When he was 11 years old and just starting his football career, Brett Nottingham had the same visions of greatness any young player does.

"I actually wanted to play running back to start out," Nottingham said with a chuckle. "A lot of kids want to pretend they're running down the sideline to score the touchdown."

Nottingham made it into the backfield. Just not as a running back.

The Monte Vista senior made it to the top of the 28th edition of our Cream of the Crop as a quarterback. As he got bigger and stronger, his potential to play the position began to show more and more, and he turned into one of the most sought-after recruits on the West Coast this year.

The Cream of the 2010 class is deep, and Nottingham exemplifies the highly skilled group that will enter college this fall. In a survey of college coaches from up and down the West Coast, the Stanford-bound recruit stood out as the prospect with the highest ceiling. He is the third Mustangs quarterback to top the list, joining Kyle Wright and Drew McAllister.

This year's class is loaded with raw potential. From Oakland Tech defensive lineman Fred Thompson to De La Salle's Terron Ward, many of this year's athletes are just that — athletes. The ability to play on both sides of the ball is a calling card for several of this year's choices.

The depth of this year's class won't be judged for a few years, but on paper it appears to be strongest in years. Thirteen of the 20 selections already have committed orally to Pac-10 programs, and scout.com has reported that Pittsburg standout Erick Dargan has narrowed his finalists to Oregon and Washington State.

Ward is the only other member of this year's class still waiting to make a decision on where he will play in college. He set the single-season record for rushing yards (2,050) at De La Salle and was named the BANG-East Bay Player of the Year.

This year will be remembered as the year of the Cougar, with seven of the 20 committed to Washington State, and Dargan possibly becoming the eighth. They represent the largest contingent headed to one school in the list's history.

This marks the third time Stanford has secured the No. 1 prospect. The last time was 1987, when De La Salle defensive back Tuan Van Le pledged to play for the Cardinal. Nottingham will join two former Montre Vista Cream of the Crop selections — WR Ryan Whalen and TE Zach Ertz — at Stanford.

"He's someone who's going to definitely be a well-known name in the near future," said one Pac-10 recruiter.

Cal fans have a Mustang headed their way too. Dave Wilkerson, a tough, physical linebacker, checks in at No. 4. Wilkerson is the lone Cal-bound entry on this year's list.

San Jose State also has a considerable presence in the Cream. The Spartans, with new coach Mike MacIntyre, nabbed Concord's Forrest Hightower, Clayton Valley's Vince Buhagiar and Washington's Cedric Lousi. They also got College Park's Travis Raciti, who just missed the list.

Finally, what would the Cream of the Crop be without a few fun facts?

  • With Nottingham and Mannion both on the list, this is the first time since 2005 that more than one quarterback has made it. That year, McClymonds' Kyle Reed (Cal/San Jose State), De La Salle's Kevin Lopina (Kansas State/Washington State) and Campolindo's Nick Graziano (Nevada/Arkansas Tech) all were included.

  • Reed was the last quarterback to be selected No. 1 and fulfill that role in college. Nottingham's predecessor under center at Monte Vista, McAllister, was the top choice in 2008 but signed with USC as a safety.

  • The 14 Pac-10 commits on this year's class mark the most since 1994. That year, Antioch tight end Mike Lucky headed the list. But it was Lucky's teammate at Antioch, Cal-bound offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry, who turned out to be the best player.

  • Several quality players were eliminated at the very end. Oakland safety Dave Douglas, Pinole Valley defensive back Donovan Henderson and Berkeley linebacker Aaron Norton-Buford were under consideration until the last cut.