Early CIF Central Section favorite Central of Fresno tops this group of teams. Two others in this group – Upland and Oaks Christian of Westlake Village – will face off on Sept. 7 at the UT San Diego Prep Bowl in Oceanside.
Congratulations to the following 16 teams, which comprise the second 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.
15. CENTRAL (FRESNO) 11-3
Why This Ranking: While it’s true that the Grizzlies don’t have a great track record of winning CIF Central Section titles, they do have such an edge in college-bound talent compared to the rest of the section that it seems okay to put them No. 1 in the section to start.
First Game/Schedule: Central will be the only California team that will be part of the ESPN High School Football Kickoff Weekend. The Grizzlies are playing defending Colorado Class 5A state champ Valor Christian of Highlands Ranch on Saturday, Aug. 24. If the Grizzlies win that game, they’ll probably be good enough to be 5-0 heading into the Tri-River Athletic Conference portion of their schedule.
Outlook: Quarterback is the primary concern after last season but senior Eric Jimenez may be more than capable. There are big-time college prospects elsewhere, including Nick Wilson at running back and Michiah Quick at wide receiver. Central also has a massive, rugged pair of linemen in Tashon Smallwood (6-2, 295) and Sharif Williams (6-3, 295). The secondary, as usual, is terrific led by Arizona-bound Devon Brewer.
16. ALEMANY (MISSION HILLS) 9-3
Why This Ranking: After three straight seasons of double digit wins, the Warriors have won nine and eight games the last two seasons. A lot will be missing from last year on offense, but almost all of the defense returns plus coach Dean Herrington’s team is playing a very challenging schedule.
First Game/Schedule: Alemany opens the season on the road against Los Osos but should start the season 2-0 before returning home for a killer trio of home games, beginning with No. 26 Narbonne of Harbor City, No. 2 Centennial of Corona and No. 14 St. Bonaventure of Ventura.
Outlook: Since taking over in 2006, Herrington has turned around the program. Last year’s team reached the CIFSS Pac-5 quarterfinals where it overcame a double-digit deficit before losing to Mater Dei of Santa Ana 53-42. The defense should be led by senior DB/LB Quentin Tartabull (6-0, 190), who is committed to Cal, while senior DB Brandon Boyd (5-11, 170) also returns. Senior Alif Grayes (5-11, 175) looks to be the starting quarterback, and he will be a threat to run with the ball, while also possibly making a difference on defense while junior WR/DB Desean Holmes (5-11, 175) could end up as the main target on offense.
17. UPLAND 12-1
Why This Ranking: In the last two years, the Highlanders are a combined 24-2 with both of the losses coming in the CIFSS Inland Division semifinals to Vista Murrieta (39-18) and Corona Centennial (46-36). If all or most of the transfer students that are at Upland are eligible, it could be enough to push the program closer to those top two.
First Game/Schedule: We’ll find out about the Highlanders quickly. The first game will be Aug. 30 against No. 9 Mater Dei at the Santa Ana Bowl. After that comes a trip to the UT San Diego Honor Bowl on Sept. 7 for a matchup with No. 19 Oaks Christian. It should be eight straight wins after that.
Outlook: If you happened to see incoming junior quarterback Tyler Hilinski at the Elite 11 camp held at the San Francisco 49ers’ practice facility, like we did, you know that he’s got the potential to be a major college D1 prospect. Hilinski also will have an outstanding receiver to throw to in University of Virginia commit Jeff Farrar. Several other transfers may play key roles, but one who will have to appeal a denial from the CIFSS is running back Jake Payton (who rushed for more than 1,600 yards last season at San Dimas).
18. BELLARMINE (SAN JOSE) 11-2
Why This Ranking: There are some preseason rankings that say the Bells should be in front of Palo Alto in the CCS pecking order, but at this stage it’s all subjective anyway based on who’s returning and who might be a fast-riser. If after a couple of weeks things needs to be changed, it will be results that determine it.
First Game/Schedule: Saturday, August 31 at Monterey. For those that want to know right away how good the Bells are they won’t have to wait long. Barring a huge upset in Monterey in their opener, head coach Mike Janda and his boys will get a real test in week two when they visit No. 27 El Cerrito. The WCAL opener in week four will be against a No. 31 Serra team they beat twice last season.
Outlook: Vanderbilt-committed 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels leads six returning starters. The WCAL Player of the Year’s excellent showing at the Nike Elite 11 finals in Oregon was just slightly behind Keller Chryst of Palo Alto, the only two quarterbacks to make the final 11 from California. Despite the passing prowess of Carta-Samuels, Janda’s offense relies on the run and ball control. Austin Changras, a 5-10, 180-pound senior running back will carry most of that load. Joe Castignani may catch a few balls as a tight end, but most of the 6-3, 210-pound senior’s work will be anchoring the defense at linebacker.
19. OAKS CHRISTIAN (WESTLAKE VILLAGE) 8-3
Why This Ranking: When watching the Lions last season, you just knew that you were watching a group that has the potential to be one of the state’s top five teams for this year. Quarterback Brandon Dawkins, who was the 2011 State Sophomore of the Year, has committed to Arizona and is one of eight D1 commits.
First Game/Schedule: Head coach Jeff Woodruff’s squad starts with four opponents that also are in the preseason state rankings, beginning Aug. 30 by hosting No. 23 Bakersfield. The Lions then meet No. 17 Upland on Sept. 7 at the UT San Diego Honor Bowl in Oceanside and follow that with No. 29 Venice and No. 12 Chaminade. For a four-game stretch, that could be the toughest any team in the state will play.
Outlook: To go with Dawkins at quarterback, most of the offensive line is returning, led by big-time junior Reno Rosene (6-5, 300). Running back D.J. Wiggins, super-quick junior Darik Holmes and versatile receiver/runner Chris Davis also offer a lot of options. On defense, junior linebacker Andre Chevalier was an all-state sophomore while defensive back Malik Cyphers has multiple college offers.
20. CLOVIS NORTH (FRESNO) 12-1
Why This Ranking: Ranked No. 2 by the Fresno Bee in its preseason rankings behind Central of Fresno, the Broncos don’t quite have the talent back like the Grizzlies but they did reach the CIF SoCal Division I regional finals last season where they lost to Long Beach Poly after capturing the Central Section Division I championship.
First Game/Schedule: Clovis North opens the season at home against Atascadero on August 30 before its biggest game of the season the following week. That one will be on the road against No. 3 St. John Bosco of Bellflower. They will also play No. 15 Central of Fresno during Tri-River Athletic Conference play.
Outlook: The Broncos made section history when they were chosen for the regional bowl game. Although they lose QB Christian Rossi, returning standouts like two-way lineman Isaiah Duran will be back. Duran (6-1, 235) was named to our preseason All-Central Section team on the offensive line and last season was nearly named the Fresno Bee Player of the Year. Also named to our preseason All-Central Section first team was senior DL Daniel Jacob (6-4, 300) and junior LB Hayden Haupt (6-2, 205).
21. PLEASANT GROVE (ELK GROVE) 7-5
Why This Ranking: There are 13 starters back for the Eagles, who have become a perennial power since the program began under head coach Joe Cattolico. That total does not include standout receiver/defensive back Brandon Lewis, who didn’t play last year due to an injury but has early offers, including one from Boise State.
First Game/Schedule: Many think Rocklin will be top 10 in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section this season and that’s who the Eagles start off with on Aug. 30. Facing Burbank of Sacramento (12-1 last season) should be another early test.
Outlook: Eight of the returning starters are on defense and several are versatile two-way types, such as quarterback/cornerback Deaundre Terrell and receiver/defensive back Wyatt Demps. Earl Chism also is a rapid riser as a defensive end. If Pleasant Grove can avoid injuries, it should make a run at No. 5 Folsom in the Delta River League.
22. EDISON (HUNTINGTON BEACH) 13-2
Why This Ranking: There aren’t too many returning starters – five on offense and three on defense – but what head coach Dave White does have is great strength on both sides of the line. The Chargers are coming off a CIFSS Southwest Division title and have never been too far off the pace of the very best teams in White’s career.
First Game/Schedule: It should be an easy win in the opener on Aug. 30 at Centennial of Compton. The schedule doesn’t really get going until Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 with back-to-back games vs. Servite of Anaheim and Mater Dei of Santa Ana.
Outlook: BYU commit Tico Fuga (6-2, 330) is an All-CIFSS performer going either way. On offense, he could line up next to tackle Jesse Sosebee (6-5, 300), a Boise State recruit. Yet another top lineman is center/defensive tackle Markus Boyer (6-2, 265). In the skill positions, kicker Hunter Kelley is one of the state’s best. Receiver/corner back Kiante Goudeau also may have a breakout year.
