear from a lot more. Weekly phone calls, in-house visits, on-campus meet-and greets. A lucky few might even earn one of those five official visits.

Talk about a lot to digest for a kid who won’t turn 17 until next summer.

Fortunately for Cravens, who will lead the Broncos into the first round of the SS-Inland Division playoffs Friday night against visiting La Verne Damien, there’s no shortage of trusted advice.

His family tree is filled with athletes who’ve been through the recruiting process, listened to the promises and witnessed how scenarios can quickly change once a college career begins.

Look no further than his grandfather, Jack Cravens, who was convinced to turn down a scholarship offer to play for legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

“I have a lot of helpful information around me,” Su'a Cravens said. “And I’m always listening.”

His two closest advisers are his father, Kevin Cravens, and older brother, Siaki, a junior defensive lineman for the University of Hawaii.

Siaki’s recruiting experience began when he was one of the top tight ends in the Inland Empire during his senior season at Temecula Valley High in 2007. One of the schools that showed interest was Utah, coached by Kyle Whittingham, whose sister is married to Kevin Cravens’ younger brother, Ryan.

Siaki committed to the Utes as a slot receiver, but the coaching staff switched him to middle linebacker the first day of practice.

“For a kid who had never played defense before, that was a total shock to him,” Kevin Cravens said.

After redshirting his first season, Siaki transferred to Long Beach City College, played a year and then signed with Hawaii. Siaki regularly counsels Su’a on how to navigate through the sometimes murky recruiting process.

“He always tells me not to get too caught up in trying to believe what every recruiter says,” Su’a said. “I always keep my ears open for my dad and my brother. They always have good things to say.”

Su'a's sister, Malia, also attends Hawaii on a women’s basketball scholarship. The Rainbows were the first school to offer Su'a, but family ties won’t have a bearing on which school he ultimately chooses.

“If I went to Hawaii, it would be because it’s a good fit for me,’ he said.

The Cravens also have strong family connections to USC.

His cousin, Jordan Cameron, another grandson of Jack Cravens, had a meteoric rise while playing for the Trojans from 2008 to '10. A late bloomer, his only scholarship offer out of Newbury Park High was to play basketball at BYU.

After growing a few inches while redshirting his first year, he was offered a chance to play football at USC by then-coach Pete Carroll and the opportunity was too good to pass up. Much of his college credits did not transfer to USC, however, so he earned an AA degree in one year at Ventura College, then joined the Trojans. As a wide receiver, he did not catch a pass his first two seasons, then moved to tight end as a senior and caught 16.

Cameron shot up draft lists after a stellar performance during the NFL combine last spring and was selected in the fourth round of the draft by the Cleveland Browns, 102nd overall. He caught his first pass Nov. 6 against the Houston Texans.

Cameron’s sister, Brynn, played basketball for the Trojans and has a son with former USC quarterback Matt Leinart. Another Cameron sibling, Colby, recently took over as starting quarterback at Louisiana Tech.

Further up his grandfather’s side of the family, he’s an extended cousin of Notre Dame’s leading tackler, junior linebacker Manti Te’o, who was in the middle of one of the great recruiting wars of 2008-09, ultimately choosing the Fighting Irish over BYU and USC.

His mother, Yolanda, is second cousin to David Fulcher, a strong safety in the NFL for eight seasons and a three-time All-Pro with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1988-90.

Cravens appears to have plenty in common with both athletes. Te’o is known for his pure tackling skills, both in space and at the line of scrimmage. Fulcher was a big-bodied safety who was athletic enough to make plays deep in the secondary.

Cravens is also much bigger than the average high school defensive back, and has been making big-time plays ever since he started as a freshman at Temecula Valley three years ago.

Three months before the start of his sophomore year, he received his second offer, this one from UCLA.

Taking advantage of a CIF bylaw that allows student athletes to transfer once following their freshman year, Cravens moved on to Vista Murrieta. He quickly opened more eyes with his size, speed and relentless pursuit of the ball. He finished with eight sacks, five fumble recoveries and three caused fumbles while leading the Broncos to the SS-Inland Division championship game.

Cravens wasn’t expected to play offense this fall, but a lack of playmakers convinced coach Coley Candaele to make the move in key situations. Heading into last Friday’s regular-season finale, Cravens has rushed for 354 yards in 50 carries and scored seven touchdowns. He also has caught 10 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns. That’s one touchdown for every six touches.

