This group of teams starting at No. 13 is led off by St. Mary’s of Stockton, which is loaded with returning players, but 2016 CIF Division II-A titlist Del Oro of Loomis is right behind. This group down to No. 25 also includes our top preseason top picks for the CIF Central Coast Section and CIF Central Section.
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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; a portion of it will be Gold Club)
13. ST. MARY’S (STOCKTON) 10-3
Why This Ranking: Despite not capturing a state championship like Del Oro of Loomis, the Rams start the season as the No. 2 team from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section with seven starters back on both sides of the ball and gave Folsom a much closer game last year compared to the Golden Eagles. Del Oro lost to Folsom 31-0 in the regular season. St. Mary’s lost to Folsom in the SJS D1 semifinals 56-49.
Top Players: Senior QB Jake Dunniway passed for 2,584 yards and 26 touchdowns last season while both of his leading receivers, Dewey Cotton and Keaton Hampton, will also be back for their senior years. Both also had seasons of over 900 yards receiving. Senior lineman Popo Aumavae (6-4, 300) also is one of the top returning linemen in the state and will be a force on both sides of the ball.
First Game/Early Schedule: Head coach Tony Franks’ squad gets a strong test immediately with a trip on Saturday to play No. 21 Serra of San Mateo. The Rams also are traveling to play St. John Bosco this season.
14. DEL ORO (LOOMIS) 10-6
Why This Ranking: Many have the Golden Eagles as the top team from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section to start the season, but as explained earlier we don’t hand out top rankings in the office. The top SJS team simply has to be Folsom until that changes on the field. Head coach Casey Taylor is pumped with seven three-year starters and knows his guys get to play Folsom at home this year in the Sierra Foothill League.
Top Players: WR/DB Mason Hurst will fill the role that Trey Udoffia had last season for the Golden Eagles as a clutch receiver and hard-hitting secondary player. Stone Smartt also returns at QB with more than 2,000 yards in the air while RB Dalton Gee should be a force once again as well. On defense, Ray Thomas should be another honors candidate. He can get to the quarterback from his defensive end position and help stop the run.
First Game/Early Schedule: Del Oro hosts St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs on Friday, then will get defending CIF Northern Section D1-D2 champ Pleasant Valley of Chico at home as well the following week.
15. LUTHERAN (ORANGE) 6-6
Why This Ranking: Despite going just 6-6 last season, the Lancers are ranked inside the top 20 to start the season since they were also ranked high by the L.A. Times and OC Varsity with 11 starters returning for yet another tough schedule-filled season. Before they play in Trinity League action, they will play multiple preseason top 50 ranked teams including La Mirada and Centennial of Corona.
Top Players: While OLu loses its starting quarterback from last season it will have two big weapons back on offense as senior Dominik Austin rushed for 1,016 yards and 11 touchdowns while senior Austin Liles was the leading receiver last season and led the team in interceptions. DB Brandon McKinney also contributed on offense last season while leading the Lancers in tackles.
First Game/Early Schedule: Head coach Chuck Petersen’s club starts Friday against La Mirada. In addition to Centennial, the Lancers also are playing Mullen of Denver, Colo. We wonder if they’d ever consider Valor Christian of Colorado, which is partly run by a lot of former Orange Lutheran coaches.
16. ANTIOCH 11-1
Why This Ranking: How good the Panthers might be this season probably depends on if they can force teams to at least respect the passing game and not have 11 men in the box to stop elite running back Najee Harris after he rushed for over 2,700 yards and 36 touchdowns last season and was named as our Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year. With 11 total returning starters, Antioch also will be physical on both sides of the ball.
Top Players: Harris will be the one that gets the majority of the attention as you’d expect, but senior Justin Kennard is one of the ones who will be looking to create the holes. Senior DB/WR Isaiah Dunn also is back after leading the defense with three interceptions.
First Game/Early Schedule: Lincoln of Stockton, which is debuting a new offense and new head coach and is regarded by some as the No. 2 team in the southern part of the Sac-Joaquin Section, comes to town on Friday for the first test. The Panthers hope to be 3-0 when they play No. 1 De La Salle in September.
17. ELK GROVE 13-1
Why This Ranking: While the Thundering Herd lose Mr. Football State Player of the Year finalist Ryan Robards to graduation, it’s still a more than solid group of returning starters (six on offense, five defense) from a team that lost to Folsom in SJS D1 final but nobody else.
Top Players: Head coach Chris Nixon has the luxury of having Jayden Machado back at QB. He had 22 TD passes and just three interceptions as a junior. He says the running backs in contention to play the most are “young but have lots of speed.” Two WRs getting D1 offers are Gavin Reinwald and Damario McClain. They both play defense as well. Four-year varsity performer Jake Belleci is the top returnee on defense at LB while Jon Pochop will be a three-year starter in the offensive line.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Thundering Herd have an intriguing matchup Friday at No. 49 Inderkum of Sacramento, which has one of the most talented teams in the SJS but is looking for a win against a top-level opponent.
18. LONG BEACH POLY (LONG BEACH) 8-2*
Why This Ranking: This is actually a little low by Poly standards, but the Jackrabbits have enough returning standouts, including a quarterback, and play a tough enough schedule that warrants a top 20 slotting.
Top Players: Head coach Antonio Pierce probably won’t have to mess around with quarterbacks this season with senior Nolan McDonald returning. McDonald’s younger brother, Camren, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound tight end/defensive end, is perhaps even more of a force. Another playmaker from last year who was hard to miss was running back/kick returner Aaron Shampklin. On defense, Pierce can build around two big-time college prospects: DB Josh Talbott and LB Joshua Brown.
First Game/Early Schedule: The first game vs. Los Alamitos this week was supposed to be the Vet Bowl since both the Jackrabbits and Griffins play home games at Long Beach Veterans Stadium. That matchup instead will be at Cerritos College. Poly then gets to play Narbonne of Harbor City and Mission Viejo in another very tough non-league schedule.
19. SERRA (GARDENA) 9-3
Why This Ranking: Under the radar for the Cavaliers is still top 20 in the state, but for them considering some recent seasons this is indeed being under the radar. And even though Serra has already lost this season, a 35-20 defeat last weekend to Saguaro of Arizona, they project to No. 2 in the Mission League (trailing only Chaminade) and to No. 2 in the South Bay (trailing only Narbonne, the team they play this week).
Top Players: If Jalani Eason emerges at quarterback, he’ll certainly have some great players to throw to. Leading that group is junior Kobe Smith, one of the top sophomore athletes (grid-hoop) in the state last year. Junior John Jackson III is another receiver to watch. On defense, we really like the tandem linebackers of Tysyn Parker and junior Merlin Robertson. Both of them are getting multiple college offers.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Cavs won’t have a bye until later in September. They play St. Joseph Regional of Montvale, N.J., in two weeks at the Honor Bowl after facing Narbonne on Friday.
20. ST. FRANCIS (MOUNTAIN VIEW) 12-2
Why This Ranking: Coming off of a CIF Division II-A state bowl game appearance, we decided to go with the Lancers as the preseason top team from the CIF Central Coast Section in what looks like a fairly wide open year with no big favorite. Four Lancers were named to our preseason All-CCS first team and that does not include junior quarterback Reed Vettel, who is coming off an impressive summer of performances at camps and combines.
Top Players: Washington State-bound senior Cyrus Habibi-Likio is one of the top running backs in the Bay Area and will have BYU-committed junior Tyler Manoa opening up holes following a season that saw over two thirds of the offense come on the ground. Opponents also should be challenged when trying to pass the ball against the St. Francis defense. A pair of senior defensive backs, Patrick Calcagno and Bennett Williams, both were named to our preseason All-CCS first team.
First Game/Early Schedule: The dates may change, but St. Francis’ opening-game against Oak Grove of San Jose will go on once again with this Friday’s matchup in Mountain View. The Lancers also have a tough early matchup vs. Palma of Salinas.
21. SERRA (SAN MATEO) 6-4
Why This Ranking: It’s the usual reasons to put the Padres this high. First, they’ll be one of the best in the CCS. Second, their early schedule practically demands they get benefit of the doubt with matchups vs. No. 13 St. Mary’s (Stockton) and No. 1 De La Salle.
