There’s only one from De La Salle on first team and the talent in the section is among its best ever, including the top-ranked running back in the U.S. No one doubts the Spartans, though, are still favored in the first Open Division section playoff. Still, the elite players on some of the other teams will make it very, very interesting.
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To say that the CIF North Coast Section is loaded with talent for this upcoming football season would be an understatement, and it’s not just 2015 Mr. Football State Player of the Year Najee Harris of Antioch that accounts it.
Some of the top offensive lineman recruits in the state are from the NCS and Jack Newman, a senior quarterback from Analy of Sebastopol who led the state in touchdown passes (53) and was No. 5 in passing yardage (4,051) last season, was only able to garner second team behind Danville Monte Vista phenom Jake Haener.
As for the section’s marquee team, De La Salle, the Spartans are young and only place one player on the first team in defensive back Tre’ White but based on a Friday night four-team all Catholic school scrimmage with Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), Marin Catholic (Kentfield) and Riordan (San Francisco), there are a whole bunch of kids waiting in the wings as usual to fill the void left by graduation. Five of those up-and-comers are among the almost three dozen players on the second team, led by junior running back Kairee Robinson, a name we will be hearing a lot this season.
The bottom line is the overall talent in the NCS this season is as good as we’ve seen in a while.
WR Damon Cole Jr. (El Cerrito) 6-1, 175, Sr.
After an outstanding junior year in which he was All TCAL – Rock Division First Team, Cole returns for his senior season as one of the most highly recruited wide receivers not only in the NCS but the entire Bay Area. Last season, Cole caught 28 passes for 813 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for five more scores. He currently has 10 offers that are high mid majors with interest getting warmer.
WR Isaiah Hodgins (Berean Christian, Walnut Creek) 6-3, 190, Sr.
Hodgins has been in the recruiting news when earlier this week he de-committed from Washington State and now the analysts say an Oregon offer is at the top of his list. Last season, Hodgins led the NCS in receiving yardage with 1,483 yards, tied for first with 23 touchdown receptions and was second with 94 catches. He helped the Eagles earn their first league title since 2001 and reach their first-ever section title game. Hodgins was also named Most Valuable Player of the TCAL – Stone Division.
TE Erik Krommenhoek (Monte Vista, Danville) 6-5, 240, Sr.
Most of his work came on defense last season at defensive end but during the summer Krommenhoek showed an ability to haul in the pigskin with his big hands, plus he has the size and speed to be very hard to bring down. Of the returning Mustang receivers, there is little doubt his big frame will be the top target for fellow preseason first team quarterback Jake Haener.
OL Aaron Banks (El Cerrito) 6-7, 344, Sr.
Even when the big fella took a break and wasn’t participating at the Contra Costa College camp in mid-June, the buzz among the analysts and coaches was about Banks and where he is going to land after high school. He has 30 top-notch offers with many feeling USC might have the inside track, but nothing has changed since June. Pity the poor defensive linemen in the TCAL Rock that have to get by the All East Bay Times First team selection’s massive frame.
OL Nicholas Loya (Kennedy, Fremont) 5-8, 220, Sr.
He might not have the massive frame of some other first team offensive linemen but don’t underestimate the only OL returner other than El Cerrito’s Banks to be named All East Bay Times from last season after garnering a third team selection. Not only does Loya anchor the offensive line but according to coaches he is the rock of the defense at middle linebacker.
OL Jalen McKenzie (Clayton Valley, Concord) 6-5, 305, Sr.
After missing all but two minutes of last season with a knee injury he suffered in the first game against Folsom, McKenzie is starting to round into shape and that’s bad news for defensive linemen who will be trying to block him. In June at the Contra Costa College camp put on by USC, he performed very well in the drills that were witnessed by his father and Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.
OL Alijah Vera-Tucker (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) 6-5, 291, Sr.
Tucker, who will anchor an offensive line that has three players hovering around 300-pounds, is said by some analysts to be right there side-by-side with Aaron Banks as to ability. Every coach and analyst talked to had very high praise for the USC commit. One respected East Bay football analyst put it very succinctly. “He’s a beast.”
OL Chantz Russell (Marin Catholic, Kentfield) 6-6, 275, Sr.
A player that looked good last year as an All Marin County Athletic League selection looks much improved in the areas of quickness and athleticism for such a big frame. Right now, he has five solid mid-major offers but as the season unfolds if he performs the way Wildcat coaches feel he will, his stock could go up. Russell will also see more time on defense this season.
QB Jake Haener (Monte Vista, Danville) 6-1, 188, Sr.
There was little doubt as to who would be the first team signal-caller after not only the season he had but the way he performed not only at several summer camps but also at the Opening Bay Area Regional where he impressed Trent Dilfer enough to earn an invite to the big show, and an offer from Washington he accepted. “When you’re evaluating guys that are not prototypical size you look for guys that do the nuances,” Dilfer told Cal-Hi Sports. “Things like changing speeds and arc, how functional they are, quarterback athleticism, maintaining balance and accuracy, command of ball, self and others and Jake has them all. You don’t have to be 6-2 or taller. When you find them and they’re special you don’t worry about size, and Jake is special.” Last season he passed for 3,005 yards and 35 TDs with only six interceptions
RB Najee Harris (Antioch) 6-3, 228, Sr.
There isn’t much more that can be said about the reigning Mr. Football State Player of the Year other than if the Alabama-commit has another season like last year he likely will be selected Mr. Football again and put himself in a position to be one of the greatest high school running backs in state history. Last season, he amassed 2,744 yards and 36 touchdowns rushing and three receiving, and totaled an amazing 300 points by also scoring 33 two-point conversions while leading the Panthers to an undefeated regular season. Coming into the season, Harris has rushed for 5,172 yards and 60 touchdowns. The rushing yardage already qualifies for a spot on the career rushing list in the Cal-Hi Sports state record book.
RB Montaz Thompson (Pittsburg) 5-9, 200, Sr.
It’s almost hard to believe but in only his first year at the varsity level all Thompson did was put together one of the top five seasons ever at Pittsburg, and that’s no small feat considering the Pirates’ rich history. He finished the year with 1,766 yards and 19 touchdowns while averaging 10 yards per carry.
PK Peyton Henry (Monte Vista, Danville) 6-1, 180, Sr.
Henry was the top kicker last year in the NCS and comes back for his senior season after averaging 54 yards on kickoffs with 55 touchbacks in 71 attempts. He was also 54-of-56 on PATs and was 5-of-7 on field attempts with a longest of 52 yards. The top-ranked kicker in California for the Class of 2017 is also a national top 20 kicking prospect in his class by Chris Sailer Kicking and the US Army All-American rankings.
DL Jordan Jackson (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) 6-4, 235, Sr.
A player that made a name for himself at more than one camp this summer, including The Opening Bay Area, impressed coaches with his speed off the line of scrimmage and ability to get past offensive linemen. He has several mid-major offers and his stock is rising and will go even higher if he has a solid season. Jackson led the team with five sacks last year.
DE Sebastian Olver (Marin Catholic, Kentfield) 6-4, 248, Sr.
This Aussie, who has only been playing football for a year, is the player at the top of the list of returning top recruits in the Redwood Empire after accepting an offer from Colorado. Despite only playing football for the first time last year after moving from Brisbane, Australia, Olver was First Team All MCAL as a defensive lineman and honorable mention as a punter. He knows a little about kicking the ball and pouncing around since prior to moving to the United States he played rugby and Australian Rules football down under.
DL Heikoti Vaisima (Clayton Valley, Concord) 6-2, 235, Sr.
The first-team All-Diablo Valley Athletic League defensive lineman was a terror to opposing backfields, registering 128 total tackles, including 19 tackles for a loss. He also had 11 sacks and an overwhelming 26 quarterback hurries. He also forced five fumbles and recovered two, returning one 26-yards for a score.
LB Addison Gumbs (Stellar Prep, Hayward) 6-4, 220, Sr.
He had a very solid summer after a fine season last year but the big news is earlier this week Gumbs finally decided on his college choice when after receiving almost 30 offers he finally decided to commit to Oklahoma where he is projected as a defensive end because of his height and frame. Last season, he led the NCS and was second in the state with 23 sacks while also recording 74 total tackles.
LB Kyle Harmon (Freedom, Oakley) 6-1, 217, Sr.
Not only was Harmon named a unanimous first-team All-Bay Valley Athletic League selection for the second straight year, he was the unquestioned leader of Freedom’s defense from his middle linebacker position. Harmon led the team with 137 tackles and 11 tackles for a loss, giving him 259 career tackles in his first two years at the varsity level. Harmon, who was impressive over the summer, has offers from Air Force, Colorado state, Columbia, Northern Colorado, San Jose State, UC Davis and UNLV.
LB Nate Landman (Monte Vista, Danville) 6-2, 212, Sr.
Monte Vista doesn’t keep total tackles but according to coaches he was definitely one of the leaders last season. He did lead the team in sacks with six, deflected passes with five, forced fumbles with four with one recovered, and was second in tackles for loss with nine. Needless to say, he will be getting around on defense for the Mustangs again this season.
LB Jahari Kay (San Leandro) 6-1, 210, Sr.
The defensive leader of the Pirates last season will be looked upon once again to be the leader of a team that went out in the first round of the NCS Division I playoffs. Last year, his 71 tackles and 8.5 sacks were team highs. After a solid summer, he’s starting to get interest and just received an offer from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
DB Tre’ White (De La Salle, Concord) 6-0, 175, Sr.
White became a big playmaker in the Spartans’ secondary last season, returning interceptions for touchdowns in wins over both Orange Lutheran and Long Beach Poly. He was rarely tested in the second half of the season and finished tied for the team lead in interceptions with three. Based on the four-team scrimmage on Friday night, it looks like he will be a factor at running back as well.
DB Je’quari Godfrey-Baggett (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) 6-2, 190, Sr.
He didn’t have huge numbers last season after posting four interceptions with four deflections and 20 tackles, but the way he covers and delivers hits, and his perfect frame for cornerback or safety make him extremely valuable and that’s why when Cal offered him a scholarship he accepted it in May. A twist is Godfrey-Baggett will only be in his second year of football but had 11 offers before committing to Cal.
DB Antoine Tanner (Antioch) 5-11, 160, Sr.
The top cover player in the Antioch secondary last season is back after recording three interceptions and 10 batted passes to go with 20 tackles last season. Antioch doesn’t throw the ball much but he also will likely see some more time at wide receiver this season.
DB Evan Barney (Clayton Valley, Concord) 5-11, 165, Sr.
A physical player who had six interceptions and returned one for a touchdown, Barney also broke up 18 passes and blocked two field goal attempts. He will anchor the Ugly Eagles’ secondary this season. For a player not big in stature, he’s unafraid to come up and make tackle as well. He registered 92 (56 solo) with five for losses.
P Dominic Mather (Freedom, Oakley) 6-0, 165, Sr.
We could have picked Peyton Henry for this spot as well, but for these all-section teams finding a deserving punter isn’t usually difficult. Mather is deserving with a 40-yard average from last season with a long of 61.
WR/DB/KR A’Jae Boyd (Pittsburg)
5-10, 175, Jr.
As a sophomore, Boyd led the team last season with 50 receptions for 691 yards and eight touchdowns and was named to the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Sophomore Team. He also added 219 yards returning kicks and 96 yards returning punts. On defense, Boyd had 39 tackles.
QB/RB/DB Jordan Brookshire (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) 6-2, 205, Sr.
Brookshire, who has an offer from New Mexico and other mid-major interest, looked very solid over the summer and particularly showed well at a June 19 camp at Contra Costa College. He’s bigger, stronger, shows more maturity, and has mproved in every aspect of the game. Last season, Brookshire accounted for 45 TD’s after he passed for over 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,400 yards and 21 more scores.
RB/DB/P/PR Jullen Ison (Moreau Catholic, Hayward) 5-8, 185, Sr.
Some may be scratching their heads wondering how the East Bay Times Offensive Player of the Year is not be a First Team running back after rushing for 3,044 yards and 43 touchdowns, but the bottom line is that other than Najee Harris the powerfully-built Ison may be the most talented player in the NCS. He goes in at MP to not only to open up a spot on offense for someone else, but because Ison could have been the first team punter, and his statistics on defense and special teams were first or second team caliber. As a punter, he had a 42.1 yard average. On defense, Ison had 70 tackles, two sacks and an interception, and as a punt returner he averaged 35 yards per return. He also had 388 yards and two TDs to give him 3,678 all-purpose yards with 45 total scores.
QB/DB Jack Rice (St. Bernard’s, Eureka) 6-2, 205, Sr.
The Humboldt-Del Norte – Little 4 MVP led the Crusaders to their first-ever state championship last year, and did so in impressive fashion. As a sophomore, Rice led the section with 96 catches for 1,711 yards and 20 touchdowns as a receiver. Then he switched to quarterback, running for 1,456 yards and 17 touchdowns while passing for 3,646 yards and 44 scores. For good measure, he added 85 tackles, six pass break-ups, and five fumble recoveries from his safety position.
RB/WR/DB/KR/PR Ronnie Rivers (Freedom, Oakley) 5-8, 170
Rivers followed up an excellent season with an impressive summer that has his stock rising. Last season Rivers was No. 9 overall in the NCS in rushing and No. 4 amongst juniors with 1,584 yards and 23 touchdowns. He caught 18 passes for 295 yards and four TDs and had 397 yards on kick-off returns with one for a score and also returned a few punts. On defense he had one pass interception. If needed, he can even step in as quarterback.
WR/DB/KR Damian Wallace (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) 5-9, 170, Sr.
The two-sport standout (basketball) earned first-team All-North Bay League and All State honors on both sides of the ball, and was a true triple threat for the Cardinals, also returning kicks and punts for scores. A leg injury forced Wallace to miss most of the section title game and the entire basketball season. He’s back healthy and looking good after last year’s 66 catches for 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns with 265 yards rushing and five more scores.
WR/DB Kalei Aukai (Santa Rosa) 6-2, 185, Sr.
TE Joey Berzins (Campolindo, Moraga) 6-3, 235, Sr.
OL Avery Bilensky (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland)
6-3, 295, Sr.
WR Ethan Baker-Greene (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland)
6-0, 185, Sr.
RB Nicolas Calzaretta (Redwood, Larkspur) 6-0, 200, Sr.
DB Isaiah Dunn (Antioch) 6-0, 175, Sr.
WR/DB/KR Dominic Harper (San Leandro) 5-8, 150, Sr.
OL Ryan Fischer (Clayton Valley, Concord) 5-11, 225, Sr.
OL Jason Harmon (Pittsburg) 5-11, 250, Sr.
DB Jevon Holland (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) 6-1, 180, Jr.
RB Austin Jones (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) 5-10, 185, Soph.
DL Iffy Joyner (Pittsburg) 6-1, 250, Sr.
DB/WR Hunter Juarez (Marin Catholic, Kentfield) 6-1, 175, Sr.
DL Tuli Letuligasenoa (De La Salle, Concord) 6-2, 310, Jr.
OL Cory Luciano (Monte Vista, Danville) 6-4, 270, Sr.
RB/DB Dieontae Malan (Hercules) 5-8, 175, Sr.
RB/LB Marshel Martin (St. Patrick St. Vincent, Vallejo) 6-1, 190, Sr.
DE DeAndre Morgan (Concord) 6-4, 228, Sr.
QB Jack Newman (Analy, Sebastopol) 6-0, 180, Sr.
LB Logan Nonies (De La Salle, Concord) 5-7, 180, Sr.
WR/DR/KR Cameron Norfleet (California, San Ramon) 6-1, 185, Sr.
OL/DL/K/QB Jordan Parks (Analy, Sebastopol) 6-1, 220, Sr.
RB Kairee Robinson (De La Salle, Concord) 5-7, 186, Jr.
LB Jackson Smith (Northgate, Walnut Creek) 6-3, 210, Sr.
QB Tim Tague (Miramonte) 6-0,175, Sr.
DL Isaia Taotua (De La Salle, Concord) 5-8, 250, Sr.
OL Devon Taylor (Pittsburg) 6-3, 330, Sr.
DB Richard Therman (Moreau Catholic, Hayward) 6-1, 198, Sr.
LB Chris Toetu’u (California, San Ramon) 5-10, 190, Sr.
LB Rico Tolefree (De Anza, El Sobrante) 6-1, 223, Sr.
RB/LB Spencer Torkelson (Casa Grande, Petaluma) 6-1, 205, Sr.
OL Ryan Vanderwerf (Liberty, Brentwood) 5-11, 270, Sr.
OL/DL Dylan Walsh (Foothill, Pleasanton) 5-11, 230, Sr.
K Jackson Walsh (De La Salle, Concord) 6-0, 170, Jr.
OL/DL Zach Walsh (Foothill, Pleasanton) 6-4, 280, Jr.
QB Jacob Westphal (Campolindo, Moraga) 6-2, 185, Sr.
QB Ben Wooldridge (Foothill, Pleasanton) 6-3, 185, Jr.
DL Tariq Wright (Pittsburg) 6-1, 250, Sr.
K Johan Zetterberg (San Ramon Valley) 6-2, 205, Sr.
Note: These preseason all-section teams are done in the same 30-player format as the annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Football Teams. They are based on a combination of what the players did last season and college recruiting. Not every all-section team will have writeups of every player. Some will have an intro, then lists.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend