Jesuit of Carmichael and Liberty of Brentwood could have all-time best teams this season and highlight this group of squads that have been ranked from No. 16 to No. 34 in the state in the preseason. We also have our preseason No. 1 teams from the CIF San Diego Section and CIF Central Coast Section in this post.
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(All teams listed with win-loss record from last season)
16. JESUIT (CARMICHAEL) 10-3
CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Marlon Blanton
The Marauders have won a CIFSJS title before, but it’s hard to remember a season in which they’ve been this highly regarded within the SJS. Although Folsom is likely at an even higher level, Jesuit is getting the No. 2 slot from the section to start the season due to the players that are returning.
Isaiah Rutherford tops the list with more than 1,400 yards rushing on offense, but it’s his skills as a cornerback on defense that have nearly 20 colleges after him, including USC, Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. The Marauders also have another of the section’s top recruits in DL Laiatu Latu (6-5, 240), who also has an offer from Alabama, plus USC, Georgia, Stanford and more.
There are 13 returning starters in all and also among that group is RB/LB Jackson Canaan and LB Cade Brownholtz. If the line can hold up against the best competition, look for Jesuit to be opposing Folsom in the section final this season. It may require a semifinal victory over St. Mary’s of Stockton, which won’t be easy.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 at No. 4 Folsom.
17. SERRA (GARDENA) 6-5
CIF Southern Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Scott Altenburg
We’re actually going to be seeing the Cavaliers play their first two games of the season since both of them will be in the Honor Bowl. They don’t play this week, but start out on Saturday, Aug. 25 at Mountain View St. Francis for a fun matchup against Serra of the north (meaning Serra of San Mateo). Then the next week Serra is at Cathedral Catholic of San Diego on Saturday, Sept. 1 in the final of three games that day in the second weekend of the Honor Bowl.
The Cavaliers will have another ultra-talented squad, but most of the top players are juniors so an even better one for 2019 may be brewing. The top returning senior is four-year varsity member Max Williams, who is one of the state’s best cornerbacks. Another senior to watch is WR Melquan Stovall, who is transferring from Paraclete of Lancaster and has several major college D1 offers.
The junior class includes QB Doug Brumfield and LB Justin Houston. Another senior to watch is OL Miles Smith (6-1, 260).
First Game: Saturday, Aug. 25 vs. Serra (San Mateo) at Mountain View St. Francis (Honor Bowl)
18. MADISON (SAN DIEGO) 8-3
CIF San Diego Section Open Division Qualifier
Head Coach: Rick Jackson
Some of our friends in San Diego were saying at the end of last season that the Warhawks were going to be near the top of the heap in the section for this season and that was before it was known that quarterback Brock White was transferring in from Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley).
White was a sophomore last year who passed for more than 3,000 yards in leading Rancho Verde to the CIF Southern Section D3 title. At Madison, he’ll be joining an offense that already was going to have one of the best running backs in California, Kenan Criston, who is getting D1 college offers from throughout the nation. Another RB who is outstanding is junior Ke’ontae Springs.
San Diego still seems like more of a crap-shoot to pick favorites this season. While we’re going with Madison at the top and it’s a program that has won two CIF state titles (last one was in D2-A two years ago), the Warhawks didn’t escape the first round of the Open Division last season and Cathedral Catholic (another frequently mentioned favorite) won only four games total. Defending champion Helix also didn’t go anywhere and didn’t lose everyone from last year’s team.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Rancho Bernardo (San Diego).
19. CALABASAS 10-2
CIF Southern Section D2 Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Chris Claiborne
Claiborne is a former Mr. Football State Player of the Year (1995 from J.W. North of Riverside) and a former NFL player who has taken over the program for Casey Clausen, who left for the same job at his alma mater (Alemany, Mission Hills).
The Coyotes have been higher than this in the last few years of our preseason rankings and have the talent to be higher this season. But they’re still looking to break through to win a CIF state title (despite not having to worry about being D1 in the CIFSS) and frankly have tended to under-perform in recent post-seasons.
One of the best receiving corps from any school in the nation is one reason to go nuts over Calabasas. Senior Mycah Pittman caught 60 balls for 1,027 yards last year and 11 TDs while junior Johnny Wilson caught 57 for 899 and 11 TDs. They have offers from everywhere and Pittman is expected to commit in the next few weeks. Johnny Williams, who also is used as a running back, is another top player.
QB Jaden Casey also is back. He passed for 3,394 yards and 32 TDs as a sophomore. Others to watch include LB Connor Beatrow (leading tackler as a junior), RB/DB Keithan Gooden (633 yards rushing) and DB SPencer Mair (three interceptions). The internet also is already buzzing about incoming freshman WR/DB Larry Turner.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 vs. No. 12 JSerra (SJ Capistrano).
20. LIBERTY (BRENTWOOD) 11-2
CIF North Coast Section D1 Champion
Head Coach: Ryan Partridge
The Lions claimed their first NCS title in school history last year and no one really cares that it wasn’t in the Open Division or that the team didn’t get into the Open Division. The way it all came together in a 37-0 win over Freedom of Oakley in the section final showed that the Lions were playing at a very high level.
Despite being in the same section as De La Salle and Pittsburg, which are still projected to be the champion and runner-up in the NCS Open Division, Liberty starts this season No. 3 in the Bay Area in our book and No. 7 for Northern California (again, we count Central of Fresno for the north).
Topping a group with tons of experience on offense is 6-foot-6 junior QB Jay Butterfield, who already is getting multiple major college offers. The Lions also have receiver/athlete Sione Vaki, who had 37 catches for more than 800 yards and 13 TDs last season, plus running back Tyerell Sturges-Cofer, who rushed for 1,128 yards).
Liberty’s defense features 5-foot-9, 170-pound linebacker Nicky Einess, who may be small but is fearless and racks up the tackles. He was the Bay Valley Athletic League Defensive Player of the Year. Two-way lineman Payton Zdroik (an all-state sophomore) along with emerging TE Thomas Vi are among other players to watch.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Vacaville.
21. ST. FRANCIS (MOUNTAIN VIEW) 12-4
CIF Central Coast Section Open 2 Runner-Up & CIF D2-A State Champion
Head Coach: Greg Calcagno
It was reported on Friday (but not officially confirmed) that 2,200-yard running back Darrell Page is no longer on the Lancers’ roster. We were going to have the team higher in these rankings, but Calcagno still has plenty of others back to be preseason No. 1 in the CCS.
Josh Pakola is one of the top defensive line recruits in the nation and also can catch passes as a tight end. Maurice Wilmer and Evan Williams also can shine on both sides of the ball. Williams, in fact, was our MVP of the state bowl game for his amazing catches. Also returning is Opeti Fangupo, who was the West Catholic Athletic League Junior of of the Year. He’s primarily a fullback on offense but can play defense.
St. Francis loses some players with size (such as all-CCS Tyler Manoa), but should still be powerful with those coming back like Nikko Pohahau (6-5, 260) and junior Mose Vavao (6-2, 280).
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 vs. Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) in Honor Bowl at home field.
22. LONG BEACH POLY (LONG BEACH) 9-3
CIF Southern Section D1 Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Stephen Barbee
The Jackrabbits ended last season at No. 10 and normally start out each season within that range or higher in the state rankings. After the departure of previous coach Antonio Pierce and the hiring of Stephen Barbee (previously at St. Margaret’s of SJ Capistrano), however, plus the fact that there are a lot of graduated players that need to be replaced, we’re going to take a wait-and-see approach.
Twin phenoms Keon and Kejuan Markham are the team’s top returnees. Keon primarily plays receiver while Kejuan mainly plays in the secondary, but both are versatile and can come up with game-changing moments whenever they’re on the field. Both of them are weighing Pac-12 offers. Teammate Alex Austin, a cornerback, also has recently committed to Oregon State.
According to The562.org web site, the Jackrabbits will start sophomore C.J. Montes at quarterback and will be stronger and better in the line. One OL to watch is junior James Maae (6-2, 280).
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at Dorsey (Los Angeles).
23. HELIX (LA MESA) 13-2
CIF San Diego Section Open Division Champion & CIF D1-AA State Runner-Up
Head Coach: Robbie Owens
Half of the players off last year’s roster that went to the CIF D1-AA state final to play Folsom have graduated, but this year lacks some bonafide heavyweights from San Diego so there is still the opportunity for the Highlanders to win another Open Division title. One of the other teams getting No. 1 preseason votes in the section was 5-7 last year while the other one lost in the first round of the playoffs to Helix.
“We have to reload with a younger group,” said Owens, but who also added: “We have one of the best running backs in California and the top linebacker in San Diego.”
That running back is Elelyon Noa, a junior who piled up 1,782 yards and scored 20 TDs last season. That linebacker is Michael Shawcroft, who led the team in tackles and has committed to San Diego State.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at No. 15 Cajon (San Bernardino).
24. CORONA DEL MAR (NEWPORT BEACH) 11-2
CIF Southern Section D4 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Dan O’Shea
In thinking about the Sea Kings, it was much easier to slot them into this position as the projected favorites for the Sunset League title than as a CIFSS D4 semifinalist from last season. Sunset League teams like Edison of Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos, after all, have been this high many times and Corona del Mar is joining the Sunset League this year.
Leading the way for CdM is junior WR John Humphreys, an all-state soph from last year who had 57 catches for more than 1,000 yards. Junior QB Ethan Garbers also returns. Leading the offensive line, meanwhile, will be All-Orange County honors candidate Sean Owens (6-3, 250).
First Game: Thursday, Aug. 16 at No. 12 JSerra (SJ Capistrano).
25. SANTA MARGARITA (RANCHO SM) 7-4
CIF Southern Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Rich Fisher
A lot of younger players will have to emerge for the Eagles if they are able to sneak into the mix of JSerra and Orange Lutheran to be the third team into the CIFSS playoffs out of the Trinity League. They won’t be in the mix with the top two, but you can say that with about 99.5 percent of all teams in America.
Fisher and his staff are building the program in the right direction and there are 10 returning starters. Among those to watch are RB Jake Thomas, WR Jake Ebach and junior DE Logan Schwenke (6-3, 235). Sophomore QB Peter Costelli could be one to watch as he’s transferred in from St. John Bosco. He’ll be starting for the Eagles, which makes sense for him otherwise he wouldn’t be getting the reps he needs to develop behind former classmate D.J. Uigalelei.
First Game: Thursday, Aug. 16 vs. Downey.
26. ST. MARY’S (STOCKTON) 11-3
CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 Finalist
Head Coach: Tony Franks
The Rams are starting out right at just about the same spot they ended at in 2017, which is a reflection of the players they lost but also with the ones coming back.
“We have good team speed and experience, but a little light on depth,” said Franks, who is starting to zero in on reaching 200 career wins.
The speed comes in the form of track stars Jamar Marshall and Joe Fontes at receiver. They both caught TD passes in the team’s season-opening win last season over eventual CIF D2-AA state champ Serra of San Mateo. Marshall also is one of the elite incoming junior athletes in the state. In that game game, though, QB Sawyer May went down with what became a season-ending shoulder injury. May is now a junior and if he has a season like that half he had against Serra, then the Rams are going to be very good. A St. Mary’s-Jesuit projected matchup in the SJS D1 semifinals (with Folsom in the other semi) could be terrific.
Junior WR Asar-Alim Moore and OL Hunter Jones are two other leading all-section candidates.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 at No. 9 Pittsburg.
27. MURRIETA VALLEY (MURRIETA) 9-3
CIF Southern Section D1 Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: George Wilson
In looking over the strengths and weaknesses of the Nighthawks based on returning players and those who’ve graduated, we came up with a ranking that was reflective of having a great returning quarterback but with some tough graduation holes to be filled. They therefore landed at No. 27 after finishing at No. 19 in 2017.
That great QB, of course, is four-year starter Hank Bachmeier. The Boise State-committed standout already has 10,001 yards and 124 TD passes in his career and certainly could finish No. 2 all-time in state history in both categories.
Gone is record-breaking receiver Marquis Spiker so others will have to come through as playmakers for Bachmeier. One of the top linemen from last season, Lutero Fedler (6-3, 280), is another key returnee.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at Santiago (Corona).
28. BUCHANAN (CLOVIS) 10-3
CIF Central Section D1 Finalist
Head Coach: Matt Giordano
It could have been either the Bears or Bakersfield in the No. 2 position for the preseason among teams in the Central Section, but in the end the Drillers are coming off of a 6-6 season while the Bears were 10-3 and weren’t that far removed from D1 section champion Central of Fresno.
Buchanan features junior RB Kendall Milton, one of the best juniors in the nation at that position and a State Freshman Athlete of the Year for the 2016-17 school year. The offense also includes WR Jalen Cropper, who has numerous D1 college offers.
On defense, DB Brock Jones of the Bears returns with five interceptions. He’s also been an all-state underclassman in baseball and has been busy with baseball events all summer. Another to watch is preseason all-section linebacker Matt Merritt (6-2, 255), a junior who already has an offer from Utah.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Paso Robles.
29. SERRA (SAN MATEO) 13-2
CIF Central Coast Section Open 2 Champion & CIF D2-AA State Champion
Head Coach: Patrick Walsh
While WCAL rival St. Francis has the most returning firepower in the CCS, it would be a mistake not to count the Padres among the best and capable of similar success this season.
The first place to start in evaluating them is at QB where preseason All-CCS Luke Bottari returns. There’s also one of the most versatile players in the section in FB/LB/DE E.J. Lahlouh, who makes plays on both sides of the ball.
“We should have a very fast team overall but lack in size up front compared to the 2017 state championship season,” said Walsh, still one of our favorite players that we’ve ever talked to when he was a running back in the early 1990s at De La Salle.
First Game: Saturday, Aug. 25 vs. No. 17 Serra (Gardena) at Honor Bowl in Mountain View (St. Francis).
30. BISHOP AMAT (LA PUENTE) 5-6
CIF Southern Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Steve Hagerty
The Lancers are opening their season once again by having to play No. 1 Mater Dei, but once they get that out of the way the reality of being a contender in the Mission League with Serra of Gardena and Chaminade of West Hills should become more evident.
A big plus for Amat is the return of QB Blake Archuleta. Also an all-state underclass pick for baseball, Archuleta starts his senior season with 2,803 yards and 21 TD passes for his career.
The Lancers also got some impressive outings last season from sophomore RB Damien Moore, back for his junior season.
One of the team’s more intriguing players will be sophomore DB Dyson McCutcheon, son of 1994 Mr. Football State Player of the Year Daylon McCutcheon.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. No. 1 Mater Dei at Santa Ana Bowl.
31. BAKERSFIELD 6-6
CIF Central Section D1 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Paul Golla
We’ll know a lot about the Drillers very early. In fact, their first game matchup in Orange County against Servite of Anaheim will be on Thursday, a day earlier than just about everyone else’s first game. Getting a win against a Trinity League team would obviously be a huge boost and would give more support to them being in front of Buchanan in the rankings or continuing to stay behind.
Bakersfield has a blinding array of talent returning from last season that could return the team to the top of the section. The secondary led by Washington-bound Cameron Williams and Colorado-bound Carl Jones rivals some of the best from SoCal (outside the big two). Junior Isaac Jernagin is another in that group who is getting D1 interest. Williams and Jones also are threats on offense with Williams as an option-style quarterback.
Golla has others returning in key positions as well, including Jacob Ziemet at DL/LB and Ceyontay Bell at RB/LB.
First Game: Thursday, Aug. 16 at Servite (Anaheim).
32. WESTLAKE (WESTLAKE VILLAGE) 9-3
CIF Southern Section D2 Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Tim Kirksey
Throwing in the arrival of big-time LB De’Gabriel Floyd via transfer from Golden Valley of Santa Clarita pushes the Warriors toward the top of teams that could challenge favored Upland in the CIFSS D2 playoffs. Floyd has committed to Texas and is one of the most impressive defenders in California.
Westlake will have another major college D1 recruit on defense as well with DB Kamren Fabiculanan, who has committed to Washington. The defense also figures to have DB Will Lyman (three interceptions last season) and fast-rising prospect Victory Vaka (6-3, 305), who is still just a sophomore but had 41 tackles as a freshman.
On offense, the Warriors are expected to have former Oaks Chrstian QB Marco Siderman aiming passes toward returnees Carson Kuhl (a junior who had 59 catches last season) and Jason Heller (a senior who had 41).
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth).
33. CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC (SAN DIEGO) 5-7
CIF San Diego Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Sean Doyle
A whopping 16 starters are back for the Dons, who are just two seasons removed from going unbeaten and winning the CIF D1-AA state title. Still, we were reluctant to put a team with a losing record from last season too high in these rankings.
That number of returning starters doesn’t include RB Shawn Poma, a sophomore standout from the state title team who missed last season with injury. Poma is expected to be one of the top backs in the San Diego region.
Two defenders primed to have big seasons seem to be DB Nick Guerena and DL Miles McCormick. Junior LB Jordan Allen (6-2, 205) is the son of 14-year NFL player Eric Allen and is yet another defender to watch.
This team also has some great size and strength in the trenches. Sophomore Ross Maseuli (6-4, 315) is one of the best in his class as a lineman in the state.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad).
34. SERVITE (ANAHEIM) 6-5
CIF Southern Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Troy Thomas
When Thomas was previously at Servite, he took the program to one CIF state title (D2 in 2009) and one CIF Open Division state final appearance (loss to De La Salle in 2010 when team was 14-0). He went back to his alma mater — Crespi of Encino — where it became a struggle. Now back at Servite, Thomas is likely to struggle again, especially in the Trinity League, but the Friars should regain some of their swagger and they still have the pieces to be a possible State Top 25 squad.
Another challenge for Thomas and his staff is the transfer loss of four to five players who would have been standouts. Still, the offensive line with preseason All-Orange County Richard Krebs (6-3, 270) should be stout. Servite also has one of the state’s top punters in Cade Fuller, who doubles as a DB. Junior RB Malachi Rice and LB Isaiah Leuta-Ulu are other players to watch.
First Game: Thursday, Aug. 16 vs. No. 31 Bakersfield.
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