In perhaps his best game at Vista Murrieta, he caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in the third quarter, forced and recovered a fumble in the red zone late in the fourth and then returned a last-minute interception for a touchdown in a 27-10 victory five weeks ago against rival Temecula Chaparral, which turned out to be the deciding game in the Southwestern League title.

"Big games ask for big performances from your best athlete," Candaele said.

So far, USC is the only school that’s actively recruiting him on the offensive side of the ball, piquing the curiosity of Cravens.

“I thought they were recruiting me for defense then my coach told me the offer,” Cravens said. “I’m definitely going to talk to the coaches up there and see what the deal is.”

Cravens has yet to have an in-depth conversation with his grandfather regarding his recruiting experience, but expects they will sit down at some point in the near future.

“Whatever he has to say is going to be good,” Cravens said. “He has been there, done that.”

Just listening to Jack Cravens describe how his family ended up in Southern California is a whale of a tale.

His father, a U.S. Naval officer, received a transfer from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to another submarine base in New London, Conn., in 1941. Planning to spend a year in San Diego in between, Jack’s mother, himself and four siblings moved to Southern California in the summer, while three older brothers went to stay with relatives in Samoa.

Two weeks before his father was scheduled to join the family for Christmas, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor to set off World War II. The family learned a month later that their father survived the attack, but he never made it back to San Diego for the holidays. Nor did the family ever make it to Connecticut.

After seeing very little of their father during the war, his parents ultimately divorced and the family eventually lost contact with him altogether.

Jack Cravens immersed himself in athletics while growing up, becoming a three-sport star at La Jolla High School in the mid-1950s. He excelled as a pitcher and first baseman in baseball, a high-flying 6-foot-4 forward in basketball and a gun-slinging quarterback in football.

Slam dunks weren’t part of the game at the time, but Cravens often inadvertently touched his elbows on the rim jumping for a layup.

Wooden took notice of his size and skill, so did a handful of other colleges, including BYU.

“At that point, BYU was really just a second choice, maybe even a third choice,” Jack Cravens said.

Shortly after deciding to play for Wooden at UCLA, a letter arrived from a high-ranking General Authority at BYU, informing Cravens that it was “his duty and responsibility” to attend the school. Cravens clearly remembers the underlined words, “duty” and “responsibility.”

His mother, a devout Mormon, steadfastly agreed he should attend BYU for religious purposes, but his older brothers preferred he attend UCLA, setting off a deep family division.

“We had this tug-o-war going back and forth,” Jack Cravens remembers.

Cravens then made one of the most difficult phone calls of his life, calling Wooden to let him know he wouldn’t be coming to Westwood. Wooden was out of town on a recruiting trip, so Cravens relayed his decision to the school’s athletic director, Wilbur Johns.

The next week, Cravens received a personal, hand-written letter from Wooden. In it, he wrote, ‘I would have appreciated the opportunity to be your coach,’ ” Cravens remembered.

“Just a really personable letter,” he said.

The following October, Cravens traveled from Provo, Utah, to a conference in Salt Lake City, hoping to introduce himself to the Elder who had sent him the letter compelling him to attend BYU. Cravens spotted the man exiting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and excitedly introduced himself, naïve that he might remember him.

“He didn’t know me from Adam,” Cravens said, bursting with laughter. “I was a little disappointed, but the fact remains ... politics are politics.”

Jack Cravens doesn’t regret that he didn’t choose UCLA, he only regrets that he never had a chance to be coached by Wooden. After all, he met his wife, Sondra, at BYU and they went on to have six children. He did learn from the experience, however.

“I let my kids make their own decisions,” he said.

Stories such as these have resonated with Su’a and helped him develop his own checklist when it comes to the recruiting process. Among other things, when he gets a chance to meet recruiters face to face, he plans to ask what position they envision him playing, and where he’s ranked on their list of recruits.

He looks forward to visiting as many schools as allowed during the summer and into his senior year, then making a decision when the time feels right, preferably at the end of his senior season.

“I’m not going to jump the gun,” he said. “You never know though, I might just feel like a certain place is the best for me to go.”

Until that time comes, look for Cravens to continue tackling every option, his eyes and ears wide open.