Go pro, bro

Acorn stars still burn bright in NFL, Canadian circuits



High school football season is around the corner.

Gridiron fans should be excited to see the local prep athletes in action: They could be getting an early glimpse at some future professional stars.

Acorn country has a horde of former local prep standouts competing in the NFL and the Canadian Football League.

Cassius Marsh, a defensive end who graduated from Oaks Christian, is enjoying life as a San Francisco 49er.

Marsh drew lots of attention in May when he spoke of how unhappy he was during his time with the New England Patriots.

“They don’t have fun there,” Marsh told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s nothing fun about it. . . . It made me for the first time in my life think about not playing football because I hated it that much.”

Marsh is having a blast in the Bay Area with his dog, Boss, by his side.

“Hopefully,” Marsh said, “I’ll be a Niner forever.”

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, an Agoura graduate who also starred at USC, is arguably the most well-known football player to come out of this area.

A six-time Pro Bowler, Matthews helped the Cheeseheads win Super Bowl XLV in 2011. Matthews has 440 combined tackles, 81 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and six interceptions through his first nine seasons in the league. The NFL veteran, who suffered a broken nose in early June off a comebacker at a charity softball game, will once again be a vital piece of the Packers’ defense this season.

Matthews’ younger brother, Casey, an Oaks Christian product, played linebacker for the Eagles from 2011 to 2014.

Nelson Spruce, a Westlake graduate, is trying to find an NFL home with the Los Angeles Chargers. He bounced around with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs the past two years.

The University of Colorado product, who set 41 school records in four seasons with the Buffaloes, is competing for a spot in a depth chart that includes Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Mike Williams.

Chad Hansen, a Moorpark graduate who starred at Cal, is back for his second season with the New York Jets.

Hansen, who had nine receptions for 94 yards as a rookie, spent part of the offseason working with rookie Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. Hansen will look to play a bigger role this year with another season of experience under his belt.

“I’ve got it down a little bit better so I can just play fast,” Hansen told a Jets team reporter this offseason. “That’s all it’s about, not thinking, just playing.”

Francis Owusu, formerly of Oaks Christian and Stanford, is a wide receiver with the Miami Dolphins.

Bryan Anger, a punter out of Camarillo, is entering his seventh season in the NFL and third with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Anger, a Cal product, played in all 16 games the past six seasons while averaging 46.3 yards per punt in 495 attempts.

Anger was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2016.

Former Simi Valley tight end Beau Sandland, who played at Montana State, was recently waived by the Arizona Cardinals.

Aaron Lacombe, a receiver who spent time at Oak Park and Moorpark College before starring at Cal Lutheran, spent some time with the Rams this summer before suffering an injury on his third day of training camp.

Sandland and Lacombe are currently free agents.

Dennis Pitta, a seven-year tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, is all but retired. Injuries have ravaged his career.

“I’ve dislocated my hip three times,” Pitta told ESPN in June 2017. “Take it for what it is. I’m not delusional. I know and understand what that means. At the same time, I’m just taking one day at a time and trying to get back healthy. That’s all that really matters.”

The former Moorpark and Brigham Young University star has transitioned to the broadcast booth, where he’s doing color commentary for the Ravens. He helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl in 2013, catching a touchdown pass in the second quarter of a 34-31 win against the 49ers.

The Great White North has been hospitable for several locals.

Thousand Oaks graduate Alex Singleton is having another stellar season at linebacker with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL. The Montana State product leads the league with 49 tackles.

Stampeders receiver Eric Rogers, who starred at Cal Lutheran, caught 21 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns in five games before undergoing knee surgery earlier this month.

Calgary quarterback Nick Arbuckle, a Camarillo native who prepped at St. Bonaventure, also suits up for the Stamps.

Jeff Mathews, a Camarillo graduate, plays quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes. Before being sidelined with an injury, Mathews connected on 29 of 47 passes for 396 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Mathews, who also attended Cornell of the Ivy League, is certainly shrewder than teammate Johnny Manziel, an NFL laughingstock who played so poorly in his CFL debut that he might be demoted to the Cleveland Browns.

Manziel chucked four interceptions, all in the first half, in his first game with the Alouettes on Aug. 3. Manziel was benched at halftime.

Once that “Johnny Football” experiment mercifully ends, perhaps Montreal fans will get to see more of “Jeffy Football” under center.

In a nutshell

Several players with ties to Acorn country are currently playing in the NFL or Canadian Football League:

Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers, Agoura High grad

Cassius Marsh, DE, San Francisco 49ers, Oaks Christian

Francis Owusu, WR, Miami Dolphins, Oaks Christian

Nelson Spruce, WR, Los Angeles Chargers, Westlake

Chad Hansen, WR, New York Jets, Moorpark

Bryan Anger, P, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Camarillo

Alex Singleton, LB, Calgary Stampeders, Thousand Oaks

Eric Rogers, WR, Calgary Stampeders, Cal Lutheran

Jeff Mathews, QB, Montreal Alouettes, Camarillo