San Diego Showcase as successful as its creator

Mike Schmidt and Demetrius Sumler offer Class of 2027 QB Zachary Benitez a scholarship at the San Diego Showcase. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

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Kellan Cobbs at the San Diego Showcase (Paul Garrison/EVT)

There’s something special going on in El Cajon at Granite Hills High School (GHHS) under SDSU alum Kellan Cobbs. Wednesday, the growing clout of Cobbs’ success played out in the second annual San Diego Showcase.

“What’s nice is you get a wide range (of schools attending),” Cobbs told EVT. “We had a couple of NAIA schools, some DIIs, FCS, FBS, some DIII schools – Redlands and some of the local ones up north, and then, some of the JCs showed up (last year). It’s a good ‘catch-all’ for all kids. Obviously, those top-end kids are going to get recruited pretty easy, but it just gives us the ability to get some of those fringe guys out, get their name out there, be seen.”

Cobbs cut his teeth in the profession with the Aztecs under former HC Chuck Long and OC Dell Miller. An alumnus of Granite Hills, Cobbs is motivated to provide the athletes in his community with opportunities he never had.

He’s opened doors for his players by turning GHHS from a doormat that was 6-34 during his high school days into a San Diego powerhouse. Inheriting a program with more than a decade of consecutive losing seasons and without a playoff win since 1986, Cobbs resurrected it.

CB Jomel Brown competing at the San Diego Showcase. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

GHHS has gone to the CIF semifinals in seven of his eleven seasons as head coach. Prior to his tenure, it had been there once in school history.

“I’ve known coach (Cobbs) since he was helping out at our program way back when he was a student,” SDSU OL coach Mike Schmidt told EVT on Wednesday. “I knew great things were in his future. He’s done an unbelievable job out here, and I can’t wait to see what he continues to build.”

In 2022, Cobbs led the Eagles to their first state title. Last year, GHHS defeated No. 2 Carlsbad and No. 1 Lincoln by a combined two points to win the section Open Division Title. More impressively, Cobbs’ group won with a freshman signal caller. Class of 2027 QB Zachary Benitez outdueled current Ohio State freshman Julian Sayin and future Oregon Duck Akili Smith Jr. to take the title.

Benitez entered the Showcase with no offers. He left with one from SDSU. Schmidt and CB coach Demetrius Sumler delivered the good news after watching the underclassman QB throw yesterday.

“It’s obviously a blessing from God,” Benetiz said following the practice. “All the work I have been putting in is paying off. It’s the first of many. I’m just thankful to my coaches for developing me. I had a great season this past season. SDSU’s been interested in me, and they finally came out. I had to show them what I can do and they liked it.”

Cobbs started the Showcase years ago as a conference event, where GHHS’ league rivals would come on campus and work out for college recruiters. After the NCAA added a rule preventing multiple high school teams from competing at one time, the original format had to be scrapped.

With the cache earned by proven success at a public school where no one believed sustained winning was possible, Cobbs launched a new version of the San Diego Showcase last season for schools in the southern part of the county.

It drew over 30 universities, including Texas and Ohio State. This year, the North County jumped in. Today, Cathedral Catholic, Mission Hills, El Camino, Del Norte, San Marcos, and Torrey Pines will feature their players.

“The great thing is you only get so many days in the spring to go on the recruiting trail,” Schmidt said. “A day like this is great because you get to evaluate so many players in one day, and they organize it for you. They make it very convenient for us as coaches to get out and evaluate their student-athletes.”

Helping young people is what drives Cobbs. After the El Cajon City Council named him the 2023 Impact Person of the Year, and the National Football Foundation honored him as the 2023 Coach of the Year, GHHS’ faculty awarded him as the school’s Teacher of the Year in February. His impact extends far beyond the gridiron.

SDSU OL coach Mike Schmidt watches Zachary Benitez throw at the San Diego Showcase. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

San Diego Showcase

On Wednesday, Helix, Steele Canyon, Mt. Miguel, Mater Dei Catholic, Lincoln, Mesa College, Madison, La Jolla, and Granite Hills participated. Beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m., representatives of upwards of 50 universities rotated around the county to each campus to watch the school’s athletes compete.

Cobbs designed the route the college coaches would take to minimize the impact traffic could have on driving to the next high school. With 45 minutes of on-field activities and 15 minutes for a post-practice meet and greet at each stop, college coaches only had 25 minutes to drive to the next school, making every moment matter.

“When we got back (from Covid), we decided we needed to put something together, so I contacted some coaches, some schools that I knew had good players, and some of the Division I schools in our area,” Cobbs said about the genesis of the new format. “I mapped it out for the coaches, going opposite traffic, making sure they hit each school, and it went from there.”

Cobbs put his entire team through the paces at Granite Hills during the varsity’s first block of the day in their school schedule. Throughout the year, Cobbs, a PE teacher, trains athletes from across all GHHS sports during the period. He also uses the time for installs of his system.

He credited that support from GHHS’ administration as a reason they have turned the program around. Hosting the GHHS portion of the Showcase from 8:30 am to 9:30 am was an obvious fit for the Eagles since football at that time is already part of their weekly class routine.

Sacramento State Donnel Pumphrey with Granite Hills RBs Pablo Jackson (1) and Max Turner (30) (Paul Garrison/EVT)

In addition to SDSU’s contingent of Schmidt and Sumler, the gathered schools included universities from every level of college football. Former Aztec Donnell Pumphrey was on hand representing Sacramento State. He paid special attention to GHHS RBs Pablo Jackson and Max Turner. Utah, Boise State, Eastern Washington, USD, and Southwestern College were just a few of the other schools represented.

“To support the student-athletes in the county,” Schmidt explained when asked why it was important for SDSU to attend the Showcase. “Our recruiting approach is always going to start from San Diego outward. It’s a great opportunity to come out here and see them. They see our logo, and we make sure the local school is active in their recruitment process. If we believe there’s a fit for a player in San Diego, we are going to do everything we can to keep him home.”

What the college coaches saw was a legit football practice that had college-level organization. Without using the loud horn that is common at SDSU’s practice, the players moved from individual drills to 7-on-7 before ending with full-team competition. Benitez shined throughout and left little doubt he is a DI-quality signal caller.

“Leadership and obviously great passes because, as a quarterback, you have to make great throws,” Benitez explained when asked why SDSU liked what they saw on Wednesday. “Just making throws that aren’t likely to be made. I put it to where only my receiver could get it.”

True to his reflection, Benitez had a few eye-popping moments. Throwing in individual drills, he completed a next-level throw.

A corner had his wideout blanketed on a ten-yard out. Throwing to his weak side of the field, Benitez lasered a ball and threw the WR open for a diving completion. Throughout, he completed passes to every level and every part of the field with ease.

The gathered throng of coaches also witnessed Benitez’s leadership. Perhaps more impressive than throwing touchdowns without pads was how Cobbs’ QB1 accepted blame on occasional errant throws, coached his receivers when their routes weren’t crisp, praised exceptional efforts from his teammates, and worked with his backup throughout the drills.

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Cobbs described SDSU’s offer to Benitez as “close” before the event. Part of SDSU’s evaluation process is seeing a QB throw in person. Benitez’ performance on Wednesday morning sealed the deal. He earned the scholarship offer he had been working for his “whole life.”

“It’s a great school,” Benitez said about SDSU. “I’ve been to their spring practices. It was very well organized. I liked how they go to certain positions, do certain drills. … the school is nice, and it’s the hometown. … Snapdragon Stadium, that we played in last year, is beautiful. We had like 10,000 fans out there. It’s beautiful.”

Granite Hills QB Zachary Benitez. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

Tucked away in the Granite Hills of El Cajon, the vision of higher education is being realized. A native son attends the local university, returns to his roots, and uplifts the next generation.

Cobbs’ vehicle is football, but his passion is people. A special education teacher for a decade before continuing his career in PE, the San Diego Showcase is one of many ways he gives back.

“My goal as a coach is get as many kids out as we can, whatever university that may be, whether that’s a high DI school or a DIII school, whatever fits the kid and their family,” Cobbs said. “We try and give as many kids as we can the opportunity to go play. To me, that’s just as important as winning because that’s going to set those kids up for life.”

The San Diego Showcase exists to shine a light on the efforts of prep football players around the county. Unintentionally, it also showcased the amazing work Cobbs is doing. He is as successful as the event he created.

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