Our first five to start the 2016 football season is hugely influenced by previous results because we simply can’t rank Mater Dei of Santa Ana (highest ranked from the state in many national polls) ahead of a St. John Bosco team it has lost to six straight times. That kind of ranking needs to be earned on the field, not handed over in an office. And with six CIF Open Division titles in seven years, De La Salle of Concord also deserves to be No. 1 in the state until it’s proven otherwise in a real game as well.
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(Last year’s record in parentheses)
(Thanks to Stockton office assistant editor Paul Muyskens for numerous contributions)
(A portion of each week’s new rankings will be free content; a portion of it will be Gold Club)
1. DE LA SALLE (CONCORD) 13-1
Why This Ranking: As explained earlier in the summer, to us it doesn’t matter that much that the Spartans only have two starters back from last season’s team that won its sixth CIF state title in seven years and handled the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, Centennial of Corona, in the final game. The coaches, led by head coach Justin Alumbaugh and legendary assistants Terry Eidson and Bob Ladouceur, didn’t go anywhere. As the seventh season of the decade begins, De La Salle also has, in fact, lost just once to a California team and that was by one score to a 2013 team from St. John Bosco that may have been the greatest team in Southern California in the last 30 years.
Top Players: Defensive back Tre’ White (6-1, 180) came up with big plays in several of the Spartans’ biggest games and is the top returnee. Mammoth junior Tuli Letuligasenoa (6-3, 285) didn’t play in the later games, but was a force in the regular season. It also looks like junior Kairee Robinson (5-7, 185) will step up and take over as the lead running back and there may not be much of a drop in production from others who’ve had that role.
First Game/Early Schedule: DLS hosts Amador Valley (Pleasanton) on Friday. The second game vs. No. 21 Serra (San Mateo) will tell more, especially if Serra beats No. 13 St. Mary’s (Stockton) in its first game.
2. CENTENNIAL (CORONA) 14-1
Why This Ranking: Similar to St. John Bosco having to be in front of Mater Dei to start the season, so too should the Huskies be in front of Bosco. They scored 58 points on them, after all, in one half during last December’s epic CIF Southern Section Pac-5 title game and it also was their second straight win over the Braves in a title game. Head coach Matt Logan’s squad also is taking on a huge challenge on Sept. 3 with its matchup against insanely talented IMG Academy of Florida. We have not heard of anything, but we wouldn’t be surprised if California teams are eventually banned from playing IMG in football much like they are banned from playing Findlay Prep of Nevada in boys basketball.
Top Players: The Huskies just lost expected transfer receiver Tyjon Lindsey, who is going to play for Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) this season, the same school he attended last year. Even without him and others such as graduated RB J.J. Taylor and QB Anthony Catalano, Centennial will just reload behind junior RB Tanner McKee, senior RB Miles Reed and DB Reggie Whitfield (six interceptions). Two other big-time juniors to watch are WR Manual Allen and OL Solo Vaipulu (6-3, 290).
First Game/Early Schedule: Centennial starts at home on Saturday against Chandler of Arizona. The IMG matchup follows the next Saturday.
3. ST. JOHN BOSCO (BELLFLOWER) 13-1
Why This Ranking: Six straight wins over Mater Dei plus six returning starters on both sides of the ball ensures that the Braves should be in front of the Monarchs to start the season. They still have work to do on defense, however, to get back to the level they were at in 2013. And with Bosco playing Bishop Gorman early on and with Centennial playing IMG Academy, the order at the top of the rankings will be determined quickly.
Top Players: There are some significant graduation losses, especially at the running back position where Sean McGrew is gone and is now at Washington. New QB Re-al Mitchell, however, shouldn’t be a drop at all from graduated Quentin Davis. Mitchell moved the ball well after Davis was hurt in the loss to Centennial and has sprinter’s speed. The offensive line is again massive and led by Wyatt Davis (6-5, 310), recently committed to Ohio State and one of the best in the nation. Jaiden Woodbey (6-1, 195) also has transferred in from Upland into the secondary and should be one of the best DBs in the state.
First Game/Early Schedule: Head coach Jason Negro’s team is going to Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati this weekend to play St. Xavier in one of the ESPN kickoff games. The Braves play at Bishop Gorman on Sept. 9 and host St. Mary’s of Stockton on Sept. 23.
