State Defensive POY: Henry To’oto’o

Henry To’oto’o will go down as one of the best defensive players ever at De La Salle, but he also could break loose as a running back. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Hard-hitting linebacker from De La Salle of Concord becomes the sixth player from that storied program to get top defensive honors for California. Those who saw him play on a broken foot in the CIF Open Division state final may not have seen him at his best, especially when the Spartans shut out CIF Division 1-AA state champ Folsom in their season opener.

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In the pantheon of Concord De La Salle football players going back into the 1980s and beyond, there are just as many who’ve been known for their prowess on defense as on offense. Many of them also have led the team on both sides of the ball.

Henry To’oto’o can now officially take his place among the best of the best Spartan players after his selection this week as the Cal-Hi Sports State Defensive Player of the Year. He’s the sixth from the school who can now stake that claim. The other five are linebacker Michael Hutchings for 2012, linebacker Michael Barton for 2011, lineman Derek Landri for 2001, linebacker Kevin Simon for 2000 and linebacker D.J. Williams for 1999.

Hutchings and Barton gained their selections for leading dominant DLS defensive units for teams that won the school’s third and fourth consecutive CIF Open Division state titles in 2011 and 2012. To’oto’o wasn’t on a team that did the same, but 2018 Open Division state champion Mater Dei (Santa Ana) has the Mr. Football State Player of the Year (Bru McCoy) and its defensive leaders were more varied.

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No one at De La Salle or Henry himself isn’t making any excuses, but he played that state final that the Spartans lost 35-21 on a broken left foot. At the time, it wasn’t known that To’oto’o had the injury but was revealed the next day. He suffered it during a walk-through practice the previous day at St. John Bosco. He still had six tackles in the game, but wasn’t used at all on offense like he had been in some of the team’s other important games.

“In my head, I knew I was going to hurt,” To’oto’o told the Bay Area News Group a few days after the game. “But I was dedicated to play. Like I said after the game, I wasn’t going to let my brothers down. We’ve been through too much as a team. One last effort for them wouldn’t hurt me.”

One of those other games was in the season opener against Folsom. To’oto’o was the best player on the field that night with multiple tackles, including two forced fumbles. De La Salle won that game over the Bulldogs 14-0, a result that was stunning and remained so for the rest of the season as Folsom would go on to average 58 points over its remaining 14 games en route to the CIF Division I state championship.

“He’s definitely one of the best to have walked through these halls,” said De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh. “He put us on his back for all of our main games. Not just Folsom. Against (Bishop) Gorman (of Las Vegas), he had 11 tackles and rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He’s meant a lot to all of us.”

To’oto’o, who already has been chosen as the Bay Area News Group Player of the Year, did not sign a letter of intent with a college in November and will sign in February. He has visited or will visit Alabama, Tennessee, Oregon, Washington and Utah. He’s also had surgery for that foot injury and will be in a walking boot until the middle of February.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in his prep career, grew up in Sacramento and attended Burbank High in Sacramento as a freshman before he family moved to the Bay Area.

“He’s an alpha dog type of guy, not in an overbearing way, but just the way he makes everyone work harder,” Alumbaugh said. “He really loves football and he really loved his teammates.”


2018 – Henry To’oto’o (De La Salle, Concord) LB
2017 – Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village) DL (Jr.)
2016 – Jaelen Phillips (Redlands East Valley, Redlands) DL
2015 – Oluwole Betiku (Serra, Gardena) DL
2014 – Iman Marshall (Long Beach Poly) DB
2013 – Adoree Jackson (Serra, Gardena) DB
2012 – Michael Hutchings (De La Salle, Concord) LB
2011 – Michael Barton (De La Salle, Concord) LB
2010 – Viliami Moala (Grant, Sacramento) NG
2009 – Viliami Moala (Grant, Sacramento) NG (Jr.)
2008 – Vontaze Burfict (Centennial, Corona) LB
2007 – Jurrell Casey (Long Beach Poly) DL
2006 – Chris Galippo (Servite, Ahaheim) LB
2005 – Darian Hagan Jr. (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) CB
2004 – Luthur Brown (Lakewood) LB

2003 – Brigham Harwell (Los Altos, Hacienda Heights) DT
2002 – Lawrence Jackson (Inglewood) DE
2001 – Derek Landri (De La Salle, Concord) DT
2000 – Kevin Simon (De La Salle, Concord) LB
1999 – D.J. Williams (De La Salle, Concord) LB
1998 – D.J. Williams (De La Salle, Concord) LB
1997 – Robert Thomas (Imperial) LB
1996 – Andre Carter (Oak Grove, San Jose) DE
1995 – Chris Claiborne (J.W. North, Riverside) LB
1994 – Clyde Sanders (Grant, Sacramento) DE
1993 – Darrell Russell (St. Augustine, San Diego) DT
1992 – Travis Kirschke (Esperanza, Anaheim) DT
1991 – LeRoi Glover (Point Loma, San Diego) DT
1990 – Jamir Miller (El Cerrito) LB
1989 – Willie McGinest (Long Beach Poly) DE
1988 – Tommie Smith (Antelope Valley, Lancaster) DB

1987 – Arnold Ale (Carson) LB
1986 – Scott Ross (El Toro) LB
1985 – Randy Austin (Canyon, Canyon Country) LB

1984 – Mark Green (Poly, Riverside) DB
1983 – Chance Johnson (Compton) DB

1982 – Tim McDonald (Edison, Fresno) DB
1981 – George Ebertin (Bellarmine, San Jose) LB
1980 – Jack Del Rio (Hayward) LB

Additional Seasons:
1978 – Michael Richardson (Compton) DB
1976 – Dennis Smith (Santa Monica) DB

1974 – Jerry Robinson (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) LB
1971 – Paul Kinne (Paso Robles) DB
1969 – Artimus Parker (Sacramento) LB
1968 – Willie Buchanon (Oceanside) DB
1967 – Jeff Siemon (Bakersfield) LB
1964 – George Buehler (Whittier) LB
1963 – Tim Rossovich (St. Francis, Mountain View) LB

Note: We’ll continue to fill in previous additional seasons in the coming years as this honor evolves

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

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  1. […] four-star linebacker was named the state’s defensive player of the year Friday night by Cal-Hi Sports after a season in which he helped lead De La Salle to an undefeated regular season, which included […]

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