We’ve come up with eight players who will be taken under serious consideration to be the 2015 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year. All eight also will be entered into a head-to-head bracket-style fan vote on our Twitter page. Winner to be announced in two weeks.
Where would this year’s De La Salle team (not to mention Centennial or St. John Bosco) rank among the greatest 50 in state history? For a look at the 50 we came up with last week, CLICK HERE.
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Congratulations to the following eight players who have been chosen as finalists for the 2015 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year honor. This is the only state football honor that has more than 100 years of history attached to it.
This year, for the first time, we are including a fan vote as part of the overall selection process. All eight players will be part of a bracket-style, head-to-head vote on our Twitter page.
(All players listed in alphabetical order)
Antoine Custer (De La Salle, Concord) Sr.
He was forecast to be the Spartans’ top player of the year candidate before the season and only enhanced his credentials. With two TDs (including a 63-yard run) and several big plays on defense (including a jarring hit that caused a fourth down incomplete pass) in De La Salle’s 28-21 win over Corona Centennial in the CIF Open Division state bowl game, Custer capped a sparkling senior season. He had more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored 21 TDs. Custer’s TDs came on rushing plays, one reception, two pass interceptions, one punt return and two kickoff returns.
Najee Harris (Antioch) Jr.
By now everyone not only in California but nationally knows about this talented junior running back who has already committed to Alabama. With many longtime Bay Area observers saying he’s the best prep running back they’ve ever seen, Harris (6-2, 220) rushed for 2,744 yards and 36 touchdowns on the year. In his final game this season, he rushed for 390 yards and six touchdowns on 39 carries before coming up inches short on a two-point conversion during a 55-54 loss to Foothill of Pleasanton. It was Antioch’s only loss of the season. Before coming up short, he had converted on 33 two-point conversion rushing attempts on the year while also having three touchdown catches. Often sitting out the second half of blowout wins, he had two other games over 300 yards and both were against playoff opponents — 360 yards and six touchdowns during a 32-17 win over Freedom (Oakley) and 396 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries during a 47-22 win over Milpitas.
Mique Juarez (North, Torrance) Sr.
He has already been chosen as the Glenn Davis Award winner by the Los Angeles Times. Although he didn’t lead the Saxons to a section or state title, Jaurez is regarded as the top college prospect at linebacker in the nation and was sensational on offense. He had 146 tackles at linebacker with five sacks and 16 other tackles for loss. Moved to QB on offense, Juarez (6-2, 225) passed for 23 touchdowns, rushed for 36 touchdowns and even had one kickoff return score. We remember the former USC commit coming to the Nike SPARQ combine prior to his junior season and blowing everyone away with his size, speed and strength.
Sean McGrew (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) Sr.
Expectations for him and St. John Bosco of Bellflower were high entering the season and while it didn’t quite end the way McGrew would have liked he had an outstanding season. Already selected as the Gatorade State Player of the Year and the Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore Player of the Year for 2013, McGrew rushed for 1,852 yards and 27 touchdowns on 200 carries. He twice rushed for over 200 yards in a game with 218 yards on just 15 carries during a win over No. 5 Mater Dei of Santa Ana and his season-best came during the post-season with 227 yards on 22 carries during a win over Loyola of Los Angeles. McGrew also caught 17 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns while also playing some on special teams and punting when needed. Headed to Washington, he also was named this week to the L.A. Times All-Area first team.
Ryan Robards (Elk Grove) Sr.
One of the more surprising seasons in the state was the one this senior had for the Thundering Herd (13-1) and it was truly remarkable. Robards scored on offense, defense and special teams during Elk Grove’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I runner up season. On offense, he had one TD pass and two TD catches, but it was running the football that saw him do the bulk of his damage with 2,884 yards and 43 touchdowns. Defensively, Robards finished with 50 total tackles and four interceptions with two of his interceptions being returned for touchdowns while also recovering a fumble for six points. As a kicker, he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and six field goals and even returned two punts for scores.
Colin Schooler (Mission Viejo) Jr.
For what he did on offense and defense in Mission’s last three games vs. state-ranked Vista Murrieta, Helix and Bellarmine, it’s enough to elevate him onto this group. In the CIF D1-AA state bowl game vs. Bellarmine, Schooler led the Diablos with 31 carries for 230 yards and two TDs. He also was their team leader in tackles with nine. Against Vista Murrieta, he also carried the ball 12 straight times to kill the clock in Mission’s 21-14 win. We’re picking him as a finalist without knowing the major honors within Orange County, but decided to go ahead and do it regardless. We’ve seen him ourselves and agree with comparisons to a finalist from last year, Atherton Sacred Heart Prep’s Ben Burr-Kirven (now at Washington).
Khalil Tate (Serra, Gardena) Sr.
Passing and rushing for over 2,000 yards in both categories, you don’t get a much better example of a dual threat quarterback than this Arizona-bound senior. Named as the Mission League MVP, Tate gained the unusual position as being the quarterback on the L.A. Times All-Area first team, a spot usually reserved for a big-time passing recruit type thrower. He finished with 2,036 yards and 17 touchdown passes with his best passing performance coming in a 41-34 win over Alemany of Mission Hills with 308 yards and four touchdowns. Tate also rushed for 201 yards in the same game. He actually rushed for more than 100 yards in every game he played for the Cavaliers, finishing with 2,130. His season best of 28 carries for 356 yards and two TDs came in a 28-27 loss to Mater Dei of Santa Ana.
J.J. Taylor (Centennial, Corona) Sr.
The Huskies had several big-time recruits and players on this year’s CIFSS Pac-5 championship team, but if there was one guy that should be considered their top guy it was this Arizona-bound back. Taylor finished with 2,049 yards and 41 touchdowns after rushing for 175 yards in their loss last Saturday to De La Salle of Concord. He also caught two touchdown passes on the year, scored eight two-point conversions and returned a kickoff for a score. His biggest game of the year came during the final win of the season as he rushed for 261 yards and five touchdowns during a 65-55 win over St. John Bosco of Bellflower. Taylor’s season-best performance for scoring came during a 70-29 win over Chaminade of West Hills when he rushed for 185 yards and seven touchdowns on just 18 carries.
FAN VOTE ON TWITTER
Starting on Wednesday, Dec. 23, the brackets we’re setting up for a Mr. Football State Player of the Year fan vote are as follows:
Antoine Custer (De La Salle)
VS. Khalil Tate (Gardena Serra)
Mique Juarez (Torrance North)
VS. Colin Schooler (Mission Viejo)
Sean McGrew (St. John Bosco)
VS. Ryan Robards (Elk Grove)
Najee Harris (Antioch)
VS. J.J. Taylor (Corona Centennial)
After 24 hours, the four remaining players will match up in another fan vote that will be conducted on the day after Christmas for 24 hours. The final fan vote between the final two players will be conducted on Monday, Dec. 28.
Note: The winner of the fan vote is not guaranteed of being selected as the eventual Mr. Football State Player of the Year, but it will be considered part of the selection process.
Stockton office assistant editor Paul Muyskens contributed to this post. Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports