The most in-depth preseason rankings, write-ups and analysis of California prep football’s top teams is here, led by who else but De La Salle of Concord. Three supremely talented SoCal squads figure to battle it out for the right to probably play DLS in the CIF Open Division bowl game.
Congratulations to the following 15 teams, which comprise the first post in a set of three that contains a special 50-deep preseason version of the Cal-Hi Sports Overall Top 25 Football Rankings. Each week, once the season starts, all write-ups, analysis and CIF bowl breakdowns, much like you are seeing below, will be part of the Cal-Hi Sports Gold Club membership. We will continue to provide the Top 25 rankings list and top three teams for each CIF bowl game division (also in a list) to non-members. To join the Gold Club today, CLICK HERE.
Note: Harold Abend, Ronnie Flores and Paul Muyskens contributed to this post. All teams listed with win-loss record from 2012.
1. DE LA SALLE (CONCORD) 15-0
Why This Ranking: After last year, when just about all of the national rankings didn’t go with the Spartans as the state’s best in the preseason and ended up looking foolish, everyone seems to know better. With four straight CIF Open Division titles, no losses to an in-state team since 2008 and with very little change expected due to the elevation of Justin Alumbaugh to head coach, California’s No. 1 ranking shouldn’t and won’t go to any other team until De La Salle is defeated on the field by a California opponent.
First Game/Schedule: The Spartans host Clayton Valley Charter of Concord on Aug. 30 in their opener. They are on ESPNU on Sept. 13 when they play at St. Mary’s of Stockton. A trip to Servite of Anaheim could be a test, but if form holds it will be another 10-0 regular season heading into the CIF North Coast Section playoffs.
Outlook: Alumbaugh’s initial season will be easier since he has a returning quarterback to work with in senior Chris Williams. The featured running back should be senior Das Tautalatasi, but a new primary receiver and tight end need to emerge. It’s up front where DLS may be at its best ever. That’s saying something, but a group led by senior Sumner Houston (6-4, 275), senior Larry Allen Jr. (6-3, 280), junior Drew Sullivan (6-3, 260), junior Kahlil McKenzie (6-4, 290), senior Mechech Burrell (6-5, 255) and sophomore Boss Tagaloa (6-3, 255) has the potential to be truly dominant.
2. CENTENNIAL (CORONA) 14-2
Why This Ranking: The next three teams in order all return a number of top players and realistically any of the three could be No. 2 behind De La Salle. We’re listing the Huskies second for now because they are the defending SoCal Open Division champions, because they are the last team in the state that has beaten De La Salle and we think if they’re 14-0 after the CIF Inland Division playoffs that they’ll be a cinch to get a bid for the Open Division.
First Game/Schedule: Liberty of Henderson, Nev., will head to Corona on Friday, Aug. 30, for the season opener. The Huskies then get three state top 20-ranked teams in a row, beginning with a matchup against St. Bonaventure of Ventura on Sept. 7 at the UT San Diego Honor Bowl. Long Beach Poly and Alemany of Mission Hills follow.
Outlook: Offensively, it should be another epic blitzkrieg of yardage and points. After all, Centennial became the first team in state history with more than 8,000 yards last year and blew away the previous record by more than 500 yards. Quarterback Robert Webber, who passed for 3,968 yards, and running back Tre’ Watson, committed to Cal, are back to lead the circus, along with wideout Barry Ware. Two monsters up front – Alabama-bound Viane Talamaivo and USC-bound Austin Maloata – will be hard to miss, while defensive end Jaylen Johnson is another major college recruit.
3. ST. JOHN BOSCO (BELLFLOWER) 12-1
Why This Ranking: Ten players with college offers are back for the Braves, which makes them the favorites in the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division. Putting them ahead of Gardena Serra in the preseason is simply a reflection of the fact that if Bosco is 14-0 and Serra is 14-0 heading into the state bowl game selection meeting, that the Braves will likely be selected higher.
First Game/Schedule: Coach Jason Negro’s club starts on the road on Aug. 30 at Dominguez of Compton. A home game against defending CIF Central Section Division I champ Clovis North should be tougher the following week, but maybe not as tough as the Trinity League gauntlet led by Cal-Hi Sports No. 9 Mater Dei of Santa Ana.
Outlook: It’s hard to find weaknesses with the Braves’ projected lineup. With one of the nation’s top junior class quarterbacks, Josh Rosen, that’s a good place to start. On the lines, offensively Damien Mama (at 360 pounds) is one of the nation’s best while on defense a group led by Malik Dorton should be stout. Linebacker Chandler Leniu is another returning all-state underclass player while the secondary includes Cal-bound Jaleel Wadood and Arizona-bound Naijiel Hale.
4. SERRA (GARDENA) 14-2
Why This Ranking: Just based on returning talent and not looking at a school with four straight CIF Open Division titles (De La Salle) or those that will be competing in more difficult playoff divisions (Corona Centennial and St. John Bosco), the Cavaliers have an argument to be No. 1. They have 14 players with college offers, including the electric Adoree’ Jackson, the State Junior Athlete of the Year.
First Game/Schedule: San Diego County will be very familiar to the Cavs in the early going with the opener on Aug. 31 at Cathedral Catholic against Desert Ridge of Mesa, Ariz. That game, though, should be a warmup to the next week on Sept. 6 at Oceanside (which is loaded and is No. 8 preseason in the state). The host school and its fans will be going bonkers for that one since the loser might already be pretty much eliminated from the CIF Open Division bowl chase.
Outlook: The dynamic talent of Jackson is obvious, but quarterback Jalen Greene (committed to Boise State) makes the offense click with his running, passing and three years of experience. Jackson may have to be used more as a running back than was expected, however, due to the loss of two returning backs with knee injuries. The linebacking corps on defense, meanwhile, should be awesome. In senior Dwight Williams, the Cavs have one of the nation’s best. He’ll be lining up with junior John Houston, who is on track to be one of the nation’s best recruits next season.
5. FOLSOM 14-1
Why This Ranking: Co-coaches Kris Richardson and Troy Taylor welcome back 14 starters from last year’s team that won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title, including junior quarterback Jake Browning, who set the state single-season passing record last year with 5,246 yards. The Bulldogs may not quite yet be up to De La Salle standards, but if they play the Spartans again in the NorCal Open Division bowl game we think it will be a closer game.
First Game/Schedule: In last year’s opener against Woodcreek of Roseville, Browning threw 10 touchdown passes to tie the state record in his first start. The Bulldogs start out against Woodcreek again on Friday, Aug. 30. It’s the next week, however, that has Sacramento area fans buzzing. It will be Folsom at Granite Bay, which won the CIF Division I state bowl game last season but unlike Folsom didn’t have to run into De La Salle in the open division.
Outlook: What will make the Bulldogs so tough to stop is that in addition to Browning, other top returnees include receiver Troy Knox and two-way standouts Bailey Laolagi at running back/linebacker and Rodney Ellison at receiver/defensive are back. Laolagi and Browning aren’t the team’s only big-time juniors, either. Offensive tackle Cody Creason (6-5, 255) was an all-state sophomore last year as well. The main question will be whether any additional linemen can step up, especially against teams like Granite Bay and potentially De La Salle.
6. LONG BEACH POLY (LONG BEACH) 12-4
Why This Ranking: The Jackrabbits are the defending CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division champions and will be led two of the top players in the nation in their classes – senior receiver/defensive back John “JuJu” Smith (the 2012 Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year) and junior cornerback Iman Marshall.
First Game/Schedule: Up first for Poly on Friday, Aug. 30 will be Crenshaw of Los Angeles at Veterans Stadium. The Cougars are coming off a season in which they played in the CIF L.A. City Section final. After another test against Servite of Anaheim, probably the toughest of them all for the regular season comes on Sept. 13 at Mission Viejo against preseason state No. 2 Corona Centennial.
Outlook: Other than at running back, last year’s team was a fairly young group for head coach Raul Lara, who has 12 returning starters. Who will be the No. 1 quarterback was a questionmark, but junior Tai Tiedemann came on strong at the end of last season. The front seven on defense will be another strength led by Jason Fao and Imani Mitchell up front and Caleb Turner and Omari Lyles (a junior) at linebacker.
7. VISTA MURRIETA (MURRIETA) 13-1
Why This Ranking: After going 14-0 on the field two years ago with a win over Corona Centennial and then 13-1 last year with the only loss to the same team, the Broncos will field another elite squad. Their top returning players are on defense, while the offense is getting a boost from transfer quarterback Coltin Gerhart and transfer offensive lineman Artie Vasquez (both from Norco).
First Game/Schedule: Of the top 10 to 12 teams, the Broncos look like they’ll have the easiest regular season schedule. They don’t open until Sept. 6 against Downey and play no teams in the regular season that were chosen for our preseason top 50. By the time they play teams like Cathedral Catholic of San Diego or Crespi of Encino, however, those teams could be ranked.
Outlook: There are three top returnees for the Broncos who can line up as defensive ends or linebackers and no matter where would be terrific. Returning all-state underclass Curtis Bolton leads that group along with BYU-bound Tyler Cook and Washington State-bound Greg Hoyd. Gerhart has a returning weapon at running back, too. Running back Kishawn Holmes isn’t too big, but he’s super-quick and rushed for 1,200 yards last season.
8. OCEANSIDE 12-1
Why This Ranking: Head coach John Carroll’s Pirates are always among the favorites to capture a section championship. They won their 12th since 1995 last season. This could be his most talented team and has a big early game against No. 4 Serra at home. Defeating Poway 32-10 in the San Diego Section Division II championship game, the Pirates also have two state titles under their belt (in 2007 and 2009).
First Game/Schedule: Oceanside opens the on the road on August 30 against St. Augustine of San Diego. A week later, the Pirates play Serra in a matchup that probably eliminates the loser from the CIF Open Division bowl championship. Later in September, it could be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup for San Diego with a game against Mission Hills.
Outlook: Whoever takes over at the quarterback spot will have plenty of offensive weapons. The leading rusher from last year, Thai Cottrell (5-7, 170), committed to San Jose State, returns after rushing for 796 yards and 11 touchdowns while the top four wide receivers are back. That group is led by Mikah Holder, one half of an impressive set of twins who is committed to San Diego State. Likely to take over for the graduated Tofi Paopao as QB is Josh Harris (6-5, 195), who passed for 2,013 yards and 18 touchdowns while leading his former team at Helix to a 10-1 record. The Pirates’ defense will be led by a pair of standout defensive backs as Alijah Holder (6-1, 160) is committed to Stanford while Jace Whitaker (6-0, 170) will be going to Arizona.
9. MATER DEI (SANTA ANA) 11-3
Why This Ranking: The Monarchs return seven defensive starters and have more than enough offensive firepower to warrant a top 10 state ranking. After losing by a single point to SoCal Open Division participant Narbonne, the Monarchs went full-time with Chase Forrest (6-3, 190) under center and he promptly led them to their first CIF Southern Section Major Division final since 2002. With 15 starters back, Mater Dei has the ability to move up, but based on the fact the program hasn’t won an outright section title since 1998 and was beaten handily by Long Beach Poly last year, a spot any higher in the state can’t be justified just yet.
First Game/Schedule: Mater Dei opens with No. 17 Upland at home and if the Monarchs pass that test, they’ll have a solid chance of going into their September 27 game against No. 22 Edison of Huntington Beach at 4-0. Trinity League play will be tough as usual, but Mater Dei is confident it can win the league title even with St. John Bosco being this year’s glamour team.
Outlook: Last year was a return to glory of sorts for a program that was one of the nation’s best in the 1990s. Mater Dei was noticeably stronger with improved team speed compared to its teams of five years ago and there is enough talent on both sides of the ball for a return trip to a section final. It starts with two-way standout Jonathan Lockett (5-11, 175), an excellent cover corner who hopes to make an even bigger impact on offense this fall. If Mater Dei can shore up the rest of its secondary, it will have a fine season because up front there is depth. Ben Humphreys (6-3, 220) is one of the state’s best junior linebackers and defensive end Kyle Penniston (6-6, 235) is primed for a big season. Mater Dei will also benefit from offensive lineman Sam Bush (6-4, 295) being in the lineup from day one.
10. GRANITE BAY 13-3
Why This Ranking: After heading down to Carson and pulling off a surprising 21-20 win over Long Beach Poly in the CIF Division I state championship game, it’s hard to not underestimate the Grizzlies, despite the loss of legendary head coach Ernie Cooper. Several talented underclass players from last season also will be back.
First Game/Schedule: Opening up the season in a big way, the Grizzlies will once again be considered the underdog as they host No. 5 Folsom in a game that will match the top two teams in the CIF Sac Joaquin Section. They will also host No. 43 Freedom of Oakley and go on the road and play No. 32 Pittsburg in a solid early season schedule.
Outlook: The defense will have some talented players since senior LB/TE Dylan Keeney (6-5, 215) has committed to Colorado, junior LB Cameron Smith (6-3, 240) was one of our favorite sophomores to watch last season while leading the team with 196 tackles, and senior DB Luke Bussey (5-10, 170) had 54 tackles and four interceptions. With an offense that returns senior RB Tony Ellison (5-11, 170), who rushed for 1,185 yards and scored 18 touchdowns, even with a loss in the first game Granite Bay could still go on to have a great season.
11. MISSION VIEJO 11-1
Why This Ranking: The Diablos start just outside the top 10 because Mater Dei has more back on defense and because the Diablos just haven’t been able to get over the hump in the CIF Southern Section Pac-Five playoffs. In fact, they haven’t won a CIFSS major division title under head coach Bob Johnson. The Diablos lost on a two-point conversion in the 2009 semifinals to Servite, lost in the section final to the Friars in 2010 and ran into a hot Long Beach Poly team last year in the Pac-Five quarters. Mission Viejo has the talent but just needs a few breaks to go its way.
First Game/Schedule: The Diablos open up with Baldwin of Wailuku, Hawaii, a team that went 7-3 last year, on August 30 on the island. Mission Viejo plays national power Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, N.J. at home on September 14, but the game should probably be closer than it was in 2011 when Mission Viejo went East and got walloped 35-7.
Outlook: A 9-1 or 10-0 regular season should be expected, it’s just a matter of peaking at the right time and a 10-0 JV team moving up filling the gaps on defense. Brett Johnson’s offense begins with the pass-catch duo of WR Sean Modster (5-11, 175) and QB Ian Fieber (6-2, 185). If Fieber has a big season, the Diabos’ offense will be potent because RB Alex Suchesk (5-11, 180) moves the chains and Daniel Marx (6-3, 240) is the best FB in Southern California.
12. CHAMINADE (WEST HILLS) 12-2
Why This Ranking: After last year, when head coach Ed Croson’s team beat Serra of Gardena in the regular season and nearly beat the Cavaliers again in the CIFSS Western Division playoffs, there will be no surprises. Plus, he has six starters back on both sides of the ball.
First Game/Schedule: Venice, which some are picking as the best in the CIF L.A. City Section this year, will be up first with a matchup at Venice on Aug. 30. The rest of the non-league schedule is solid to great with Hart, Oaks Christian and Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks. All three of those teams are in the preseason state top 50 as well.
Outlook: All-State running back Terrell Newby is now at Nebraska, but the Eagles’ offense may be even better. This is because quarterback Brad Kaaya (Miami commit) has emerged as one of the top passers in the nation and will have a quick, fast group to work with, including returning standout Donovan Lee. On defense, Chaminade has a pair of Pac-12 commits leading the way, tackle machine Rick Gamboa (Colorado) and safety/linebacker JoJo McIntosh (UCLA).
13. ST. BONAVENTURE (VENTURA) 11-2
Why This Ranking: A Pac-5 semifinalist last season, the Seraphs are another team whose biggest question mark might be coaching. The school’s athletic director, John Muller, took over as head coach after the school let go of Todd Therrien back in July. Making it easier for the new coach is that he will have one of the top juniors in the nation taking snaps as Ricky Town (6-4, 190) recently committed to Alabama.
First Game/Schedule: St. Bonnie should be able to open the season with a victory on Aug. 30 against Garfield of Los Angeles before things get much tougher. In the second game of the season, the team will play No. 2 Centennial of Corona on Sept. 7. Another non-league game will be against No. 16 Alemany of Mission Hills.
Outlook: Expected to play with a faster pace on offense, any team with a talented quarterback like the Seraphs have with Town is going to be tough to beat as his offensive weapons include senior TE Bryce Dixon (6-4, 220), who has offers from Cal, Oregon and Florida among others and was ranked as our No. 2 TE prospect in the state in our preseason player rankings. Their defense will include senior DE Jase Franke (6-4, 255), who has committed to Colorado, and senior DB Davonte Nunnery (5-11, 190).
14. PALO ALTO 8-3
Why This Ranking: Strictly looking at how they finished last year and who they return, the Vikings get the nod as the No. 2 team from the Bay Area behind De La Salle. Just like last year, the biggest weapon in the arsenal of head coach and 2010 State Coach of the Year Earl Hansen will be 6-foot-4, 230-pound Keller Chryst, the top-ranked California quarterback at the Nike Elite 11 Finals in Oregon, and the Stanford-committed son of San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst.
First Game/Schedule: Friday, Sept. 13 at home versus Hollister San Benito. The Vikings have a scrimmage with Terra Nova (Pacifica) on August 30, but they actually begin the regular season a week later than last year when they opened in Hollister against San Benito. Next up again in week two is Archbishop Mitty at Foothill College before a trip to Salinas to face Palma ends their non-league schedule.
Outlook: Any team with Hansen at the helm is going to be very tough, especially with the kind of talent one of Northern California’s top public school coaches has on the field this year complimenting his signal-caller. Besides Chryst, who passed for 2,165 yards and 28 touchdowns as a sophomore and 2,489 yards and 28 TDs last season, Hansen has speedster Malcolm Davis back as Chryst’s favorite target. Davis, the son of former NFL receiver Wendell Davis, had 33 catches for 675 yards and nine TDs last season. He will be joined at wide receiver by 6-2, 180-pound Keesean Johnson. Running back is a bit of a question mark, but whoever emerges will be running behind a solid line anchored by 6-5, 265 pound Jack Anderson, a legitimate D1 prospect with Ivy League interest as well. Two other outstanding linemen are seniors Justin Rittman and Koloti Mataele. Andrew Frick will continue to back up Chryst, but the 5-11, 215-pound senior will be the top linebacker and see duty as a fullback.