Three from Carson and L.A. Fairfax lead the way for a section with no clear cut favorite for its Division I title. A talented junior class, meanwhile, hopes to lead resurgence among highly-recruited individuals from a section that used to turn out a plethora of D1 bound skill position players.
MORE PRESEASON HONORS SQUADS: CIFSS/Inland Empire | Central Section
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The preseason Cal-Hi Sports L.A. City Section football team reflects the wide-open race for the coveted L.A. City Section Division I title. Last year, Narbonne of Harbor City was attempting to win its third consecutive title but lost to Crenshaw of Los Angeles, which won its third title in five years.
The fact Crenshaw and Narbonne have captured the last five L.A City Section Division I titles, not to mention Narbonne and San Pedro tied in the 2008 title game, shows the dominance of the Marine League since Birmingham’s City dynasty under Ed Croson came to an end after he left for Chaminade of West Hills in the CIF Southern Section.
Venice (of the Western League) was the favorite last year, but recent history shows Crenshaw or a Marine League team is considered the favorite until proven otherwise on the field of play.
From an individual talent standpoint, there are three returning 2,000-yard rushers, but it’s a bit shocking to not see a single player from the section named to the preseason Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100 recruiting list for the Class of 2015. In year’s past, the L.A. City Section programs had an abundance of D1-bound talent and upwards of 20 of the state’s top 100 recruits. In the section’s heyday in the 1980s, Carson and Banning alone produced over a combined 15 D1 players per season.
There is a strong junior class in the section, however, and there will likely be some L.A. City Section players represented on next year’s preseason Hot 100. Some of the best candidates to emerge during the season and appear on the updated Hot 100 or the final list on Signing Day 2015 are Santee RB Sheldon Arnold and the Carson duo of LB Manu Enesi and DB Jabari Minix.
WR — Carter Otte (Verdugo Hills, Tujunga) 6-1, 190, Sr.
City’s returning pass catcher hauled in 76 catches for 1,380 yards (18.2 ypc) and 15 of those went for touchdowns. Otte can also play in the defensive backfield (2 INTs) and hopes his production leads to more wins for the Dons (4-7 in 2013).
WR — Kenny Allen (Fairfax, Los Angeles) 5-10, 150, Jr.
This diminutive wideout is arguably the L.A. City’s biggest playmaker, as he averaged a whopping 25.6 yards per reception (29 for 743 yards). Allen had five receiving touchdowns and was a second team all-L.A. City Section Division I choice by coaches.
TE — Henry Diaz (Huntington Park) 6-1, 195, Sr.
A bit undersized for the position on the college level, Diaz gets the job done as a pass blocker and catcher at the high school level. This returning first team All-L.A. City Division II choice is capable of the breaking the big play and hauled in 35 catches for 476 yards. Diaz is also a capable kicker.
OL — Henry Wilks (Dorsey, Los Angeles) 6-4, 255, Sr.
He made the second team last season and moves up to the first team as one of the section’s top offensive tackle prospects. Also a capable down defensive lineman, Wilks hasn’t reaped a lot of honors so far but is poised for a big senior season.
OL — Dylan Urbaez (Fairfax, Los Angeles) 6-6, 265, Sr.
A hard worker in the weight room, it paid off for Urbaez as a junior as he was named first team all-L.A. City Division I choice and third team all-state underclass. Fairfax interim head coach Juan Solorio is giddy about his big and talented line which also includes 6-foot-3, 350-pound Maurice Gardin.
OL — Dodrey Nevens (View Park Prep, Los Angeles) 5-11, 225, Sr.
O-Line might be his third best position, but it’s where he fits best on this team. Nevens was a first team all-L.A. City Section Division III choice on the D-Line as a junior. He excels in the pass rush game (reportedly tied for fourth in the section last season with 12 sacks), but has the size to potentially play linebacker in college.
OL — Nick Maldonado (San Fernando) 6-2, 260, Sr.
A first team all-L.A. City Division II choice as a junior, Maldonado anchors a veteran offensive line that includes three other returnees. The Tigers, back-to-back L.A. City Section Division II champs who will enter the season on a 18-game win streak, suffered huge graduation losses at the skill positions so they will rely on their talent in the trenches to win games.
OL — Michael Wood III (Locke, Los Angeles) 6-3, 280, Sr.
An overpowering run blocker, Wood blew up holes for graduated all-L.A. City back Rasool Gilmore last season. Also good at seal blocks, Wood is equally effective at left tackle or guard. He was a second team All-L.A. City Division I and third team underclass all-state choice as a junior.
QB — Ramon Johnson (Granada Hills) 5-11, 165, Sr.
Johnson is the City’s top returning passer, having completed 148-of-222 passes (.667) for 2,397 yards for the Highlanders. Even more impressive was his 26 touchdowns against only three interceptions while being hearing impaired.
RB — Lavell Thompson (South Gate) 5-7, 170, Sr.
A cinch pick for this team after breaking the single-season school rushing mark set by all-state back Ivan Wilson in 1988 (1,979 yards), Thompson led the Rams to the section Division II title game where a valiant comeback against San Fernando fell just short. The L.A. City Section Division II Offensive Player of the Year, Thompson excels at being patient behind his line and then darting to the open holes. He used that instinct to rush for 2,331 yards on 196 carries (11.9 ypc) and score 31 touchdowns.
RB — Sheldon Arnold (Santee, Los Angeles) 5-10, 180, Sr.
Churned his way to 2,354 yards rushing on 190 carries to edge South Gate’s Thompson for the city rushing title. Yes, he’s not playing the stiffest competition around and the section’s better teams are not what they once were, but a 12.4 yards per carry average and 35 touchdowns to go along with his solid size should draw the interest of some recruiters. Arnold was the L.A. City Section Division III Offensive Player of the Year in 2013.
K — Jose Rodriguez (San Fernando) 5-7, 155, Sr.
With all of the section’s all-city kickers graduated, we went with one who is sure to get more opportunities this year. Rodriguez nailed 73 of 83 conversion attempts as a junior and connected on both of his field goal attempts. San Fernando just didn’t go for three often last season, but he’s likely to get more field goal attempts as a senior.
DE — John Gonzalez (Torres, Los Angeles) 6-0, 190, Sr.
Although he’s a bit undersized, Gonzalez is extremely talented on the edge, having racked up a whopping 21 sacks as a junior to lead the L.A. City Section. Three times he had four sacks in a game, all wins for the 8-4 Toros. Gonzalez also had 36 tackles and recovered a fumble while being named all-L.A. City Division III on defense.
DT — Khalil Jones (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) 6-2, 270, Jr.
An extremely talented run-stopper, Jones will be even more effective when he improves his physical conditioning. For his size, Jones is quite mobile and is a good enough athlete to handle punting duties for the Cougars. He earned second team all-state sophomore honors a year ago.
DT — Amir Stark (Narbonne, Harbor City) 6-5, 255, Jr.
He didn’t have a particularly noteworthy sophomore season, but big things were expected of Stark this season. He reportedly will transfer to Banning of Wilmington and is likely to be academically ineligible. He has good size, solid hands and is physical. With those attributes, he’s currently the second highest ranked L.A. City Section prospect in the Cal-Hi Sports 2016 Hot 100.
DE — Jack Guerra (Fairfax, Los Angeles) 6-2, 220, Sr.
The Lions are strong along the lines and Guerra is the team’s most skilled lineman. He’s excels as a rush end or dropping back into space. Somewhat of a sleeper pick to this unit, he’s also a talented pass blocker on the other side of the ball.
LB — Manu Enesi (Carson) 6-0, 235, Sr.
A repeat selection on this team, Enesi should earn all-L.A. City Section honors for a third consecutive year this season. He was the only sophomore position player named first or second all-L.A. City in 2012 and followed up with 49 primo tackles and 51 assists as a junior. He’s a defensive end type and could be best suited for linebacker in college, so on this team he’s free to roam and make plays.
LB — Alec Simpson (Palisades, Pacific Palisades) 6-3, 205, Jr.
The L.A. City had a great crop of ‘backers last season (Taymon Blockmon, Cameron Griffin, Daniel Belton, Manoah Pearson, etc.) but this year’s crop is quite not as strong. Still, there are some up and comers and Simpson could develop into the best of the lot. In fact, he’s the highest-ranked 2016 prospect in the Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100, checking in at No. 43, sixth among ‘backers.
LB — Ta’von Duker (University, Los Angeles) 6-3, 200, Sr.
It’s hard to argue with the production of this talented athlete with size who is barely scratching the surface. As a junior, Duker racked up 74 tackles, including 31 solos. Duker also caused complete havoc in offensive backfields with 15 hurries, 17 sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
DB — Jonathan Estrada (South Gate) 5-9, 175, Jr.
He hopes to help keep the Rams in city title contention after a stellar sophomore season in which he earned all-L.A. City Division II honors. Estrada is a good form tackler and can slide over to linebacker and play near the line of scrimmage if necessary. He racked up 52 solos, caused two fumbles and recovered two more for a city runner-up club.
DB — Marquel Dismuke (Carson) 6-2, 175, Jr.
This rangy safety should develop into one of the state’s top defensive prospects in the 2016 class. As a sophomore, Dismuke had three interceptions and 38 solo tackles. He’s also is a talented wideout, can contribute in the return game and already fields offers from Arizona St., Cal, Colorado State, Mississippi State and San Diego State. He reportedly will head back to Dominguez of Compton, the school he attended in ninth grade, this season.
DB — Joey Pena (Wilson, Los Angeles) 5-9, 170, Sr.
Pena was a cinch choice for this team after tying for the L.A. City Section interceptions lead with graduated senior Aaron Lewis (View Park Prep) with eight. This ball hawk had three picks in a win over Diego Rivera and eared all-L.A. City Division III honors in addition to being third team all-state underclass.
DB — A.J. Frazier (San Pedro) 6-1, 170, Jr.
He was first team all-state sophomore after helping San Pedro to a 8-4 mark by collecting 33 solos and assisting on 26 more tackles. Frazier is a typical tough-minded San Pedro defender who should take over some of the leadership responsibilities on defense from graduated Pete Palacios. Also watch for Darius Barlow, another junior DB for the Pirates.
P — Brandon Heicklen (El Camino Real, Woodland Hills) 6-1, 175, Sr.
A second team all-L.A. City Division I choice as a junior, Heicklen averaged 42.9 yards per punt (29 for 1,245), second in the section among reported entrants. He also connected on 21-of-25 conversions and booted two field goals.
RB/WR/DB — Isaiah Gable (Arleta) 5-8, 170, Jr.
Second team all-state sophomore pick is a versatile weapon and has great bloodlines, as he’s related to 2005 all-state and former USC running back C.J. Gable of Sylmar. The East Valley League MVP rushed for 817 yards and 18 touchdowns on only 76 carries (10.75 ypc) and added 31 receptions for 765 yards (24.7) with 10 additional touchdowns.
QB/DB — Clarence Williams (Sylmar) 6-1, 160, Jr.
He made the all-state sophomore club and was first team all-L.A. City Division II after he greatly improved on freshman numbers of 1,550 yards and 24 touchdowns in seven games as a 14-year-old in 2012. After passing for nearly 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns as a sophomore, Williams could be headed for a monster junior season. He has as much natural ability as any skill position player in the section.
RB/DB — Darius Jones (Canoga Park) 5-10, 155, Sr.
The third junior back in the section to crack the 2,000-yard mark barrier was this shifty back who also racked up 49 solo tackles and two interceptions as a defensive back. In only 10 games, this third team all-state underclass choice set a single-season school record with 2,134 yards rushing (with 21 touchdowns) and a single-game school record with 338 yards versus Grant of Van Nuys.
LB/WR/DB — Duane McBroom (Palisades, Pacific Palisades) 5-11, 190, Sr.
Teammate Alec Simpson is highly-regarded by scouts, but McBroom is the proven high school player, having earned second team all-L.A. City Division I honors last season at linebacker. He racked up 42 solos, assisted on 48 other tackles and had nine tackles for loss. He’s also a team captain this season and contributes at wideout.
DB/WR/RB/KR — Jabari Minix (Carson) 5-11, 165, Sr.
A returning first team all-L.A. City Division I choice at cornerback, Minix doesn’t have gaudy defensive statistics because he excels in downfield coverage and doesn’t get challenged much. On offense, he rushed for 376 yards and eight touchdowns, caught 29 passes for 426 yards and two scores and had 1,131 all-purpose yards.
DB/RB — Sterling Salguero (Birmingham, Van Nuys) 5-10, 175, Jr.
Similar to Clarence Williams, Salguero played varsity as a 14-year-old and had a breakout sophomore campaign. The West Valley League Defensive MVP as a hard-hitting safety rushed for 1,270 yards and 17 touchdowns and accounted for 1,477 all-purpose yards. Other skill position players in the section to watch include Chris Alvidrez (San Pedro), Cleo Session (Garfield, L.A.), Gabriel McClain (University, L.A.) and Jansen Navarette (Banning, Wilmington).