There are six players who will be taken under serious consideration to be the 2016 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year, including last year’s winner Najee Harris of Antioch. All six also will be entered into a head-to-head bracket-style fan vote on our Twitter page. Winner to be announced in approximately two weeks.
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Congratulations to the following six players who have been chosen as finalists for the 2016 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 second time, we are including a fan vote as part of the overall selection process. All players will be part of a bracket-style, head-to-head vote on our Twitter page.
(All players listed in alphabetical order)
J.T. Daniels (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) Soph.
Setting all sorts of records, Daniels had the Monarchs two wins away from being the No. 1 team in the state and potentially the nation. He also was recently named the Gatorade State Player of the Year (which is determined before the season is over). Just a sophomore, Daniels passed for 4,849 yards and 67 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He also has already passed for 7,891 yards and 100 touchdowns through his first two years in high school. Throwing at least five touchdown passes in 11 of Mater Dei’s 14 games, he had a season-high seven touchdown passes in a win over Santa Margarita of Rancho Santa Margarita and his season-high 459 passing yards came during a win over JSerra Catholic of San Juan Capistrano. The last sophomore to capture our Mr. Football State Player of the Year honor was back in 1986 when Russell White from Crespi of Encino was selected.
Wyatt Davis (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) Sr.
On a team in which running backs Terrence Beasley and Demetrius Flowers both broke loose for big gains in big games or quarterback Re-al Mitchell was able to pass effectively, the major constant was the big fella up front. Davis drew raves from many on press row for his play when the Braves topped Mater Dei of Santa Ana 42-28 in the CIFSS D1 final. He was switching from one guard position on one side of the line to the other and showed dominance and finesse at the same time. The last time a lineman was the top player of the year candidate from a No. 1 team in the state was Derek Landri of De La Salle in 2001 and he was the one who ended up State POY as well. You have to go back possibly to 1978 for someone similar, Don Mosebar of Visalia Mt. Whitney, but Mosebar couldn’t be State POY that year due to some QB at Granada Hills named John Elway. Davis has committed to Ohio State and is generally in the top 10 of many national recruiting lists.
Tristan Gebbia (Calabasas) Sr.
Putting the final touches on a three-year span that saw him pass for 13,109 yards and 141 touchdowns, this Nebraska committed senior had his best season during his senior year. Gebbia passed for 5,338 yards and 61 touchdowns this season. He also had his best season rushing the football as he rushed for 293 yards and 10 touchdowns to finish his high school career with 542 rushing yards and 20 touchdown runs. Gebbia’s biggest game of the season came in his final outing as he passed for 585 yards and seven touchdowns during a 60-53 overtime loss to Madison of San Diego that ended Calabasas’ undefeated season one win shy of a trip to the CIF D2-AA state championship game in Sacramento. Two years ago, Calabasas senior Darnay Holmes was State Sophomore of the Year at Newbury Park. We obviously couldn’t see a way to list two Calabasas finalists, but Holmes is generally higher-ranked by the recruiting services. Gebbia just had a monster season, becoming the first QB in Southern California history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season.
Najee Harris (Antioch) Jr.
Our Mr. Football State Player of the Year for 2015 as a junior, Najee also is perhaps the No. 1 recruit in the nation depending on which recruiting service you like most. Harris actually rushed for more yards this season, finishing with 2,776 yards and 34 touchdowns while catching 15 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Playing in one extra game this season and getting 48 extra carries, he rushed for 32 yards more this season to finish his high school career with 7,948 rushing yards, 94 rushing touchdowns and 99 total touchdowns. Also playing on defense, he had 28 total tackles, two sacks and recorded his first two interceptions of his career. Committed to Alabama, he is looking to become the first player in the modern era to capture the Mr. Football State Player of the Year honor in back-to-back seasons.
Jaelan Phillips (Redlands East Valley, Redlands) Sr.
It was indeed a priority to look for primarily a defensive player to be a finalist and Phillips became the one we settled on. He’s generally viewed as the No. 2 recruit in the state behind Najee Harris of Antioch, although former Student Sports colleague and Scout.com analyst Greg Biggins says Phillips is the best player in the state he’s evaluated this season. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end also was fantastic for the Wildcats. He finished with 142 tackles and 21 sacks, including six in one game. Phillips also returned an interception for a score, returned a punt for a score and had a blocked field goal. He’s committed to UCLA.
Ronnie Rivers (Freedom, Oakley) Sr.
If Najee Harris is a finalist, then the running back from the same Bay Valley Athletic League as the Antioch standout who legitimately earned player of the year honors in that league also has to be in the running. And when Freedom topped Antioch in a 65-28 shootout, it was Rivers who rampaged for a season-high 389 yards and scored seven touchdowns. For the season, some of Rivers’ final totals still need to be reported, but he had more than 2,300 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns. Rivers also could return kicks — we saw two kickoff return TDs he had against Pittsburg and Stockton St. Mary’s, respectively — and he caught passes out of the backfield. He recently committed to Fresno State where his dad, Ron Rivers, once set the school career rushing record. Ron Rivers Sr. later played in the NFL.
FAN VOTE ON TWITTER
Starting on Wednesday, Dec. 21, the brackets we’re setting up for a Mr. Football State Player of the Year fan vote are as follows:
J.T. Daniels (Mater Dei)
VS. Jaelan Phillips (Redlands East Valley)
Ronnie Rivers (Freedom, Oakley)
VS. Wyatt Davis (St. John Bosco)
Najee Harris (Antioch)
VS. Tristan Gebbia (Calabasas)
Three players will be eliminated in the fan voting after the first round. The three winners will then square off in another fan vote that will last two days.
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 email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports