All-State Football: First Team

Repeat honorees for the 2016 All-State Football First Team Overall are running back Najee Harris (left) of Antioch and linebacker Colin Schooler of Mission Viejo. Photos: Phillip Walton/SportStars & SoCalSidelines.com.


The 38th annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Football Teams are topped by these 30 players, selected regardless of school size or year in school. Five players have earned rare back-to-back all-state first team honors, led by Mr. Football State Player of the Year Wyatt Davis (St. John Bosco) and national No. 1 recruit Najee Harris (Antioch). Three from this year will have a chance to repeat next season and one from this year could actually be a three-time all-state first team choice.

Note: If you want to see more exclusive all-state football content, such as our archives of every all-state team that’s been selected, a list of some of the top freshmen players who were nominated in this cycle and for additional state record updates, that will all be for members of our Gold Club only. To see how you can sign up, CLICK HERE.

For the Gold Club Post of the All-Time All-State Football Archives (every first or second team from the Cal-Hi Sports files) since 1979, CLICK HERE.

RELATED All-State Football Content: All-State Overall 2nd, 3rd Teams | All State Medium Schools All-State Small SchoolsAll-State JuniorsAll-State Sophomores

Note: Thanks to Paul Muyskens for doing most of the writeups; thanks to Ronnie Flores & Harold Abend for input about some of the players throughout the season. We also still have more all-state football picks to do with third annual All-State All-Academic teams.

FIRST TEAM
SUPER ELITE OFFENSE

WR – Marquis Spiker (Murrieta Valley, Murrieta) 6-1, 190, Jr.
With the Nighthawks reaching their first CIF Southern Section championship game in program history, Spiker caught 90 passes for 1,737 yards and 26 touchdowns. Already named by the Riverside Press-Enterprise as its Offensive Player of the Year, he also has caught 161 catches for 3,166 yards and 45 touchdowns for his career. Both he and all-state sophomore quarterback Hank Bachmeier will have one more year to put up even more gaudy numbers. Spiker had three games of 200 yards or more in receiving.

Aaron Banks played as a freshman on the El Cerrito varsity in both football and hoops. Photo: Willie Eashman.


OL – Aaron Banks (El Cerrito) 6-7, 315, Sr.
With a dominating offensive lineman like Banks, it only made sense that the Gauchos ran the ball early and often with this Notre Dame-bound senior creating holes during their 8-4 season. Showing he has more than just size, he was among those listed as a grid-hooper of distinction last year during our grid-hoop all-state team. In fact, we noticed him on the court before on the field. Like many others on this team, Banks has graduated early and earlier this month enrolled at Notre Dame.

OL – Wyatt Davis (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) 6-4, 315, Sr.
Considered to be one of the best linemen we have ever seen in our 35-plus years of running Cal-Hi Sports, he was named as our 2016 Mr. Football State Player of the Year and thus a guaranteed selection on the first-team all-state squad. Helped by his team ending the season as the No. 1 team in the state, this five-star recruit could potentially see playing time next season at Ohio State with a team that was in contention for a college national championship this season.

OL – Brett Neilon (Santa Margarita, Rancho SM) 6-2, 280, Sr.
Named to the All-Trinity League first team and the All-County team by OCVarsity, he anchored the line as the Eagles averaged 30 points per game while passing and rushing for over 2,000 yards each on the year. Earlier this month, Neilon played in the U.S. Army All-American game. The preseason all-state first team pick committed to USC back in June.

OL – Michael Saffell (Edison, Huntington Beach) 6-3, 290, Sr.
We always like to try to get a true center onto the first team and are able to do just that with Saffell. He was a dominating presence all season and especially in person during Edison’s win vs. La Mirada in the CIFSS Division III championship. The All-Orange County first team choice will play next at Cal.

Alijah Vera-Tucker of Bishop O’Dowd, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive tackle, has committed to USC. Photo: Twitter.com.


OL – Alijah Vera-Tucker (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) 6-4, 280, Sr.
Credited with 62 pancake blocks this season for the Dragons, Vera-Tucker played in the Under Armour all-star game earlier this month in Orlando. Committed to play at USC, he is not only physical but athletic, especially at the tackle position, with great lateral movement and is a big reason the Dragons went 15-1 this season and won the CIF Division 5-AA state championship. His blocking helped the Dragons gain over 5,000 yards this season with over 3,000 of those yards coming from the rushing attack.

QB – J.T. Daniels (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 6-2, 200, Soph.
Leading the Monarchs to a 13-1 record, he was a finalist for our Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the year and an easy selection as our State Sophomore of the Year. This season, Daniel passed for 4,849 yards and 67 touchdowns to increase his career total to 7,891 yards and 100 passing touchdowns with still two seasons of high school football to go. Among his other honors already handed out, Daniels was also named by Gatorade as its state player of the year and offensive player of the year by OC Varsity.

RB – Najee Harris (Antioch) 6-2, 220, Sr.
While he was unable to capture back to back Mr. Football State Player of the Year awards, Najee was a finalist this season after rushing for even more yards than he did during his award-winning junior year. Playing in one extra game this season, he rushed for 2,776 yards and 34 touchdowns to finish his high school career with 7,948 rushing yards, 94 rushing touchdowns and 99 total touchdowns. Also contributing on defense where he made 28 total tackles, two sacks and an interception, the No. 1 recruit in the nation is already enrolled in classes at Alabama.

RB – Eric Melesio (Norte Vista, Riverside) 5-9, 175, Sr.
With one of the best single season performances in state history, Melesio basically gave us no choice but to pick him this high. He rushed for 4,459 yards and 56 touchdowns during his senior season with the Braves. He was just 36 yards short of tying the all-time state record. To say Melesio was their main weapon on offense would be an understatement. He had one game that saw him carry the ball 55 times and another game that saw him turn 43 carries into 563 yards and eight touchdowns. In his final game of the season, an overtime loss to San Gorgonio of San Bernardino in the CIFSS Division 8 championship, he had 265 yards on 55 carries.

RB – Ronnie Rivers (Freedom, Oakley) 5-8. 175, Sr.
Playing in the same league as last year’s Mr. Football State Player of the Year and No. 1 recruit in the nation, Rivers stole the spotlight during league play from Antioch’s Najee Harri,s which included a head to head matchup that saw him rush for a season-best 389 yards and seven touchdowns. A finalist for our Mr. Football State Player of the Year, he rushed for 2,239 yards and 33 touchdowns, caught 13 passes for 205 yards and two scores while also also scoring on two kickoff returns. He is headed to Fresno State where his dad Ron Rivers once set the school career rushing record before heading to the NFL.

RB – C.J. Verdell (Mater Dei Catholic, Chula Vista) 5-10, 195, Sr.
Making it back to back seasons with over 2,000 yards rushing, Verdell rushed for 2,399 yards and 36 touchdowns during his senior season with the Crusaders. Finishing his high school career with 4,855 rushing yards and 64 touchdowns, he also caught 15 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns to finish with 33 career catches for 505 yards and eight scores. Verdell, who has committed to Oregon, already has earned the Silver Pigskin Award and the San Diego Section Player of the Year honor.

PK – Peyton Henry (Monte Vista, Danville) 6-0, 185, Sr.
Although he didn’t get the field goal chances of some others because basically Monte Vista scored too many touchdowns, Henry was the Bay Area Preps first team kicker and will kick in college for Pac 12 champion Washington. He still went 8 of 11 on field goals with a long of 47. Henry also was perfect on PATs (69 of 69) and put 84 of 93 kickoffs through the end zone.

FIRST TEAM
SUPER ELITE DEFENSE

DL – Martin Andrus (Los Angeles) 6-2, 280, Sr.
This was the year that Andrus turned his potential into play-making, dominant play and helped the Romans win the CIF L.A. City Division II title. Andrus racked up an impressive 125 tackles from his interior line position and also charged up the gut to get 16 quarterback sacks. He was even used by head coach Eric Scott as a fullback in short yardage situations. Andrus recently committed to UCLA.

DL – Popo Aumavae (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 6-3, 300, Sr.
While his numbers may not jump out at you, it was largely because of double teams and opponents not wanting to go his way. Aumavae also was just as powerful on offense, blowing open holes and protecting the QB for one of the most prolific offenses in NorCal history. He recorded 39 total tackles and five sacks this season and was named to the Stockton Record first team. He will be headed to play next season at Oregon after committing to the Ducks back in November.

If L.A. Cathedral’s Hunter Echols seems to have mystical powers, it’s because he is a Phantom from Cathedral of Los Angeles. Photo: Mark Tennis.


DL – Hunter Echols (Cathedral, Los Angeles) 6-4, 235, Sr.
While he didn’t match the 17 sacks from last season, Echols did match last year’s tackles total with 79 while making nine sacks in one less game for the Phantoms this season. Before the season, Echols changed his commitment from UCLA to USC and he was named a U.S. Army All-American for his play this season.

DL – Jaelen Phillips (Redlands East Valley, Redlands) 6-5, 230, Sr.
Setting a career-high with 142 tackles and 21 sacks during his senior season, this U.S. Army All-American had one game that saw him rack up an impressive seven sacks. Named by the L.A. Times as its lineman of the year and the Riverside Press Enterprise defensive player of the year, we also already named him as our State Defensive Player of the Year. He has already enrolled and started classes at UCLA.

LB – Josh Brown (Long Beach Poly, Long Beach) 6-2, 220, Sr.
Named by the Long Beach Press Telegram as its defensive player of the year, he had 102 tackles this season to finish his high school career with 339.5 over three seasons with the Jackrabbits. He is only one of two players all time to record over 300 career tackles at Long Beach Poly with William Alo being the other. Recently playing in the USA Football vs. Canada All-Star game, Josh is a verbal to Arizona, which he has remained solid with since before his senior season.

LB – Sampson Niu (Madison, San Diego) 6-1, 225, Sr.
Wearing No. 55 as a salute to the late Junior Seau, Sampson now matches Junior by being a first-team elite overall all-state player. In leading Madison to the CIF Division 2-AA state title, Niu piled up 160 total tackles for the season and had 343 for his career. In addition, Niu had eight sacks. His only interception was a big one as it gave the Warhawks the chance to score a game-tying touchdown in their eventual overtime win against Calabasas in the CIF SoCal D2-AA final.

Linebacker Zeke Noa from Helix of La Mesa was Defensive Player of the Year for the CIF San Diego Section two years in a row. Photo: eastcountysports.com.


LB – Zeke Noa (Helix, La Mesa) 6-0, 220, Sr.
We’ve had Zeke pegged as a top player since seeing him score on a pick six as a sophomore in the Honor Bowl. He’s since gone on to have an elite career for the Highlanders. This season, the two-time All-San Diego Section pick had more than 100 tackles. He also contributed on offense with 640 yards rushing and six TDs and had three TD catches. Noa will play next at Boise State.

LB – Colin Schooler (Mission Viejo) 6-1, 225, Sr.
Before heading to Arizona to play next season, Schooler had a senior season to remember for the Diablos that saw him named by the OC Register as its defensive player of the year. During the season, he finished with 77 total tackles while playing on offense he rushed for a team-best 1,161 yards and 19 touchdowns. Schooler also had 21 receptions for 464 yards and six more scores. It is the second year in a row that he is on our all-state defense first team. Last season, he also was one of just two juniors to be a finalist for Mr. Football State Player of the Year. Mater Dei’s J.T. Daniels was Orange County’s finalist this year.

DB – Thomas Graham (Rancho Cucamonga) 5-11, 170, Sr.
Along with teammate Jaylon Redd (named multi-purpose), Graham helped the Cougars go 12-1 with their only loss coming to then state No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana) in the CIFSS Division I semifinals. Graham, one of the state’s top-ranked college prospects, lived up to that acclaim with 45 tackles on defense plus two interceptions and two fumbles caused. He also caught 29 passes for 490 yards and six TDs and ran back a kickoff for a score. Graham will play next at Oregon.

DB – Elijah Hicks (La Mirada) 6-0, 185, Sr.
In leading the Matadores to the CIFSS Division III title game, Hicks also was the choice by the Whittier Daily News as its Player of the Year. Hicks, who is headed to Cal after switching from Notre Dame, has mostly been known for defense and he was great once again on that side of the ball with five interceptions, including one returned for a TD. On offense, Hicks had 31 catches for 483 yards and five TDs and he also had more than 1,000 yards on kick returns with three brought back for scores.

DB – Darnay Holmes (Calabasas) 5-10, 185, Sr.
Our State Sophomore of the Year from two seasons ago (when he was at Newbury Park) is once again selected as a first-team all-state selection at the defensive back spot. That’s how we handled where to put him last year as well. The U.S. Army All-American has already started classes at UCLA. Playing on offense, defense and special teams, he caught 69 passes for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns, had 30 total tackles and returned two punts back for touchdowns. It’s his cover corner skills that perhaps even stand out the most. In his three years at the varsity level, Holmes ended with a total of 39 receiving touchdowns and 53 total touchdowns and scored a touchdown in all six ways that you can score a touchdown.

P – Manny Berz (Citrus Hill, Perris) 5-10, 185, Sr.
Just like the Riverside Press-Enterprise, we’ve slotted Manny onto the first team as a punter, which is different than where he was last year which was first team kicker. He had to get back on after averaging 43.4 yards per punt and also making 10 of 14 on field goals. Most significantly, Berz upped his career field goal total to 43 and broke the Cal-Hi Sports state record of 42 set in 2011 by Kevin Robledo from Westlake of Westlake Village.

FIRST TEAM
SUPER ELITE MULTI-PURPOSE

QB/RB – Jalen Chatman (Narbonne, Harbor City) 6-1, 180, Jr.
Leading the Gauchos to their fifth L.A. City Section championship in six years, he was named as the L.A. City Player of the Year after passing for 3,926 yards and 52 touchdowns this season. A threat to run with the football as well, he averaged 9.1 yards a carry as he rushed for 622 yards and six touchdowns to have 4,548 yards of total offense on the season. He was also our selection already announced as State Junior of the Year, which was the first time a player from Narbonne has earned that honor while being the first from the L.A. City to earn that honor since Steve Smith from Taft of Woodland Hills in 2001.

QB/RB – Tristan Gebbia (Calabasas) 6-3, 185, Sr.
His team captured a CIFSS championship for the second season in a row as he passed for a state leading 5,338 yards and finished with 13,109 career passing yards, which is good for second best all-time in state history. Throwing 61 touchdown passes this season, Gebbia also showed he could run with the football as he rushed for 293 yards and 10 touchdowns to finish his prep career with 141 career touchdown passes and 13,642 total yards. Already enrolled in classes at Nebraska, he was a Mr. Football State Player of the Year finalist and already was named as our State Medium Schools State Player of the Year.

Mason Hurst of Del Oro has already been named the Sacramento Bee’s Metro Player of the Year. Photo: PlacerSports.com.


WR/DB – Mason Hurst (Del Oro, Loomis) 6-1, 190, Sr.
Another two-way threat who stood out just as much on either side of the ball, this Cal Poly-bound senior was named by the Sacramento Bee as its Player of the Year and also is the NorCal Player of the Year by SportStars. Hurst, who helped the Golden Eagles reach the CIF D1-A state final, caught 78 passes for 1,615 yards and 17 touchdowns on offense while on defense he made 75 tackles with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Playing on special teams as well, Hurst ended the year with 2,092 all-purpose yards to increase his career total to 3,225 yards in 43 games over three years.

QB/RB – Re-Al Mitchell (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) 5-11, 185, Jr.
Showing why he is a threat throwing or running with the football, the Long Beach Press Telegram Offensive Player of the Year led the Braves to CIF Open Division State championship and the No. 1 spot in the final state rankings. Just a junior, he completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,932 yards and 30 touchdowns while also rushing for a second-best 1,058 yards and 15 touchdowns. Just last week, he received an offer from South Carolina and his offers should continue to increase during the offseason.

RB/DB – Jaylon Redd (Rancho Cucamonga) 5-9, 180, Sr.
His play on just one side of the ball was impressive but he was equally impressive on offense and defense and has been selected by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin as its player of the year. Highly recruited because of his play in the secondary as a defensive back, Redd is a soft verbal to Oregon and no matter where he ends up it would not be a surprise if that school finds a way to get him involved on offense as well. This season, he ended up rushing for 1,693 yards and 25 touchdowns while also catching 22 passes for 176 yards and three more scores. He also returned three kicks for scores before teams stopped allowing him to do that anymore.

QB/RB – Jack Sears (San Clemente) 6-3, 205, Sr.
Although we’re sure Jack wishes his own numbers in the CIF D1-A state final vs. Del Oro (Loomis) were better, we’re also sure he doesn’t care because the Tritons won. For the season, however, Sears was stellar. His passing totals almost were the same as his junior year (2,602 yards and 37 TDs) but as a runner he blew up with 1,135 yards and nine TDs. Sears initially committed to Duke, but switched to USC late in the season. That makes sense, of course, since Jack will get in line behind San Clemente’s Sam Darnold in the Trojans’ depth chart.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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11 Comments

  1. Timothy Keith
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Thomas Graham is going to Oregon fwiw.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Fixed. Thanks for catching that one.

  2. Jalen Chatman
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    The Narbonne QB’s name is spelled Jalen Chatman with a “T” not a “P”

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Sorry about that. Fixed now. We obviously spelled it right a bunch of times during season and when we named you State Junior Player of the Year. Congrats on the season you had.

      • monte300
        Posted February 1, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        I’ll be Jalen gets that misspelling a lot

  3. Frank
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Elijah Hicks is not going to notre dame. He flipped his commitment to Cal and is already enrolled in school there.

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