First four are the same four it’s been to start (and just about finish) the last few seasons. It’s just the order that might get juggled during the season between Mater Dei of Santa Ana, St. John Bosco of Bellflower, De La Salle of Concord and Centennial of Corona. Our preseason No. 5, Narbonne of Harbor City, is the only other school with the talent to come close to the top, especially on defense, but the Gauchos have off-the-field issues that could knock them off their rails.
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(All teams listed with last year’s win-loss record, not counting forfeits)
(This is the start of the 41st consecutive season in which Cal-Hi Sports has provided state rankings for California high school football teams)
1. MATER DEI (SANTA ANA) 14-1*
Two-time defending CIF Open Division state champion
Head Coach: Bruce Rollinson
In some years in this recent era of Mater Dei-St. John Bosco dominance at the top of the state, there’s much debate about which one should be No. 1 to start the season. Not so much for 2019. Since the Monarchs have won back-to-back CIF Open Division state titles, they more obviously deserve to start back at the top until results on the field cause a switch. Both Mater Dei and St. John Bosco are playing national schedules early on so it could be that it might switch before those two play in their regular season Trinity League game. Still, for purposes of the state (and that’s what we care about the most, not national rankings) it’s very likely we’re in for another season of the MD-Bosco regular season winner being No. 1, then we’d have the rematch in the CIF Southern Section finals (this year it would be in new Open Division) and then the winner would be a big favorite to win the CIF Open Division crown (again most likely against De La Salle).
The strength of this year’s team on offense is the return of USC-bound QB Bryce Young. Bryce took the keys to the car from previous QB J.T. Daniels and revved up the offense with 3,846 passing yards, 286 more yards on the ground and 43 total touchdowns. There’s also a bunch of behemoths in front of Young who work well as a group, strive to continuously get better and have a great attitude. That group includes Myles Murao (6-3, 280), Tai Marks (6-2, 308) and junior George Miki-Han (6-1, 300). The offensive question marks are at running back and receiver (where Mr. Football Bru McCoy has departed), but the depth of D1 athletes at those positions is there to overcome that. Watch for Kody Epps and Diamond Ranch of Pomona transfer Cristian Dixon (an all-state sophomore) to make a difference there. Narbonne transfer Marceese Yetts, meanwhile, could do the same at running back.
On defense, Mater Dei took some hits with the transfer losses of defensive backs Elias Ricks (to IMG Academy in Florida) and Darion Green-Warren (to Narbonne of Harbor City), but junior Jaylin Davies (20 plus D1 offers) has looked great all summer and is expected to step up. The MD linebackers also are stout, led by junior Raesjon Davis (one of the top juniors in the state) and seniors Jacob Fuamatu (40 tackles) and Moses Sepulona. Davis had 20 1/2 tackles for loss as a sophomore and that was despite not playing that much early in the season. The Monarchs’ defense also will have team captains Dean Neeley (linebacker) and Nate White (defensive back) showing leadership and intensity.
First Game: Fri., Aug. 23 at home vs. No. 4 Centennial (Corona).
2. ST. JOHN BOSCO (BELLFLOWER) 13-1
CIF Southern Section Division I Runner-Up
Head Coach: Jason Negro
Both the Braves and Mater Dei have now won two CIF Open Division state titles since 2013 when the Braves won their first. De La Salle is the only other school to claim crowns in the same division during this era with its two straight in 2014 and 2015. The Spartans, though, frankly haven’t been able to stay too close to SoCal’s big two. It’s literally been like an old-style arms race between superpowers. Sure, transfers have been part of it but in Bosco’s case it’s also been about taking advantage of favorable demographics in a talent-laden region of Southern California in which major college prospects could be seen previously at places like Dominguez of Compton, Lakewood, Long Beach Poly, and even L.A. City schools Carson and Banning (Wilmington) aren’t that far away. Now, it seems like anyone with that type of talent in that area is going to Bosco.
This year’s team is in a familiar spot looking up at Mater Dei to start the season, but knows that there probably will be two head-to-head meetings with the Monarchs to decide the state pecking order. The Braves do have bigger goals than that, of course, and will play the type of national schedule that will enable them to probably finish No. 1 in the nation if they go undefeated. In fact, they aren’t even playing a California team until they start the Trinity League.
There also will be a great desire for the Braves to have three-year starting quarterback and Clemson-commit D.J. Uigalelei go out with a state title. D.J. has been a beast at that position since he cracked the starting lineup early in the 2017 season. He didn’t have a good outing when the Braves lost to Mater Dei in their rematch game last season, so he’ll be itching to get back out there to face the Monarchs again. Uigalelei has 6,099 yards and 77 TD passes so far in his career and he has nearly 700 yards rushing. The offense also will still have talented WR Kris Hutson back along with an offensive line led by all-state junior Drake Metcalf (6-3, 275). Upcoming junior WR Beaux Collins (already making one-handed catches and getting bushels of D1 offers) along with transfer WR Logan Loya (previously at Orange Lutheran) will round out the WR corps. Running back positions should be led by returnee Nathaniel Jones, but it’s hard not get excited about upcoming sophomore Rayshawn Luke. All he did last spring in track was become the fastest freshman 100-meter sprinter in state history.
Bosco’s defense will need to have some defensive backs step up due to graduation losses, but the depth is there for that not to be a big problem. The team’s top returning defender is linebacker-strong safety Court Williams. He was particularly disruptive in that first Mater Dei game when Bosco won. Williams has just committed to Ohio State.
First Game: Fri., Aug. 23 vs. DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.).
3. DE LA SALLE (CONCORD) 12-1
CIF Open Division runner-up
Head Coach: Justin Alumbaugh
There was definite progress shown by the Spartans in their CIF Open Division contest last year against Mater Dei compared to the blowouts from the two previous seasons against the Monarchs (2017) and St. John Bosco (2016). They were in a one score game in the fourth quarter and that was even though their best player (Henry To’oto’o) could barely play with a sprained ankle.
One of the reasons for their strong season, which included another CIF North Coast Section title and a 14-0 win over CIF D1-AA state champ Folsom, was the emergence of sophomore quarterback Dorian Hale. The best DLS teams over the years have been the ones with experienced quarterbacks and Hale will still have another season to play after this one. He had more than 1,400 yards passing as a sophomore and that should go up since another strength this season will be having WRs Grant Daley and Lu Magia Hearns (a junior) also back. Daley can make acrobatic catches with the best of them while Hearns is more of a game-breaking playmaker. At running back, the Spartans also are loaded with seniors Shamar Garrett and James Coby. Garrett had more than 1,000 yards rushing in his first 11 games and also can make big gains catching the ball on screens.
The trick for the Spartans, though, is that they have a number of top defensive players from last year to replace, beginning with To’oto’o (now at Tennessee). They also don’t seem to have many big, physical linemen that they’ve had in recent years (especially 2014 and 2015). One lineman with a lot of experience is 6-foot, 275-pound nose guard Beau Tagaloa. And with longtime defensive coordinator Terry Eidson calling the shots and building the unit, De La Salle has always been great on that side of the ball.
Beating St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida (No. 1 in the nation by some) in the first game seems like a tall order for this group, but it will give them experience of playing a team similar to the one they’d likely face at the end of the season in the CIF Open Division state final.
First Game: Fri., Aug. 23 at home vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla).
4. CENTENNIAL (CORONA) 10-2
CIF Southern Section Division I semifinalist
Head Coach: Matt Logan
With an opening game of the season coming against No. 1 Mater Dei, there was thought given to placing the Huskies at No. 3 to start the season with De La Salle fourth. It doesn’t matter that much, though, because the Spartans aren’t exactly playing a chump in their first game, either. The same reasons that DLS was third last year at the end also just carry over.
Heading to Mater Dei, Logan knows that the odds of what happened in last year’s CIFSS D1 semifinals happening again are just extremely high. In that game, the Monarchs ran back four interceptions for touchdowns (all in the first half) in an easy 42-14 win. With even two less of those rare plays replaced by Centennial scoring drives, that’s a 35-28 game.
In most years, the Huskies have most of their major talent coming back on offense. It’s more balanced this time.
The top offensive returnee is WR Gary Bryant Jr. He’s one of the best wideouts and dangerous return guys that the school has ever had and has offers from many major D1 colleges. QB Carter Freedland also returns and is looking to pump up his stock. WR Brandon Alvarez is another go-to player while back to lead the offensive line is junior Devin Spencer (6-2, 255).
Centennial also has a defensive veteran as highly regarded nationally as Bryant. That would be junior DE Korey Freeman (6-4, 245). He was recently MVP of all defensive linemen (including seniors) at Nike’s The Opening, a national showcase held at the Dallas Cowboys’ training complex. Others on defense expected to lead the way include DB Isaiah Young (committed to Cal)
and second-leading tackler Simon Hall.
First Game: Fri., Aug. 23 vs. No. 1 Mater Dei at Santa Ana Bowl.
5. NARBONNE (HARBOR CITY) 10-4
CIF Division 1-AA SoCal runner-up
Head Coach: Manuel Douglas
The offensive and defensive lines may not quite be there yet, but for defense and in the skill positions on offense the lineup that the Gauchos can put out there this season is right up there with the big two of Mater Dei and St. John Bosco. The commitment list of the Narbonne players reads like a who’s who of college football elite: DL Jordan Banks (Alabama), DL Jordan Berry (LSU), DB Jared Greenfield (Oregon), DB Brandon Jones (Stanford) and junior DB/ATH Anthony Beavers, a transfer from Serra of Gardena (Oregon). That’s just on defense. On offense, receivers Traeshon Holden, a transfer from Baltimore, has committed to Alabama, while Josh Jackson is bound for USC. The list doesn’t include a couple of seniors who as of this writing hadn’t decided yet, DB Darion Green-Warren, or some of the top juniors, such as QB Jake Garcia, who passed for 2,130 yards and 15 TDs. We thought about not putting Narbonne in the top five since the team did lose to Cathedral Catholic in last year’s CIF D1-AA SoCal final, but that was a toss-up game and the lineup that Narbonne may have is hard to top. It also causes pause to know that the L.A. Unified School District, according to the L.A. Times, is still deep into an investigation of the Narbonne program allegedly for academic issues. We decided to go ahead and rank the team based on the schedule it is playing and the players who are showing on the roster and will just make adjustments if and when rulings arise and investigations are complete. Douglas, in fact, isn’t coaching the team due to the investigation and hasn’t been involved with the players since last spring. We’re going to that first game in Clovis as well so just being there, seeing who’s playing (who’s not) and seeing how the team looks should reveal a lot.
First Game: Sat., Aug. 24 at No. 12 Buchanan (Clovis).
6. CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC (SAN DIEGO)
CIF Division 1-AA state runner-up
Head Coach: Sean Doyle
The CIF San Diego Section Open Division champs from last year will once again grade out highly on both sides of the ball this season. Even with the loss of big play running back Shawn Poma, who was virtually unstoppable in 2018, the Dons remain poised to stay on top of the San Diego Section. The offense returns veteran signal caller D.J. Ralph, who threw for 16 TDs with an outstanding 24 yards per completion average. Protected by the top offensive line in the county, which includes D-1 level standouts Logan Berzins (6-4, 285) and Holden Brosnan (6-4,280), the passing game will be more prominent this season as well as adding another dimension of firepower for the traditionally run-based program. And with big shoes to fill at halfback, the eager 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back Zavien Watson (6.0 YDs per carry) will be more than capable in gathering yardage and scoring points out of the backfield. The defense is led by the two sons of a former MLB World Series MVP and NFL All-Pro defensive-back, Jermaine Dye and Eric Allen. This outstanding linebacker duo of middle-linebacker Devin Dye (6-2, 215) and the highly touted All-SDCIF Jordan Allen (6-2, 205) will be assisted by one of the top multi-dimensional defensive backs in the county, junior Dee’shon Swafford, to round out a stellar defense. Include the additions of top-flight players from a dominant 10-0 JV squad, featuring future defensive star Jaxson Moi on the defensive line, the Dons are positioned to continue their reign of success in 2019. Their big pre-league game to watch will be against No. 4 Corona Centennial.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 23 vs. La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad).
7. JSERRA (SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO) 9-3
CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Pat Harlow
The Lions have pretty clearly moved to being the third team in the Trinity League behind Mater Dei and St. John Bosco and while they still have a long way to go to reach the top two so does just about every other team in California. One of their biggest holes to fill after last season was at quarterback and it was recently learned that junior General Booty will be eligible to play this season after he and his family (he’s the son of former NFL receiver Abram Booty and nephew of former USC QB John David Booty) have moved to Orange County from Texas. It was reported that Booty was one of the top quarterbacks in Texas last season. Another huge addition to the team is offensive lineman Ross Maseuli (6-4, 315) from Cathedral Catholic of San Diego. He’s one of the best linemen we’ve ever seen from San Diego so when you combine him with returning all-state junior Jeffrey Persi (6-7, 265) you actually do have the making of a unit that can easily go toe-to-toe with the Monarchs and Braves. JSerra also has a running back that would be a star at either of the big two schools in Cal commit and senior Chris Street. Ironically, if he had stayed at Mater Dei (he switched schools after the 2017 season), Street probably would be starring there this season. As a junior last year, he rushed for 1,342 yards and 17 TDs. The defense at JSerra also deserves mention with one of the state’s top junior linebackers, Jaden Genova (78 tackles), and one of the state’s top sophomore linebackers, Malaki Te’o (6-0, 220) leading the way.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 23, at East (Salt Lake City, Utah).
8. FOLSOM 15-1
CIF Division 1-AA state champion
Head Coach: Paul Doherty
There was a coaching shocker in NorCal circles not long after the Bulldogs won their fourth CIF state title of the decade with their overtime win over Cathedral Catholic. That was when head coach Kris Richardson announced he would leave to become an assistant on the new staff at Sacramento State, which had hired former Folsom co-coach and Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor as its new head coach. Plus, several of the Bulldogs’ other assistants left with Richardson. Doherty, another assistant on the staff, was eventually tabbed to become the new leader. With such a coaching change and the loss of a majority of last year’s starters, including QB Kaiden Bennett, where to put Folsom for the preseason was not easy. At first, when we did an early top 10 for our ticker on the top of our website, we didn’t think Folsom should be in it. We’ve looked at it more closely, though, and yes the Bulldogs should be in the top 10. They’re primed to jump way up there if they were to knock off No. 3 De La Salle when the two face off on Sept. 13 at Folsom, but their behind Cathedral Catholic, Narbonne and JSerra. There is still some impressive firepower that the new staff can work with. RB Daniyel Ngata had 20 combined TDs last season rushing and passing and could be the top back in Northern California. WR Elijhah Badger also returns after catching 55 passes for 1,113 yards and 20 TDs as a junior. He, like Ngata, has multiple major college offers. DeShawn Lynch, who had 62 tackles and five sacks last year, should lead the defense. He also was Grid-Hoop All-State for the 2018-19 school year and is another big-time recruit. Throw in C.J. Hutton at receiver (one of the state’s top juniors for the football-baseball combination last year) plus others moving up from the JV and Folsom remains the obvious choice to win another CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 title and then get into the mix for the CIF D1-AA crown. Of course, beating De La Salle would put the team on an entirely different trajectory.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 30 vs. Jesuit (Carmichael) at Sac State.
9. RANCHO CUCAMONGA 7-5
CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Mark Verti
We really like both the Cougars and their Baseline League rivals from Upland for this season and are putting Rancho just one spot higher to start because it won last year’s regular season league final between the two. Some might have felt sorry for the Cougars before last season due to a few transfer losses and some early losses on the field. They came back down the stretch, however, and set the stage for 2019. QB C.J. Stroud then kept up the momentum in the spring and summer by becoming one of the nation’s highest-rising QB recruits. He capped it all off by earning MVP honors at the Elite 11 national camp in Texas. Stroud passed for 2,343 yards and 19 TDs last season. The offense also should be helped by the return of RB/WR Silas Bolden and WR Jaden Dixon-Veal plus the offensive line has some strength with San Diego State commit Julian Ripley (6-6, 250) and junior Dominic Perez (6-1, 270). On defense, Quentin Moten may keep alive the school’s recent trend of having an elite DB while Eisenhower of Rialto transfer Sean Evans (6-1, 220) will look to make an impact.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 23 vs. Roosevelt (Eastvale).
10. UPLAND 12-3
CIF Southern Section Division 2 champion
Head Coach: Darryl Thomas
The Highlanders will have one of the state’s best defensive units and could be much better than even No. 10 if the offense can survive some significant graduation losses. They’ll be led by All-American linebacker Justin Flowe. Nicknamed Baby Man since he began clobbering quarterbacks and running backs as a freshman, Flowe will be joined at linebacker by younger brother Jonathan. Both Justin and Jonathan have offers from Georgia (which is one of Justin’s final four) and we’re pretty sure Alabama offered both, too. Justin had 145 tackles last season. Cornerback prospect Kyle Floyd also had 133 tackles for the Upland defense last year. DB Earl Estell and DL Josh Garcia also are honors candidates. The best news for the offense is that quarterback Evan Rowe is returning. The Highlanders also have two offensive tackles with a lot of size — senior Joseph Church (6-6, 285) and junior Benjamin Young (6-6, 265). Thomas will be in his first year as head coach, following the retirement of 25-year head coach Tim Salter.
First Game: Thursday, Aug. 22 vs. No. 40 La Habra
11. CALABASAS 10-3
CIF Southern Section Division 2 semifinalist
Head Coach: Chris Claiborne
The Coyotes are still looking for their first CIF state title and they better get to that before they have to be in the same CIFSS playoff division as Mater Dei and St. John Bosco. Technically, that could happen this year if Calabasas were to win games against its toughest opponents, which will be JSerra, Rancho Cucamonga and Oaks Christian. That would put them in the CIFSS D1 bracket (which is similar to an open division). Having a great schedule isn’t the only reason we like the Coyotes to be among the state’s top teams. They have an impressive collection of offensive talent. QB Jaden Casey is back after passing for 3,161 yards and 38 TDs as a junior. The receivers, led by Johnny Wilson and Jermaine Burton, could be unmatched in the state. Both are big-time college targets and both caught 40 passes last season for a combined 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns. Two of the team’s leading tacklers from last season — Myles Coleman and Zach Shadorf — are all back as well. The line, meanwhile, should include top-notch junior Campbell McHarg (6-3, 265).
First Game: Friday, Aug. 23 vs. Bakersfield
12. BUCHANAN (CLOVIS) 10-3
CIF Central Section Division 1 semifinalist
Head Coach: Matt Giordano
We’re going a little bit against local consensus by putting the Bears higher than defending CIF Central Section D1 champ Central of Fresno. The Grizzlies are only a few spots lower and this is also partly because Buchanan is opening up at home on Saturday, Aug. 24 against L.A. City Section powerhouse Narbonne. It’s a sink or swim proposition. It’s not like the players coming back for the Bears are sub-par, either. They will suit up the state’s No. 1 running back prospect, recent Georgia commit Kendall Milton, a power back (6-2, 210) with sprinter speed and all the right moves. Junior quarterback D.J. Stevenson, son of former Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year DeShawn Stevenson, also is back and looked good at last spring’s Nike showcase camp in the Bay Area. The defense has plenty of returnees as well, including D1 college prospect Matt Merritt (6-2, 255 and with an offer from Arizona). The key will be if the Bears can get some plays from their new receivers so that defenses aren’t just ganging up on Milton.
First Game: Saturday, Aug. 24 vs. No. 5 Narbonne (Harbor City)
13. OAKS CHRISTIAN (WESTLAKE VILLAGE) 12-1
CIF Southern Section Division I semifinalist
Head Coach: Charles Collins
The Lions definitely have to start lower than where they finished last year and where they started after losing players such as Zach Charbonnet (RB), Josh Calvert (QB/LB) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (DE) plus others to graduation. Still, there is a plethora of talent in the program that may limit too much of a decline. There’s still another Calvert brother ready to wreak havoc on both sides of the ball as Ethan, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior, will be one of the leaders on defense at linebacker and plays tight end. He had 41 tackles with three sacks last season and is regarded as one of the top junior college prospects in the state. Game-breaking receiver/returner Bryce Farrell also is back after missing games as a junior with injuries. Farrell has committed to Stanford. He had 63 catches for 1,168 yards and nine TDs as a sophomore. Among others that stand out are WR/DB Kaylin Moore (two interceptions), LB Mister Williams (6-2, 225) and junior OL Kekoa Pele-Allen (6-3, 280).
First Game: Friday, Aug. 23 at Chaminade (West Hills)
14. LIBERTY (BRENTWOOD) 13-1
CIF Division 1-A state champion
Head Coach: Ryan Partridge
The Lions are quite clearly the No. 2 team in the Bay Area to start the season after their big breakthrough in 2018 when they won the D1-A state title and suffered their only loss to De La Salle in the CIF North Coast Section Open Division final. We said at the time of Liberty’s state title that it might be bittersweet because there was discontent around the state for the NCS (and the CIF Central Coast Section) being able to send runner-up teams from open divisions into the CIF state bowl games. That has now changed, so if Liberty wants to get another crack at winning state it may have to take a win over De La Salle (which hasn’t happened in the NCS playoffs since 1991).
Regardless, the Lions look good for 2019 beginning with the return of all-state candidate QB Jay Butterfield. The Oregon commit is one of the best in the nation and had 3,294 yards passing and 43 TDs as a junior. Tyrell Sturges-Cofer at running back and all-state Sione Vaki at receiver are both gone, but expected to step up are returnees Darrion Bartley (also six sacks on defense) and Brenden Bell (he rushed for 429 yards and six TDs). Liberty has a top-notch group of linemen as well. Peyton Zdroik (6-2, 250) had five sacks last year and can play all offensive line positions. Clemone Kennedy is a 6-foot-2, 310-pounder who pancakes opposing linemen. And then there’s junior Akili Calhoun. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder is one of the top juniors in the Bay Area and is getting D1 offers.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 23 at Vacaville
15. SERRA (GARDENA) 5-6
CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs
Head Coach: Scott Altenberg
Upon learning of the transfers of junior DB/LB Anthony Beavers and senior DB Macen Williams to nearby Narbonne (Harbor City), the first thought was that it would really hurt the Cavaliers. But once you start checking out all of the players they still have, and some of the younger guys moving up, it’s easy to see that they should be considered favorites to win the Mission League title and should be much-improved and much more consistent this season. Injuries seemed to take a lot of wind out of the team’s sails last year, especially one we saw in the first game that was a season-ending knee injury suffered by team leader and USC recruit Max Williams. In the skill positions on offense, Serra is much higher than its state ranking (closer to top five). Senior QB Doug Brumfield is a UNLV commit who passed for 3,112 yards and 20 TDs last season, but there’s also super sophomore Malik Murphy looming at that position as well. At running back, Jaylon Armstead doesn’t have monster stats, but has offers from Nevada, Arizona State and others. Nevada with Justin Lockhart and UNLV with Ronald Gilliam have garnered commitments from two of Serra’s leading receivers. The team’s No. 1 returnee, though, is WR-DB LV Bunkley-Shelton. He caught 81 balls last year for 1,012 yards and had three picks on defense. Buckley-Shelton’s offers are from USC, Texas, Ohio State and more. The defense at Serra has plenty of returning strength, too. LB Justin Houston had 101 tackles last season and is another all-state candidate. Juniors Tyrell Odell (82 tackles) and Lando Brown (75 tackles) are also back to patrol the middle of the field. On the back end, meanwhile, Justin Pinkney (2 interceptions) is one to watch. If players develop up front on both sides of the ball, this team could be even better than top 15.
First Game: Friday, Aug. 30 vs. Garfield (Los Angeles)
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