With players and coaches in the second week of a three-week dead period before they get started practicing officially for the 2017 football season, we’ll kick-start more of our statewide preview with 10 key questions that have piqued our curiosity the most. Go inside for first indications about preseason rankings of top teams, impact of coaching changes and key transfers, which state records may be in jeopardy the most, coaching milestones and whether there may be changes as to how this website is going to cover the state.
Note: We hope you enjoy this free story on CalHiSports.com. Preseason state rankings and a preseason all-state team will be free, but all of our preseason CIF section or preseason All-Area teams will be for Gold Club members only this year. And during the season, all weekly ranking updates will be Gold Club. The preseason is always one of the best times to get started for our Gold Club and our rates are remaining the same at less than $25 for one year or $9.99 for three months. For details, CLICK HERE.
1. WHICH TEAM WILL BE NO. 4 IN
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO START THE SEASON?
Notice we didn’t say No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 because like last year the triumvirate of St. John Bosco, Mater Dei and Corona Centennial figures to be far superior to any others. Mater Dei and Bosco will start out No. 1 and No. 2 in the state (although maybe not in that order) but we don’t agree that the pair will be “by far” better than Centennial. The Huskies only lost to Bosco by one point last season. The real intrigue is trying to come up with the best team from the region to be fourth. With returning QB Jalen Chatman and others, Narbonne of Harbor City is a possibility. Others may be Mission Viejo, Murrieta Valley of Murrieta, Serra of Gardena, Helix of La Mesa and the team that finished fourth last year — Cathedral Catholic of San Diego.
2. COULD THIS FINALLY BE THE YEAR THAT DE LA SALLE DOESN’T
GO TO THE CIF OPEN DIVISION STATE FINAL AS TOP TEAM FROM NORTH?
After last year, when the Spartans needed to stop a two-point conversion to survive an upset bid by San Ramon Valley of Danville in the middle of the regular season but ended up dominating Freedom of Oakley (unbeaten at the time) to win yet another CIF North Coast Section title, the answer is probably not. San Ramon Valley has a lot of returning firepower, but this will be a DLS team that also should be much stronger and similar to the teams it had in 2014 and 2015 that won back-to-back CIF Open Division state titles. Collectively, in fact, it may be the best group of running backs that the Spartans have ever had with returnee Kairee Robinson leading the way. Pittsburg will be another team in the NCS that appears capable of a challenge, but at DLS they know what may possibly await in the CIF state final and they know how much better they’ll have to be in 2017 to even have a chance against whichever team wins in the south.
3. WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST WORRIES ABOUT THE CIF
MOVING UP THE START OF THE SEASON ONE WEEK?
The good news for that is that the season isn’t going to end on the weekend right before Christmas anymore. The worry of course is about practicing more in the hottest month of the year (August), and especially in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south. The best coaches have known this is coming so they’ll be prepared and already have been getting their kids acclimated to hot temperatures in the spring and early summer.
4. WHAT TEAMS SHOULD BE WATCHED FOR MOVING
UP INTO A TOUGHER PLAYOFF DIVISION?
Last year, it was Central Catholic of Modesto in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, which was coming off of four straight CIF state title seasons in lower divisions. This year, there’s nothing like that but San Clemente going up from D2 to D1 in the CIF Southern Section may be a very tough climb. The Tritons topped Del Oro of Loomis last December to win the CIF D1A state crown. It should be easier for Calabasas in the CIFSS even though it is going up from D5 to D2 because of how the Coyotes rolled in that section division last season and because there’s such a difference in the CIFSS from D2 to D1. The real teams to watch are those actually moving down, like Norco from CIFSS D1 to CIFSS D2.
BREAK A STATE RECORD?
Yes, for the first time there’s a girl on this list. But we’ll start with receiver Marquise Spiker from Murrieta Valley of Murrieta. He had 45 career touchdown catches to start the season and needs 21 to tie the career state record of 66 set in 1999 by Earvin Johnson from Cathedral of Los Angeles. Since Murrieta Valley was moved up from D2 to D1 in the CIF Southern Section, however, that could limit the number of playoff games Spiker would possibly get to break that record. Also watch for kicker Emma White from Rancho Christian of Temecula. Forget about the girl kicker angle. She’s been putting through PATs and kicking field goals for Rancho Christian since she was a freshman and starts the season with 208 career kicking points. If her team plays 16 games once again, she’ll be in line to surpass 300 career kicking points and would be threatening the reported state record of 304 set last season by Manny Berz from Citrus Hill of Perris. A lot more career and season records figure to be surpassed in the future since there are more teams than ever now getting a chance to play 16-game seasons. Mater Dei QB J.T. Daniels could put up more massive totals, but he’s still a junior. The key for him is to see if he can maintain a pace so that when he’s a senior may get him to the career passing records that were set in 2014 by Folsom’s Jake Browning that at the time seemed untouchable.
6. WHO WILL BE THE BIGGEST IMPACT
TRANSFERS FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON?
All-State Underclass running back T.J. Pledger leaving Chaminade of West Hills for IMG Academy of Florida probably cost the Eagles a few preseason ranking slots, but they should still be one of the best. Long Beach Poly is adding QB Matt Corral from Oaks Christian of Westlake Village plus big-time recruit receiver Jalen Hall from Hawkins of Los Angeles and that makes the Jackrabbits quite intriguing. They still haven’t won a CIFSS D1 playoff game in a few years and will need to prove how good they are in actual games before anyone should go too crazy about them. Also, watch out for Helix of La Mesa in the San Diego Section. The Highlanders already were tabbed by some down there as the team to beat this season and that was before one of the nation’s top DBs, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, transferred in from St. Augustine.
7. WHERE WILL COACHING CHANGES
HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT?
Top coaches always retire or move on, but there have been a lot more than usual since the end of the 2016 season in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. At Del Oro, Casey Taylor left after a 15-year run that included a 2014 CIF state title and is now at Capital Christian (Sacramento). At Elk Grove, Chris Nixon was forced out after a reported unauthorized football building was constructed and he has since been replaced by Sacramento Burbank’s John Heffernan. And at Christian Brothers of Sacramento, local legend Dan Carmazzi (more known perhaps for the years he was at Jesuit) has retired. St. Mary’s of Stockton (which won last year’s SJS D1 title) also almost lost its coach, but Tony Franks ended up not taking a small college head coaching job in Oregon.
8. WHAT COACHING MILESTONE WINS
SHOULD PEOPLE BE LOOKING FOR?
It’s only going to take one more win for Oxnard’s Jon Mack to join the club in the state record book at 200 or more. Mack gained most of his wins at St. Bonaventure of Ventura in the 2000s and then coached at Crespi of Encino before going to a junior college. He came back to coach at the high school level last season. Also, watch for Kevin Rooney (Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks) getting his 300th win. Rooney starts the 2017 season at ND with 295.
9. IS THERE GOING TO BE AN IMPACT WITH
THE EARLY SIGNING DAY FOR THE CLASS OF 2018?
For those planning to graduate after the 2017 season and then head to their colleges to get started early in Janurary, the December 20-22 signing dates will be beneficial. For those who aren’t sure yet and want to take their full allotment of trips and not take them all during the actual season, then it won’t matter much. Those players will probably still sign in February. It may be more interesting to see how all of the major recruiting service media companies handle it all. Signing day in February, after all, may not be quite the huge day that it has been in the past.
10. WILL THERE BE ANY CHANGES TO CALHISPORTS.COM
FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON AND SCHOOL YEAR?
Since the business has become more suited for subscriptions (Gold Club) than advertising, there will be a higher percentage of Gold Club items posted on the site than in the past. The previous State Stat Stars of the Week feature, for example, which was free, is being altered this year to a prep column that will include some top stat stars plus state record updates and more and that column will be Gold Club. All all-state teams (after the first 30 players) also will now be Gold Club, but we are exploring the possibility of offering signups for one week or shorter. That would allow people basically to sign up so they can print out all of the final rankings, honors teams, etc. and not have to get the content for a longer period of time. Those parents with graduating seniors would obviously be the ones targeted for that. We’re also still sure that we’ll have a statewide focus and perspective in all sports we cover (including football) that won’t exist anywhere else.