4. MATER DEI (SANTA ANA) 10-3
Why This Ranking: We’re by ourselves it seems in not ranking Mater Dei No. 1 in the state, but everyone else is looking at the recruiting rankings of players, summer passing tournaments and counting returning starters. That’s okay and good for the Monarchs, but they’ve never even sniffed a CIF state bowl game yet, they’ve lost six times in a row to St. John Bosco and in our system they have to earn it on the field in actual games (not in shorts) before a No. 1 ranking is granted. They certainly have a path in front of them to do exactly that and we think we have a pretty good idea of which team head coach Bruce Rollinson would like to play if his team does get to the CIF Open Division state final.
Top Players: J.T. Daniels (6-3, 200) may be the top sophomore quarterback in the country and comes back after throwing for 3,042 yards and 33 TDs with just three interceptions as a freshman. Receivers Osiris St. Brown and Amon-Ra St. Brown give Daniels two great targets while he’ll be protected by junior standout Tommy Brown (6-7, 325). The defensive secondary also is off-the-charts with Jalen Cole, Quentin Lake and Xavier Bell all getting big-time college attention.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Monarchs have had trouble in recent years against Bishop Amat of La Puente, but are strong favorites when the two play on Friday in La Puente. The rest of the early schedule, in comparison to St. John Bosco, Centennial and De La Salle, actually isn’t that great, either. We know they’ll play Bosco in the Trinity League and none of the other Trinity League games will be cakewalks, either.
5. MISSION VIEJO 16-0
Why This Ranking: Head coach Bob Johnson’s squad counts 15 returning starters and will be ready to play in the new CIF Southern Section Division I bracket. Last year’s team won the West Valley Division title for the second straight year, then won the CIF Division I-AA state title in a romp over San Jose Bellarmine. The Diablos also are taking the state’s longest current win streak of 28 games into this season.
Top Players: Antioch superstar Najee Harris wasn’t the only junior to be a finalist for the Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year honor. The Diablos’ Colin Schooler, who shined at linebacker and at running back, especially down the stretch, also got a nod. Also among the returnees are junior Olaijah Griffin, a defensive back who was our No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2018 Hot 100 player rankings, and junior receiver Austin Osborne.
First Game/Early Schedule: Mission Viejo’s first four games will be at home, including Friday’s opener vs. Santa Margarita. The Diablos are hosting this year’s Honor Bowl, but should be big favorites in their game against Oak Hills of Hesperia.
6. VISTA MURRIETA (MURRIETA) 12-2
Why This Ranking: While the Broncos will have a new head coach with David Olson taking over for Coley Candaele, they return nine starters and will include players from a JV team that went undefeated last season. Candaele is still around as the school’s athletic director so that transition should be very smooth. We were at the CIFSS West Valley Division title game loss to Mission Viejo and made notes about a number of underclass players.
Top Players: QB Karson Greeley is back for his senior year after passing for 2,346 yards and 25 touchdowns while leading rusher Cole Dubots, a lightning fast track sprinter, also returns. Vista Murrieta also will count on junior Khalil Shakir, who caught 46 passes for 914 yards and 10 touchdowns, and highly recruited DL Chuck Filiaga (6-6, 315). Sophomore DE Keyon Ware-Hudson, junior DB/WR Elisha Guidry and senior DL Kevin Hicks also should make an impact this season.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Broncos are facing one of the top teams from the CIF San Diego Section, Madison of San Diego, in their home opener on Friday. JSerra of San Juan Capistrano may be the next toughest foe before Southwestern League play starts.
7. NARBONNE (HARBOR CITY) 14-2
Why This Ranking: Coming off their first state championship in program history, which came in Division I-A, the Gaucho defense should have them once again tough to beat. In fact, they return their entire front seven from last season. On offense, there are some question marks as there are just four starters back with just one offensive starter back on the offensive line and a new quarterback under center.
Top Players: Senior DE/DT Dominic Peterson, senior DB Justin Prince and junior LB Raymond Scott are among the key returning players on the defensive side of the ball. When filling in under center for Roman Ale, junior Jalen Chatman did pass for 699 yards and was the team’s fourth leading rusher last season. Senior Kameron Denmark also had some breakout games as a junior and finished with 898 rushing yards along with 14 touchdowns.
First Game/Early Schedule: Head coach Manny Douglas’ squad will play Serra of Gardena at home on Friday to kick off the season. The Gauchos then get Long Beach Poly in week two.
8. FOLSOM 14-1
Why This Ranking: Much like De La Salle in the CIF North Coast Section, the Bulldogs have become the team to beat on a yearly basis in the CIF Sac Joaquin Section and simply deserve to be in front of anybody else in the section until results on the field prove differently. In its case, Folsom has gone 50-0 in the SJS since 2011. According to the Sacramento Bee, there are only four returning starters, but that is still three more than last year when Folsom still went 14-0 before losing in the CIF Division I-AA NorCal final to Bellarmine.
Top Players: Seniors Drake Stallworh and Eric Davis will be key players on both sides of the ball as wide receivers and in the secondary while senior linebacker Ariel Ngata is committed to Washington and can play on both sides of the ball along the line. Brad Jenner returns on defense as well. He led the team last year in tackles.
First Game/Early Schedule: The blue turf at Prairie City Stadium will get use on Friday in the first game vs. Couer d’Alene of Idaho. Jesuit of Carmichael will then be the foe in Week 2.
9. HELIX (LA MESA) 11-2
Why This Ranking: The departure of former head coach Troy Starr may hurt some and so will the loss of breakaway threat Nathan Stinson at running back, but most in San Diego still think the Highlanders have basically replenished themselves everywhere else and deserve to be No. 1 in the section until they lose.
Top Players: While Helix has been known mostly for offense in recent years, the defense should be the mainstay this season. New head coach Robbie Owens has three of the top defenders in San Diego with LB Zeke Noa, DL Blayke Taeatafa-De La Rosa (5-11, 280) and DB Scottie Young. The offense is expected to be led by QB Carson Baker. In passing leagues and tournaments, the Highlanders went 34-1.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Highlanders are opening up against an out-of-state foe once again when they play Timpview of Provo, Utah on Saturday. We like it even more, however, that their second game will be against Clayton Valley of Concord as part of the Honor Bowl held at Mission Viejo.
10. CLAYTON VALLEY (CONCORD) 13-2
Why This Ranking: This should be an even stronger team than the one that gave Folsom such a close game last year, then lost to Narbonne in the CIF Division I-A state final. Head coach Tim Murphy has 14 returning starters (nine on defense) and says it’s “the best group I’ve had in my five years.” We also like it that the Uglies are playing No. 9 Helix in their second game and with the new CIF North Coast Section Open Division it will now be possible for Clayton Valley to play De La Salle in the postseason.
First Game/Early Schedule: Before heading down to Mission Viejo for the Honor Bowl to play Helix, Clayton Valley is hosting Reed of Sparks, Nev. on Friday.
11. OAKS CHRISTIAN (WESTLAKE VILLAGE) 11-1
Why This Ranking: We’re matching the L.A. Daily News’ preseason pecking order with the Lions on top and then Chaminade of West Hills in second. The L.A. Times actually has Chaminade much higher, but the two are playing each other this week in their first game so we’re going with them right next to each other.
Top Players: Head coach Jim Benkert, in his second season at Oaks Christian after a long stint at nearby Westlake, has a wealth of top juniors and will have 12 sophomores on the varsity. Junior QB Matt Corral is committed to USC and is one of the top juniors in the nation. Junior LB Bo Calvert also has said he’s going to USC as well. Oaks Christian’s top senior is tight end Colby Parkinson (6-7, 230), who is headed to Stanford.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Lions will be in the Honor Bowl once again this year after they play Chaminade at home on Friday. Their opponent at Mission Viejo in two weeks will be St. Joseph’s Prep of Philadelphia.
12. CHAMINADE (WEST HILLS) 7-4
Why This Ranking: Head coach Ed Croson listed eight back on offense plus six on defense. Especially with transfer QB Brevin White checking in to go with others such as RB T.J. Pledger and WR Michael Wilson, it’s easy to see why anyone would rank the Eagles among the best in the state. They get to prove it right away too with that first game at No. 11 Oaks Christian.
Top Players: White is the younger brother of former Hart QB Brady White (now at Arizona State) and was at Alemany (Mission Hills) last year. Pledger was one of the top sophomores in the state. They, along with Wilson, DT Mykee Irving and WR/DB Isaiah Richardson are all getting a bunch of D1 college offers.
First Game/Early Schedule: After they play Oaks Christian this weekend, the Eagles will line up against No. 41 St. Bonaventure of Ventura, and then get Valencia and Bakersfield.