Top Players: If there was a preseason Player of the Year pick for the CCS, then Serra’s Leki Nunn might be it. He led the rugged West Catholic Athletic League last season in both rushing and passing and will direct a spread offense from the QB position. He was the WCAL Player of the Year. Head coach Patrick Walsh does need to rebuild both lines with only two returning starters. One to watch is 6-foot-4, 360-pound junior Nio Mafi. T.C. “Beastie” Tovulo is moving from strong safety to lineback to anchor the defense and also will play fullback on offense.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Padres host No. 13 St. Mary’s (Stockton) on Saturday afternoon in San Mateo. Their second game will be against preseason No. 1 De La Salle.
22. RIDGEVIEW (BAKERSFIELD) 13-1
Why This Ranking: Preseason rankings in the CIF Central Section have been all over the map, from Hanford in one place to Central of Fresno in another. Ridgeview has won three section titles in four years and clearly was the top overall team in the section last season. We’ll just stick with the Wolfpack until someone else perhaps emerges.
Top Players: Head coach Dennis Manning and staff will have huge holes to fill at quarterback and running back, but are solid elsewhere and have both Jamar Moya and Jaleyn Prevost primed to have big seasons. Sophomore Keonte Glinton also may come through as a big-time performer at quarterback. Up front, especially on defense, watch out for DL Ricky Leung-Wai, who blocked two punts in the CIF SoCal playoff game vs. Narbonne.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Wolfpack get going Friday at home vs. Stockdale of Bakersfield. They then play Liberty in week two in a matchup of last year’s top two teams in the section. Why not wouldn’t the winner of that game then be considered No. 1 in the section?
23. CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC (SAN DIEGO) 7-5
Why This Ranking: The Dons have often been stingy on defense in recent years and this year they could be more explosive on offense. They had support to be the preseason No. 1 from San Diego, but we went with them at No. 2 behind Helix and in front of Madison and arch-rival St. Augustine.
Top Players: QB Tate Haynes will be back to be the No. 1 QB once again but is even better on defense. He also plays in the secondary and has a commitment to Boston College. The team’s top prospect may be DB/RB/WR Jordan Genmark-Heath, who has Pac-12 offers. TE Patrick Brown (also going to Boston College) along with RB Adam Eastwood are returning as well.
First Game/Early Schedule: Head coach Sean Doyle’s squad begins Friday at home against Damonte Ranch of Reno. After that, the Dons play No. 36 Central Catholic of Modesto at the Honor Bowl.
24. MURRIETA VALLEY (MURRIETA) 9-3
Why This Ranking: Despite having a freshman quarterback last season, the Nighthawks still managed to go 9-3 on the year and expectations are that this season will be much better. Ten starters return with seven of those coming on the offensive side of the ball.
Top Players: Sophomore quarterback Hank Bachmeier will have two of his top threats back this season with junior Marquis Spiker and senior Maurice Bell which might be counted on even more this season. Bachmeier passed for 2,854 yards and 36 touchdowns last year as a freshman. Senior LB Alex Schweizer is one of just a few returning starters on defense but he led the team with 103 total tackles last season.
First Game/Early Schedule: The biggest game for head coach George Wilson’s team will be on Sept. 23 vs. preseason No. 11 Oaks Christian. The Nighthawks open on Friday at Corona Santiago.
25. MONTE VISTA (DANVILLE) 7-4
Why This Ranking: Getting back to their winning ways last season, the Mustangs look for much more this season led by senior Washington-bound quarterback Jake Haener, who is coming off a junior year that saw him pass for 3,005 yards and 35 touchdowns. Last season’s young defense also saw three players record at least three sacks and all three will be back for their senior year.
Top Players: Haener will have his work cut out for him to put up numbers this season like last season as he loses the top five wide receivers from last year but he will have running back Shane Perry lined up behind him after the senior rushed for a second best 389 yards and nine touchdowns last year. TE Erik Krommenhoek, however, is back and the USC-bound player is one of the top TEs in California. Senior LB/C Nate Landman also was huge on both sides of the ball and finished with a team-best six sacks.
First Game/Early Schedule: The Mustangs start on Friday at home against Deer Valley of Antioch. They’ll go right into East Bay Athletic League competition after that and the first EBAL game will be against defending champion Foothill of Pleasanton.