Starting at No. 35 and moving on to No. 50, these teams tend to be either those looking to step up in competition after winning at a lower level last year or teams from the very best leagues who have some question marks to overcome this season. This group includes San Clemente, Grace Brethren of Simi Valley, Mission Hills of San Marcos and Menlo-Atherton of Atherton.
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(All teams listed with win-loss record from last season)
35. TORREY PINES (SAN DIEGO) 7-5
CIF San Diego Section Open Division Semifinalist
Head Coach: Ron Gladnick
The Falcons were one of the best teams in San Diego at the close of last season. That is based on them losing by just 20-17 in the Open Division semifinals to a Mission Hills (San Marcos) club that was 12-0 coming into that night.
There are 11 returning starters and players coming up from a 9-0 JV squad. Versatile QB Jason Heine, who also plays DB, and RB Mac Bingham, who also is an all-state baseball outfielder, are two of the leaders. Bingham rushed for 1,238 yards and 18 TDs one year ago.
OL Payson Campisano (6-3, 270) and OL/DL Brian Driscoll (6-4, 280) are two top linemen to watch.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at Eastlake (Chula Vista).
36. SAN CLEMENTE 9-2
CIF Southern Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Jaime Ortiz
As excitement has continued to build around San Clemente for the NFL debut of recent graduate Sam Darnold with the New York Jets, the Tritons have yet another quarterback in their midst to build another strong team around.
This time, it’s senior Brendan Costello, who is more of dual-threat quarterback than one with a monster arm like Darnold. Costello, who has committed to Oklahoma State, passed for 2,132 yards and 22 TDs last season while also rushing for 392 yards and five scores.
Two other top returnees are TE Jay Baggs (6-5, 225), DE Ryan Altman and junior OL Aidan Coulson (6-1, 240), who is one of the top long snappers in the nation.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Oceanside.
37. DEL ORO (LOOMIS) 8-6
CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D2 Finalist
Head Coach: Jeff Walters
Of the other teams after Folsom in the Sierra Foothill League, which is annually one of the best if not the best league in Northern California, we like the Golden Eagles to be second in the preseason rankings. We didn’t get either Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) or Granite Bay into the top 50, but both programs have the pedigree and a few players we know of that could prove that wrong.
Del Oro welcomes back QB Carson Jarratt (6-3, 205) after he threw for 1,600 yards as a junior. WR/DB Dawson Hurst also is back and is one of the top players in the section. Two others on that list would be kicker Ryan Whalley (booted game-winning playoff field goal in final seconds vs. Lincoln) and OL/LB Tatuo Martinson (6-1, 250). DL Wyatt Berry would be yet one more Golden Eagle to watch.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at Amador Valley (Pleasanton).
38. RANCHO VERDE (MORENO VALLEY) 12-3
CIF Southern Section D4 Champion & CIF D2-AA SoCal Runner-Up
Head Coach: Pete Duffy
Duffy returns to lead the program after former head coach Jeff Steinberg accepted the same job at Beaumont (closer to where he lives). Duffy was the offensive coordinator at Murrieta Valley but previously led the Mustangs for over a decade as head coach until 2015.
The Mustangs are coming off of a CIFSS title season but will be in D2 this season, up from D3 in 2017. They also have to find a replacement for transfer QB Brock White, who was a sophomore starter and is now in San Diego. The good news is that numerous other top starters are back, led by DB/WR Jaxen Turner, one of the best grid-hoopers in the nation. Turner had six interceptions last season. RB Xavier Ugorji could have a breakout season while LB Jaylnd Hunt returns with 90 plus tackles, including two sacks and two fumble recoveries in a playoff game. Kicker Luis Santiago also is back after nailing a 47-yard field goal with no time left to win the CIFSS title over St. Francis of La Canada. Watch out as well for promising sophomore LB/DB Kenya Dorsey.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at Quartz Hill.
39. CENTRAL CATHOLIC (MODESTO) 10-2
CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D2 Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Roger Canepa
The Raiders were forecast to be in a three-team race along with Oakdale and Manteca last season in the Valley Oak League, but couldn’t beat Oakdale in a matchup that determined the league title. They are more of a favorite this season since the other two have been hit with much more severe graduation losses.
Adding junior transfer QB Dalton Durossette, who had started as a freshman and sophomore at Ceres, is another factor in favoring the Raiders. They have another of the section’s top athletes at RB and DB in Dawaiian McNeely. DB Justin Traina also is back and was one of the interception leaders from last season with four.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at Clovis West (Fresno).
40. FREEDOM (OAKLEY) 9-3
CIF North Coast Section D1 Runner-Up
Head Coach: Andrew Coakley
This is the third team from the Bay Valley Athletic League to make it into our preseason State Top 50 following Pittsburg and Liberty. Those first two were no-brainers, but we also like Freedom as among the next group of teams.
New head coach Andrew Coakley has the tough task of replacing previous coach Kevin Hartwig, who had a team two years ago that reached the NCS Open Division final opposite De La Salle at 11-0 but then lost to the Spartans and then St. Mary’s of Stockton in the CIF NorCal D1-AA final.
Freedom does have a lot of attractive pieces to the puzzle. RB Giles Jackson returns after piling up 1,586 yards rushing. He’ll do whatever it takes to help the team, but his future will be as a slot receiver, where he’s getting offers from colleges everywhere. Jackson had 47 receptions as a sophomore before switching over to running back.
QB Joey Aguilar also returns. He had 2,501 yards passing as a junior. WR/DB Mekel Ealy and OL/DL Taleni Lepolo are two other Falcons who could fly high.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Turlock.
41. VALENCIA 12-2
CIF Southern Section D2 Runner-Up
Head Coach: Larry Muir
The Vikings were hit with a late summer bombshell when big-time college recruit Mykael Wright decided to leave and play his senior season at Narbonne of Harbor City. That did drop them some positions in our preseason rankings, but the L.A. Daily News still put them fourth behind only Oaks Christian, Chaminade and Calabasas.
Valencia still has RB/DB Jayvaun Wilson, one of the more versatile players in the state and one who has already committed to Oregon. DE Ben Seymour, a standout the last two seasons, also is back and had 16.5 career sacks.
The offensive line could be solid, anchored by Tanner Miller (6-2, 295), while LB Luring Pailaii is another defender who could shine.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 vs. Arbor View (Las Vegas).
42. MISSION HILLS (SAN MARCOS) 12-1
CIF San Diego Section Open Division Runner-Up
Head Coach: Chris Hauser
There are only seven returning starters for the Grizzlies and among those gone are record-setting QB Jack Tuttle (Utah) and record-setting WR Chris Olave (Ohio State). Regardless, the program is getting consistently strong under the guidance of Hauser. That’s why we are still starting the team inside our preseason State Top 50 but just lower than last season’s top 15 finish.
Among those who are back are preseason all-San Diego defensive lineman Isaac Anderson. Another lineman to watch is junior Shiloh Seau (6-1, 295), the nephew of the late Junior Seau.
Two others to look for are TE/DL Jadan Washington (6-3, 205) and junior WR/DB Quinton Hadnot.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Paramount.
43. MENLO-ATHERTON (ATHERTON) 7-5
CIF Central Coast Section Open 1 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Adhir Ravipati
Due to the way the CCS works it for the CIF state bowl games (two runner-up teams from its two Open Divisions advance), it’s impossible to project which divisions its top teams are going to be in for those games. It’s not impossible, however, to project that the Bears will be one of the section’s best teams.
“We should be a section and NorCal/State contender,” said Ravipati, who guided M-A to a loss against Paraclete of Lancaster in 2016 CIF 3-AA state game. “We have lots of talent (6 players with offers, 4 D1, and should have more by the end of the season) and a senior heavy team.”
Two of Ravipati’s D1 players, LB Daniel Heimuli and DL Noa Ngalu (6-2, 280), are big-time recruits. Heimuli basically has offers from everywhere. Ngalu has committed to Washington.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 vs. Bellarmine Prep at San Jose City College.
44. GRACE BRETHREN (SIMI VALLEY) 13-3
CIF Southern Section Division 8 Champion
& CIF D2-A State Runner-Up
Head Coach: Josh Henderson
Sure, the Lancers lost a couple of top players to transfer, but even with that a good chunk of those who were on last year’s team that gave St. Francis of Mountain View all it could handle in that state final are back.
“We are strong, experienced and motivated,” Henderson said. “Our theme this season is ‘One.’ We moved from CIFSS D8 to D4 so there is a lot that is new. Awesome opportunity.”
RB Lontrelle Diggs rushed for 1,742 yards and scored 30 TDs as a junior while QB Mikey Zele stepped up as a freshman with 1,873 passing yards and 22 scores. Grace Brethren also is loaded at linebacker. Stanley Taufoou (6-3, 255) also can play fullback and has numerous D1 offers. Justin Skidmore on the outside and Josh Henderson (an all-state sophomore) on the inside also combine great play-making and all-academic style smarts.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Antelope Valley (Lancaster).
45. VALLEY CHRISTIAN (SAN JOSE) 9-3
CIF Central Coast Section Open 2 Semifinalist
Head Coach: Mike Machado
This team loses a lot, but considering it was a team that got a win against eventual D2-A state champ St. Francis of Mountain View and suffered two of its losses to CIF D2-AA state champ Serra of San Mateo and considering there are some strong returnees we’re keeping the Warriors within striking distance of the Top 25.
TE Skylar Loving-Black (6-3, 225) is mulling over several D1 college offers and is one of the top TEs in Northern California. LB Judea Moon also grabbed one of our preseason All-CCS berths while OL Zach Geig (6-0, 280) should help keep VC’s usually strong offensive line in good shape.
One breakout possibility for VC is junior RB Isaiah McElvane. He backed up Charlie Bostic last season, but when given the ball there was some electricity in his moves. Second-leading tackler Blake Newquist also returns.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 at Wilcox (Santa Clara).
46. LA COSTA CANYON (CARLSBAD) 7-4
CIF San Diego Section Open Division Qualifier
Head Coach: Sean Sovacool
This team is going to be dangerous opponent for Cathedral Catholic to open the season and also is going up against San Clemente in the early going. Seven starters are back on offense while the defense features one of the top junior linebackers in the state.
Karson Lippert is one of the three running backs for the Mavericks who are 4.5 or faster along with brother Aiden Lippert and Trent Dunn. Karson has five D1 offers as of July. Luka Trifunovic (6-5, 255) heads the offensive line and also is getting D1 offers.
The key may be how well junior QB Marshal Eucker does as the starter. “He was very impressive this spring and summer, getting us to two passing tournament championship games,” Sovacool said. “If Marshal performs to his capability, he could be a scholarship-calibre athlete.”
Austin “Ozzie” Nicholas is the junior linebacker. He already has offers from Cal and San Diego State. Also back on defense is Sam Hussin, who had 24 tackles for loss (including 9.5 sacks) last season.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at No. 33 Cathedral Catholic (San Diego).
47. MARIN CATHOLIC (KENTFIELD) 12-1
CIF North Coast Section D3 Champion & CIF D3-AA NorCal Runner-Up
Head Coach: Mazi Moayed
Longtime fans of the L.A. Lakers might want to check out the Wildcats since their newest QB is going to be junior Gaven Cooke, grandson of former Lakers’ owner Jack Kent Cooke (who also once owned the Washington Redskins). Cooke is following in a long line of QBs at Marin Catholic that includes Spencer Petras (Iowa) from last season and of course Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams.
But Cooke may not have to do much but hand it off to power-packed RB Cole Truex, a 225-pounder who is coming off of some injuries from last season. Truex, committed to Army, will run behind junior Jamar Sekona (6-4, 295), one of the top junior OLs in the nation. One of Truex’s teammates and another top player for the Wildcats, RB/DB Colby Jacques, has committed to Navy. Let the Army-Navy bets begin.
OL Ethan Dirienzo, LB Alex Murray and DB Andrew Olson are three more Marin Catholic players expected to be key contributors.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at Campolindo (Moraga).
48. ST. FRANCIS (LA CANADA) 12-2
CIF Southern Section D3 Runner-Up
Head Coach: Jim Bonds
The Golden Knights lost in the closing seconds of their CIFSS title game last season to Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley and should be hungry to go far in 2018.
Helping to make that cause easier will be the return of QB Darius Perrantes, who passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 28 TDs as a junior and who rushed for another 324 yards and 11 scores.
Two other top returnees are junior RB/DB Kevin Armstead and LB Will Stewart. It also will be helpful that Bonds will have players moving up from a 9-1 JV squad.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 24 at Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach).
49. LA HABRA 7-4
CIF Southern Section D2 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Frank Mazzotta
Considering that five of the six teams in the Trinity League are from Orange County, putting nine or 10 teams from that county into the preseason State Top 50 probably is going to be the norm rather than the exception for many years to come. La Habra is the ninth team from the county to make it this year and has a number of key returning players.
Even though junior LB Kobah Fuamatu has transferred to Mater Dei, the team’s No. 1 sophomore from last year — and one of the best sophs in California — didn’t go anywhere. That would be DB Clark Phillips, who has offers from everywhere after collecting seven interceptions last season.
Others back for the Highlanders include junior OL Andrew Ueli-Foatoalia (6-3, 300) plus WR Mitch Anderson and DB Gabriel Hernandez.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 vs. No. 11 Upland.
50. LIBERTY (BAKERSFIELD) 6-5
CIF Central Section D1 Playoff Qualifier
Head Coach: Bryan Nixon
It was a strange ending to last season when the Patriots beat Bakersfield to win their league title, but then got boat-raced by the Drillers two weeks later in the first round of the D1 section playoffs. Nixon always sets up a tough early-season schedule and this year that will start with a matchup at No. 10 Mission Viejo.
We probably would have started out Liberty even higher than No. 50, but QB Isaiah Hill has given up football to concentrate on basketball. He had a great summer for the Compton Magic and it’s a move that makes sense. Still, his old football team will have to replace more than 1,800 yards of offense. The one who will do it and may do it well, according to Trevor Horn of the Bakersfield Californian, is Redwood of Visalia transfer Hector Gonzalez.
Other reasons to like the Patriots include the return of RB/LB Sam Stewart (1,192 yards rushing and more than 80 tackles), an impressive offensive line, with Brycen Lindsey (6-2, 290) and state discus champ Daniel Viveros (6-1, 280), and some top returnees on defense. DE Ben Olinger (6-3, 205) is back with eight sacks while the second-leading tackler last year was junior LB Anthony Villanueva.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 17 at No. 10 Mission Viejo.
MORE TEAMS TO WATCH
& JUST MISSED
Alemany (Mission Hills) 3-7
Bishop Diego (Santa Barbara) 15-1
Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 9-3
Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 10-3
Clayton Valley (Concord) 8-3
Clovis West (Fresno) 9-3
Granite Bay 12-3
Heritage (Menifee) 11-2
Loyola (Los Angeles) 5-6
Mayfair (Lakewood) 11-2
McClymonds (Oakland) 14-0
Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 5-6
Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 11-2
Paraclete (Lancaster) 12-2
Placer (Auburn) 13-2
Rancho Cucamonga 10-3
San Marcos 9-3
San Ramon Valley (Danville) 9-2
San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 11-3
Shasta (Redding) 12-2
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 8-3