23. BAKERSFIELD 9-3
Why This Ranking: The Drillers didn’t finish last season all that well, but we watched them when they beat eventual CIFSS Pac-5 champion Long Beach Poly and it was a roster loaded with talented underclassmen. If the Drillers do well in their first game against No. 19 Oaks Christian, they’ll cement themselves as a possible CIF Central Section title team.
First Game/Schedule: After they host Oaks Christian on Aug. 30, Bakersfield has an intriguing matchup against small school power Wasco. Then on Sept. 20, state preseason No. 6 Long Beach Poly comes to town for a rematch.
Outlook: Quarterback Asuani Rufus has added 15 to 20 pounds of muscle coming into the season. He passed for 1,733 yards and 16 TDs and rushed for 1,085 yards and 12 TDs as a junior. The top running back, Jeremiah Reddick (who had nearly 1,000 yards), also is back. Receiver Kevin Hayes is another who could be among state’s best. He was all-state sophomore two years ago.
24. ELK GROVE 12-2
Why This Ranking: Reaching the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game last season against Folsom, the Thundering Herd return plenty of talent on both sides of the football to be one of the favorites to get back there this season. They might not have to play Folsom, either, if the Bulldogs are in the Division I bracket.
First Game/Schedule: Elk Grove opens the season at home against Lincoln of Stockton and hosts Foothill of Palo Cedro the following week in what should be a 5-0 start to the season before Delta Valley League play begins. Franklin of Elk Grove and Grant of Sacramento could be the toughest opponents there.
Outlook: Senior QB Tommy Arnold (5-8, 210) is back along with senior RB/LB Wadus Parker (5-9, 210), named to our preseason Sac-Joaquin Section first team. Parker had a big season last year with 1,373 yards and 24 touchdowns and that could be much higher this season as Robert Frazier (2,120 yards and 22 touchdowns) is no longer splitting carries with him. Almost all of the key players are back on defense, including junior LB Spencer Sheff (5-10, 195) and senior DB Elijah Jones (6-1, 185) along with two way threats TE/LB Noah Letuligasenoa-Ta’amu (6-0, 215) and WR/DE B’won Canada (6-1, 190).
25. CALIFORNIA (SAN RAMON) 9-3
Why This Ranking: The Grizzlies have been one of the few teams that have actually made De La Salle break a sweat the last few seasons, losing 27-14 last season. A big part of that reason is bright young head coach Eric Billeci is a product of the De La Salle program and it’s rubbed off on his players in their performance and conditioning. Like many of the Bay Area teams, California loses a lot of their firepower on offense but they return one of the East Bay’s best in 6-1, 190-pound starting senior quarterback Cameron Owen.
First Game/Schedule: Friday, August 30 hosting Washington of Fremont. After that it’s a match-up with No. 32 Pittsburg. Prior to opening East Bay Athletic League action with visiting Granada Livermore in Week 4, Billeci and his boys follow up the Pitt game with visiting Castro Valley.
Outlook: While some don’t have them on the radar screen, a lot of folks in the East Bay, including SportStars Magazine Editor Chace Bryson, really like the Grizzlies. Besides Owen, they return an experienced line that features three-year starters Dean Heinz (6-0, 255) and Jeff Huettenhain (6-2, 235), and 6-2, 270-pound Mario Diaz. All State sophomore lineman Tyler Whisenhunt (6-4, 280) returns but the breakout player to look for is 6-6, 290-pound and very quick defensive end Mahe Fifita. The new horse in the backfield that will run behind that line is 6-0, 220-pound Blake Bierwith.
26. NARBONNE (HARBOR CITY) 14-1
Why This Ranking: The Gauchos lost in the SoCal Open Division Final and likely won’t return to that level this season. Everybody knew four-year QB Troy Williams wasn’t going to be easy to replace, but the reason Narbonne has to slide down to the second-tier this season is losing nine defenders starters, including L.A. City Defensive Player of the Year Paulo Lepua.
First Game/Schedule: The Gauchos open with Palos Verdes on Thursday August 29 and don’t play an overwhelming schedule compared to last season. If they can get a split with No. 16 Alemany and No. 4 Serra, the Gauchos will be in good shape heading into Marine League play.
Outlook: The Gauchos could crack the top 20 if newcomers step up and RB Johnell Jackson (6-0, 185) has a big season to take the pressure off new QB Eban Jackson (6-3, 185). Don’yeh Patterson (6-3, 190) returns to the program after a year at Dominguez of Compton to help ease the loss of firepower on both sides of the ball.
27. EL CERRITO 13-1
Why This Ranking: The No. 1 Division III team in Northern California to start the season falls into a very nice spot, and with the amount of talent they return, head coach Kenny Kahn and his boys are the early favorites to represent Northern California in Carson in December. Before that they have to win a lot of games and Kahn hasn’t shied away from taking on top notch talent.
First Game/Schedule: Friday, August 30 at Sutter. The game has more importance for the host’s hopes later on should they play well but it should not be a problem for El Cerrito. Still, the Gauchos can’t look past that opponent on a long road trip to a Week 2 matchup with No. 18 Bellarmine at Richmond De Anza. There’s no time to rest because weeks three and four are at No. 50 Cardinal Newman, and then home against always tough Campolindo of Moraga.
Outlook: The Gauchos have more Division I college talent than anyone in the Bay Area. They’re led by 6-1, 175-pound Cal-committed wide receiver Jalen Harvey, defensive back Adarius Pickett, who has over 20 offers including Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC, and USC-committed 6-0, 215-pound linebacker Derik Calhoun. Quarterback Keilan Benjamin returns with his twin brother wide receiver Keith Benjamin. If other players emerge and the role players produce, this team could very well move up much higher in the rankings. The first three weeks will tell the story.
28. NOTRE DAME (SHERMAN OAKS) 8-4
Why This Ranking: No Hilinski (Kelly or Tyler) taking snaps and no Khalfani Muhammad to hand the ball to will be tough to overcome but the Knights should be in the mix after losing in the Southern Section Pac-5 quarterfinals last season to St. John Bosco of Bellflower in the final minutes.
First Game/Schedule: The season kicks off on August 30 at home against Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach before the Knights face No. 35 Del Oro of Loomis at Oceanside in a game that Cal-Hi Sports will likely be in attendance. Less than a week later, Notre Dame faces No. 4 Serra of Gardena.
Outlook: Year in and year out, the Knights have been a solid team but they have more than a few questionmarks. They do have senior Koa Farmer (6-1, 200), who is committed to California as a DB and according to Eric Sondheimer of the L.A. Times he will also play some at receiver and quarterback this season. Senior receiver Daniel Khan (5-11, 170) has more then a few D1 offers.
29. VENICE 10-3
Why This Ranking: The Gondos are top 25 material and could even creep higher, but similar to Mission Viejo in the Southern Section, Venice has to prove it can get over the hump. Under coach Angelo Gasca, Venice has won 11 consecutive Western League titles, but with the returning firepower and with no super team such as Narbonne last year or Crenshaw in 2009, it’s L.A. City title or bust.
First Game/Schedule: Venice plays the schedule to move up quickly, opening against No. 12 Chaminade on the road and facing No. 19 Oaks Christian on September 12. Throw in Salesian of Los Angeles and the Gondos’ first three foes went a combined 31-7 last season.
Outlook: As long as Venice stays healthy on offense, it will make a deep run in the L.A. City Division I playoffs. Indiana commit Alexander Diamont (6-2, 170) is a three-year regular at QB and RB Alijah Lee (5-6, 170) is one of the city’s best. Helping to keep those players healthy will be OLs John Dewig (6-3, 275) and Clemente Luna (6-2, 280).
30. MISSION HILLS (SAN MARCOS) 10-3
Why This Ranking: It’s fairly obvious that the Grizzlies have enough returning firepower to be considered the No. 2 preseason team in the CIF San Diego Section behind Oceanside. They also play the Pirates on Sept. 27 at home.
First Game/Schedule: Coach Chris Hauser’s team will be part of the Battle for Veterans event at Cathedral Catholic with a matchup against Arizona power Desert Vista. If the Grizzlies win, they should be 4-0 heading into the Oceanside game.
Outlook: A linebacking group headlined by All-State Underclass first team Ricky Liuchan and major college prospect Fred Warner is one of the best in the state. Mission Hills also has an offense that will feature returning standout Connor Wynn.