Does it really matter whether Mater Dei or St. John Bosco is No. 1 in the state to start the 2018 season? It’s very likely the two superpowers are going to play twice once again — first in the Trinity League and later in the CIF Southern Section Division I final — with the winner of the second game being heavily favored to win the CIF Open Division state title. We have the Monarchs at the top based on their early season schedule with the Braves right behind. This post also is where to go for teams placed from No. 1 to No. 15.
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(All teams listed with win-loss record from last season)
1. MATER DEI (SANTA ANA) 15-0
CIF Southern Section D1 Champion & CIF Open Division State Champion
Head Coach: Bruce Rollinson
The thought did cross our minds to simply conduct a Twitter poll between the Monarchs and St. John Bosco to see which team would start the season No. 1 in the state. It probably would have gotten some attention and a lot of votes, but it also wouldn’t have been true to our roots of no ties and making a pick and then backing it up with reasons that make the most sense. Mater Dei doesn’t have nearly as many proven big-time players as last year, but the Monarchs are the defending state champs and another difference is early-season schedule. Mater Dei’s games at Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas and at home against IMG Academy of Florida compared to Bosco not having any opponent close to that means that Rollinson’s troops deserve to be No. 1 in the state heading into those games. If they lose in either one, at that point it would make more sense to move the Braves higher.
Many of the players on the roster are just as talented and in some cases could be better than those from last year, but some are coming off of injuries (LB Mase Funa and DL Keyon Ware-Hudson) while others are transfers who’ve yet to play a second in a real game wearing the three-stripes on their red-and-white helmets.
The most impactful transfer was junior QB Bryce Young from Cathedral of Los Angeles, one of the most highly regarded sophomores in the nation, who will be taking over for State Player of the Year and National Player of the Year JT Daniels. Running back Sean Dollars (previously from Rancho Cucamonga) will add more pop but returnee Shakobe Harper (a three-year standout) should continue to get carries. Up front, the line will be huge, led by junior Myles Murao (6-3, 270), but there won’t be Tommy Brown (now at Alabama) anchoring. Look for top national recruit Bru McCoy (6-3, 215) to be more of a force on offense as a receiver, but he literally can play anywhere. The other receivers include Colorado-bound Braedin Huffman-Dixon and tight end Michael Martinez.
On defense, the front seven lost more than the secondary, and the most dominant returnee of the group, All-State Junior Mase Funa, is coming back from a knee injury from last April. Oregon-bound Keyon Ware-Hudson and transfer linebacker Kobah Fuamotu (from La Habra) may make a difference. The secondary should be sensational with Oregon-bound Jeremiah Criddle and junior All-American candidates Elias Ricks and Darion Green-Warren plus others.
And if it’s a close game, the Monarchs have Nicholas Lopez, who is one of the best kickers in the state.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Bishop Amat (La Puente).
2. ST. JOHN BOSCO (BELLFLOWER) 10-3
CIF Southern Section D1 Runner-Up
Head Coach: Jason Negro
The Braves are No. 1 in some national polls ahead of Mater Dei and that’s okay, too. If you’re goal is to use preseason rankings as a prediction of which team you think is going to be the best at the end of the season instead of more as a starting point (which is what we’ve always tended to do), there are more returning standouts from last year at Bosco.
With junior QB D.J. Uigalelei and his 2,733 yards passing (29 TDs) plus 379 yards rushing (4 TDs) from his sophomore season, the offense should be unstoppable. Uigalelei was the State Sophomore Player of the Year and could be the No. 1 junior in the nation. Stanford-bound Colby Bowman, TE Jude Wolfe and RB George Holani are other top returnees. The offensive line has a lot of big, nasty vets as well, including Marist Talavou (6-3, 305) and junior Drake Metcalf (6-3, 265).
USC commit Chris Steele, who is regarded by some as the No. 1 corner in the nation, tops the group on defense. But there’s more, much more than him. LB Cole Aubrey returns with 11.5 sacks while LB Spencer Lytle (a transfer from Servite) and LB Ralen Goforth comprise a threesome that can’t be matched.
It will be a special night when the Braves play their first home since it will mark the debut of a brand new $7.2 million stadium. They’ve come a long way since Negro came on board in 2010, a testament to his vision and to others at the school about what could be done.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Timpview (Provo, Utah).
3. DE LA SALLE (CONCORD) 11-2
CIF North Coast Section D1 Champion & CIF Open Division State Runner-Up
Head Coach: Justin Alumbaugh
Enthusiasm for this year’s team at De La Salle seems to be higher than the last two years not just because of the high number of returning starters but also due to the expected arrival of sophomore QB Dorian Hale as a threat to provide a legitimate passing attack to go along with the team’s usual brilliance in the running game.
Since DLS hasn’t lost to another opponent north of Fresno since a loss to Pittsburg in the 1991 NCS final and has never lost to a team from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, any thoughts of placing loaded Folsom in front of the Spartans to start the season were quickly dispatched. Folsom will have to win that first game in order to be ranked higher.
The defensive front seven potentially could be one of the best that the school has ever had. LB Henry To’oto’o is a national recruit and also will see some time at running back. DE Isaiah Foksey could be similar to when Austin Hooper (now in the NFL) was at DLS dominating as a pass rusher and then collecting receptions on offense. Also back is three-year starter Beau Tagaloa at DT and D1 college prospect Jhasi Wilson at LB.
On offense, junior RB Shamar Garrett could become the featured back much like graduated standout Kyree Robinson was for the last two seasons.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. No. 4 Folsom.
4. FOLSOM 16-0
CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 Champion & CIF D1-AA State Champion
Head Coach: Kris Richardson
Based on the list of those coming back on offense, it’s easy to already start comparing it to the one the Bulldogs had in 2014 when Jake Browning passed for 91 touchdowns and they finished 16-0.
The big difference is that Folsom 2014 didn’t get to play De La Salle (thanks CIF for ending the Open Division regional bowl games one year early) while Folsom 2018 is going to start the season in Concord to play the Spartans.
Browning’s skill won’t be duplicated by returning QB Kaiden Bennett, but he has an offer from Utah and he passed for 4,431 yards and 57 TDs last season with another 1,218 yards rushing and 16 scores. Browning also never had the receivers that Bennett will have. All one has to do to see how effective both Joe Ngata (Clemson commit) and junior Elihjah Badger can be is to watch how they did against the vaunted Helix of La Mesa secondary in that state bowl final last year. The top returnee in the offensive line is Kaden Richardson (6-1, 255), the son of our 2017 State Coach of the Year, but there’s no Jonah Williams (Alabama) among the group so for Open Division projections that is a concern.
Defensively, Folsom also gave up a lot of points (42) to Helix so to beat De La Salle and perhaps be sitting at 15-0 heading into a potential matchup vs. either Mater Dei or St. John Bosco for the state game that’s going to have to be much, much better. The top defensive returnees are DL Tyler Hardeman, junior DE DeShawn Lynch (getting offers) and DB Isaiah Barner.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at No. 3 De La Salle (Concord).
5. CENTENNIAL (CORONA) 10-2
CIF Southern Section D1 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Matt Logan
Injuries helped put the Huskies further behind Mater Dei and St. John Bosco last season than they were in 2016 and of course in the two years prior to that they were better than both. They still easily routed CIF D1-A state finalists Narbonne and Pittsburg and are playing both teams once again.
Logan says the strength of his returning core is defense. “The defensive line has two of three returning starters and the linebackers are players with a lot of experience returning,” he said. Working in a new quarterback and offensive line were mentioned as weaknesses.
Drake Jackson, an All-State Junior, heads up the defense as an edge rusher. On offense, the top returnees include WR Gary Bryant, one of the state’s top juniors at that position, and RB Thomas Kinslow, who had some very productive outings against some of Centennial’s toughest opponents.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Chandler, Ariz. (nationally ranked).
6. LUTHERAN (ORANGE) 6-6
CIF Southern Section D1 Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: J.P. Presley
This may be a bit high for a team that was 6-6 last season, but even at the time everyone in SoCal knew how the Lancers were setting themselves up to perhaps get closer to their two Trinity League rivals from Mater Dei and St. John Bosco.
On offense at the quarterback position and at receiver/tight end, OLu is without question close to the big two. Senior Ryan Hilinski (South Carolina) was the state’s top performer at the Elite 11 events over the summer and will be looking for WR Kyle Ford, who may have been the state’s top receiver in those same events. Junior WR Logan Loya also returns after a banner sophomore season while TE Ethan Rae is one of the state’s best and has many D1 offers. Rae is coming back from a knee injury.
On defense, the Lancers don’t have the same number of talented players as the big two. They could be improved, but will need some unproven players to emerge.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at San Juan Hills (SJ Capistrano).
7. NARBONNE (HARBOR CITY) 12-3
CIF L.A. City Open Division Champion & CIF D1-A State Champion
Head Coach: Manny Douglas
The only switch we’ve made from our early, early preseason top 10 for the state that was done in the middle of July that appeared on the ticker of our site is to flip-flop Narbonne up to No. 7 from No. 8 and drop Oaks Christian down to No. 8. The Gauchos just have so much firepower they’re hard to resist.
At first glance, having to replace Jalen Chatman at QB and Jermar Jefferson at RB might look daunting, but sophomore Jake Garcia (once he gets eligible after a 30-day sit out period) has all the tools to be another great one. Garcia is coming over from Long Beach Poly. The top offensive returnee is OT Jonah Tuanu’u (6-6, 315), one of the best in the nation. Jordan Berry, a junior (6-3, 295), and Juice Tupua (6-1, 265) also will help clear the room up front.
Narbonne’s defense has some linebackers to replace, but the secondary looks strong, led by top returnee Ja’maree Boone. How the coaches use Brionne Penny will be another storyline to follow. He’s a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder who is the younger brother of Seattle Seahawks’ first-round running back draft pick Rashaad Penny of San Diego State.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. St. Louis of Honolulu (at Aloha Stadium)
8. OAKS CHRISTIAN (WESTLAKE VILLAGE) 12-3
CIF Southern Section D2 Champion & CIF D1-AA SoCal Runner-Up
Head Coach: Charles Collins
Teams that win CIFSS titles usually don’t switch coaches, but the Lions have done just that. Previous head coach Jim Benkert is now at Simi Valley while Charles Collins (who has college and Canadian Football League experience) has taken over.
Collins inherits one of the most talented rosters in Southern California. He also has the school’s usual lineup of all-star assistant coaches, such as NFL legend Eric Dickerson coaching the running backs.
If Dickerson helps returning standout Zach Charbonnet get even a little bit better, then that could help Charbonnet (a Michigan commit) lock up his quest to be the top running back in the state. He had more than 2,000 yards rushing last season.
Even if Charbonnet was the top running back in the state, that still might not be enough for him to the top player at Oaks Christian. That’s because also returning is TE/DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (6-5, 230), who is a sack master and dominant player. Thibodeaux also is the No. 1 recruit in the state according to some services.
Oaks Christian also will have prime-time players with experience at numerous other positions, including junior WR Bryce Farrell (Stanford commit), LB/QB Josh Calvert and OL Reese Silofau (6-2, 290).
First Game: Thursday, Aug. 16 vs. No. 14 Chaminade (West Hills).
9. PITTSBURG 9-3
CIF North Coast Section Open Division Runner-Up & CIF D1-A State Runner-Up
Head Coach: Vic Galli
Expectations have been this high at Pittsburg in the past, but the Pirates have fallen short, and in recent years haven’t been close to De La Salle.
This year, there’s every indication it will be different. Almost everyone is back from last year’s team that lost 28-21 to Narbonne in the D1-A state final. And that doesn’t include QB Trey Turner, who was injured before the first game last season and is a dynamic playmaker and passer. Justin Boyd filled in nicely for him, but he’s better used as a receiver. RB Premier Murphy and WR Willie Harts also are key returnees. TE Kolby Gross, a transfer from San Ramon Valley, could be another impact player.
The defense will be led by DT Jacob Bandes (6-3, 305), an all-state junior and one of the top 15 recruits in the state according to 247 Sports. He also was one of the best linemen at Nike’s The Opening, held in early July in Texas. Also on defense will be three-year starter Jack Lacy at LB along with two others getting D1 college attention — LB Jaden Tauanu’u (6-3, 205) and DT De’jon Benton (6-3, 275).
We’ll find out early about the Pirates since they are going down to play preseason state No. 5 Corona Centennial in their second game. They lost to the Huskies 63-21 in 2017.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Clayton Valley (Concord).
10. MISSION VIEJO 12-1
CIF Southern Section D1 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Chad Johnson
It’s still a Johnson leading the Diablos as former St. John Bosco offensive coordinator Chad Johnson has taken over for the retired Bob Johnson, the third winningest head coach in state history.
Mission Viejo wound up No. 6 in last year’s final rankings and only drops a few spots to start this year despite the change and with a strong senior class moving on, including All-American DB Olaijah Griffin.
Making the transition easier for Chad Johnson is that Arizona State-bound QB Joey Yellen returns with more than 3,000 yards from last season. He doesn’t have a lot of rushing yards so we weren’t able to get him onto the All-Orange County preseason team but he’s certainly among the best in California.
Jamari Farrell was on his way to a huge season at running back when he got hurt against La Habra and missed the rest of the season with a knee injury. He’s back along with the player who went for 1,400 yards later on — RB/DB Akili Arnold.
Others to watch include DB JoJo Forest, junior DE Lance Keneley, WR/DB Chris Rahlwes, junior DE Reece Hite and junor DL Keanu Tanuvasa.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Liberty (Bakersfield).
11. UPLAND 12-1
CIF Southern Section D2 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Tim Salter
The only loss from last year came in that heart-breaker to Oaks Christian in the CIFSS D2 semifinals when the Lions scored on a pick six in the closing seconds. Oaks Christian is now in D1, while the Highlanders didn’t move up. So with all of the players they have back, it’s natural that they are now the big favorites among teams in that division. Plus, the team that Upland has battled in the Baseline League the last few seasons, Rancho Cucamonga, is undergoing a coaching change with some transfer losses added on,.
Upland’s defense will be led by junior LB Justin Flowe (6-2, 225). He started making plays on the varsity as a freshman and is now considered one of the top junior LBs in the nation.
There’s also Taj Davis and Cameron Davis at WR and RB. They are big-time breakaway threats and they’re both going to Oregon but they’re not brothers.
Two others to watch are junior RB Tyevin Ford and DB Zahran Manley. Sophomore QB Cole Boop has transferred in from Calvary Chapel of Santa Ana with All-America freshman honors from MaxPreps. The team’s talented junior QB from last season, David Baldwin, has transferred to IMG Academy.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at La Habra.
12. JSERRA (SJ CAPISTRANO) 7-4
CIF Southern Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Pat Harlow
Fourth in the Trinity League may not sound like much of a projection, but in some weeks that can still be top 10 in the state. While we’re not starting the Lions in the top 10 along with Mater Dei, St. John Bosco and Orange Lutheran, it’s close. They do have 14 returning starters and a lot of players getting D1 scholarship offers.
Caden Bell is looking to have standout season as the new QB and he’ll have plenty of options to get the ball to. Junior RB Chris Street is coming over from Mater Dei while WRs Tarik Luckett and Munir McClain are both dangerous and collecting D1 college offers. Tyler Shimomura is another player who can make catches in all situations while one of the top OLs is Ryan Suliafu (6-2, 285).
The defense is where JSerra will have to improve a great deal. One solid building block should be All-Orange County DL Shawn Nielsen, a San Diego State commit.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 16 vs. No. 24 Corona del Mar (Newport Beach).
13. CENTRAL (FRESNO) 12-2
CIF Central Section D1 Champion & CIF D1-AA NorCal Runner-Up
Head Coach: Kyle Biggs
Quarterback Trent Tompkins will be a three-year starter for the Grizzlies and should continue to move up the all-time Central Section career passing list since he’s already at 6,724 yards and 73 TDs.
“We are very excited to build off of the success from last year,” said Biggs, a former standout at Clovis High who passed for more than 3,500 yards himself.
There’s more to like, of course, about this team than just the quarterback. Tompkins has two receivers with D1 college talent in senior Tyrell Grayson and junior Jeremiah Hunter. There’s also two massive junior linemen to include on each side of the ball — Dwight Tatum (6-3, 340) on offense and Ricky Correia (6-4, 340) on defense.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Edison (Fresno) at Ratcliffe Stadium.
14. CHAMINADE (WEST HILLS) 9-2
CIF Southern Section D1 Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Ed Croson
While the Eagles lose two dynamic offensive players in running back Andrew Van Buren (Boise State) and receiver Michael Wilson (Stanford), they are bringing back their two field generals from last season and with some other key returnees should continue to be one of the top teams from the loaded CIFSS Division I bracket. Chaminade also is starting out No. 2 in our breakdown of teams from the San Fernando Valley, behind Oaks Christian but in front of Calabasas. One of the reasons for doing that is obvious: The Eagles are playing Oaks Christian in the first game.
Quarterback Ryan Stevens, who also carries a 4.3 GPA, passed for 2,638 yards and 22 TDs as a junior. The quarterback on defense, linebacker Blake Antzoulatos, returns after racking up 150 tackles in 11 games.
Croson, a former State Coach of the Year, also is going to take his squad into a preseason matchup at home against No. 4 Folsom. Others he will need to play well include OG/DT Liam Gilhuly, DB John Burton and DB Chris Rankins.
First Game: Thursday, Aug. 16 at No. 8 Oaks Christian (Westlake Village).
15. CAJON (SAN BERNARDINO) 14-2
CIF Southern Section D4 Champion & CIF D2-AA State Runner-Up
Head Coach: Nick Rogers
Yes, we can see how some might look at all those unbelievable stats from QB Jayden Daniels, WR Darren Jones and the rest of the Cowboys and think they should be even much higher than No. 15 in the state. But as shown in the 38-14 loss to Serra of San Mateo there needs to be much better depth and strength up front before going too overboard with a ranking.
Daniels passed for 5,139 yards and 62 TDs and rushed for 1,292 yards and 15 more scores for a state total offense record of 6,431 yards. Jones caught 104 passes for 2,094 yards and 28 TDs. He had to leave school for the winter semester, but is back for this fall. Both players have offers from around the country with Oregon possibly in the mix for both.
Rogers has a lot more coming back than just those two. LB Jonathan Perkins (6-1, 205) was among the state leaders in tackles as a junior and has committed to Oklahoma. Daniel Fortune can make plays on both sides of the ball as a RB/DB. Plus, Kamron Forest is one of the top junior DBs in the Inland Empire.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Helix (La Mesa).
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