Texas may have Patrick Mahomes quarterbacking the Kansas City Chiefs in this year’s Super Bowl, but California crushes the Lone Star State for having the most Super Bowl high school alums (and easily beats every other state) with 13. That total actually is quite average for California, but there is a stronger representation than usual from states like Alabama, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Florida is second this year with 10. Go inside for short trips down memory lane for each of the 13 from the Golden State plus the head coach of the Chiefs and GM of the 49ers (also both from California).
RELATED for Gold Club Members: State’s All-Time List of Super Bowl Players
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Other than the Super Bowl, this also is the time of the year on the football calendar when current unsigned high school seniors from the upcoming graduating class are getting ready to sign on the second of two national letter of intent days. It’s also when some of the top recruits from the upcoming group of juniors are beginning to commit to major colleges.
At the Super Bowl, literally every year, however, there are lots of stories of players who have made it in the NFL who weren’t getting even close to the attention that many players from elite high school programs seem to get every year from major colleges and recruiting networks. It’s not like one guy every two years, either. This year, you can count four of them among the 13 from California who will be on the roster of either the San Francisco 49ers or Kansas City Chiefs.
Those four would be OL Daniel Brunskill of the 49ers, TE Ross Dwelley of the 49ers, RB Damien Williams of the Chiefs and DB Ahkello Witherspoon of the 49ers. Three of those four, plus DB Daniel Sorensen of the Chiefs, also started out their professional football careers as undrafted free agents. And we didn’t even look up how every player in the Super Bowl got started from outside of California, but we know that Florida’s Raheem Mostert, the 49ers’ running back who rushed for 220 yards in the NFC championship, had been cut seven times before he finally broke through.
Bottom line once again for younger players not getting much attention in high school right now is that this is just a small slice of someone’s life and player development. It’s just a fact that some of the players who are right now preparing to sign a letter of intent will indeed not pan out for various reasons and will be surpassed by some players who no one knows much about. Keep playing and don’t give up.
CALIFORNIA SUPER BOWL ALUMNI 2020
(All players listed in alphabetical order)
DL Aric Armstead (Pleasant Grove, Elk Grove)
The former all-state first team offensive lineman (who played both ways for the Eagles and also was an all-state grid-hooper) has blossomed this season for the 49ers’ defensive line after his career got off to an injury-marred start. We saw Aric’s last game at Pleasant Grove when it won the 2012 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title at Sacramento State. Head coach Joe Cattolico (now at Roseville) said this week in a TV interview that Aric essentially played his senior season with one arm due to a shoulder injury. He is the first from Pleasant Grove to appear in a Super Bowl.
OL Daniel Brunskill (Valley Center)
Every year, we say there are players in the Super Bowl who were not even close to being three star recruits in high school who have later gone on, added weight and muscle to a leaner frame, and have gone past many of those more well-known at a younger age. Brunskill is one of those guys. The former walk-on at San Diego State also has become a lineman who can play multiple positions. He also is a player who benefitted from being in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. Scouts from the 49ers saw him play with the San Diego Fleet. He was signed last April and has moved up the depth chart due to injuries in the 49ers’ offensive line.
TE Ross Dwelley (Oak Ridge, El Dorado Hills)
We noticed Ross as a lanky tight end playing for the Trojans in a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal playoff game in a 24-6 win at Burbank of Sacramento. He should have gotten D1 offers and we thought he was better than some other tight ends that year who did get them. Dwelley eventually went to the University of San Diego. He was an all-league tight end there and has moved up the depth charts with the 49ers after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Dwelley has shown he can play in the NFL with catches he’s made during the time that All-Pro tight end George Kittle was injured. He is the second from Oak Ridge to be in a Super Bowl. The first was Austin Collie, a receiver, who was with the Indianapolis Colts in 2010.
QB Matt Moore (Hart, Newhall)
During last summer, Moore didn’t really have plans of continuing his NFL quarterbacking career and was helping coach at Hart under long-time head coach Mike Herrington, who was his own coach at the school. Moore, who has been a starter with the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins during an NFL career that began in 2007 coming out of Oregon State, didn’t play during the 2018 NFL season. He got a chance in Kansas City, though, this preseason when the team’s expected primary backup to emerging superstar Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, suffered an injury. And then when Mahomes had to miss games this season with an injury, Moore was the one who played.
WR Dante Pettis (JSerra, San Juan Capistrano)
Known for setting the NCAA record at the University of Washington between 2014 and 2017 for career punt return touchdowns, Pettis is in his second year as a receiver for the 49ers. The emergence of rookie Deebo Samuel and the 49ers trading for Emmanuel Sanders has cut back on Dante’s opportunities. Last season, he had 27 catches for 467 yards and five TDs. We believe that Pettis is the first alum from JSerra to be in a Super Bowl.
DB/Spec D.J. Reed Jr. (Independence, Bakersfield)
We had looked up D.J. previously when he had scored a bizarre touchdown for the 49ers on the final play of the game against the Arizona Cardinals. It was one of those kickoff returns when the Cardinals were trying to lateral their way down the field, but fumbled. Reed picked up the ball and scored as the 49ers covered the betting spread in one of most infamous “bad beats” of all time. At Independence, Reed was a league MVP in two sports (basketball being the other) and initially was recruited and signed by Fresno State. He later switched to Cerritos College and then to Kansas State.
OL Mitchell Schwartz (Palisades, Pacific Palisades)
Current Pali head coach Tim Hyde recently sent in some all-state nominations for this year’s team and in a follow-up email mentioned how exciting it would be to have a former Dolphin in this year’s Super Bowl. That has happened with the Chiefs getting there. Schwartz is actually the second from Pali to play in the Super Bowl. The first was QB Jay Schroeder of the Washington Redskins in 1988. Schwartz has had a solid NFL career after playing in college at Cal and being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft by Cleveland. He’s been with the Chiefs since 2016.
DB Richard Sherman (Dominguez, Compton)
A remarkable all-around athlete at Dominguez, Sherman was a key player on a Dons’ team in 2005 that won a CIFSS title with a win over previously unbeaten Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks. Sherman’s team also snapped Notre Dame’s 35-game win streak. He was more of a receiver than a cornerback in those days, but his biggest prep accomplishment was winning a triple jump first-place medal at the CIF State Track Championships. Sherman, who won a Super Bowl as a member of the Seattle Seahawks in 2015, was the 2005-06 Division 2 State Athlete of the Year. The runner-up was three-sport star Colin Kaepernick from Pitman of Turlock.
DB Daniel Sorensen (Colton)
You know those nice, mild-mannered Mormon missionaries riding their bikes around town? The hard-hitting Sorensen was once one of them. He did that for two years following his playing days for the Yellowjackets and, after the big game he had when the Chiefs came back from that big deficit to beat the Houston Texans in their first playoff game, he become much more well-known. Sorensen also should inspire younger players because he was initially signed by the Chiefs in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. He’s the second player from Colton to be in the Super Bowl. The first was DB Jimmy Smith of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.
TE Levine Toilolo (Helix, La Mesa)
Levine became the fifth from Helix to make it to the Super Bowl in 2017 and was a member of the Atlanta Falcons’ team that year that saw a 28-3 lead evaporate in the fourth quarter in an eventual overtime loss to the New England Patriots. Toilolo’s offensive coordinator for that team was Kyle Shanahan, who is now his head coach for San Francisco. Toilolo was one of the state’s top tight ends in high school and played in college at Stanford.
LB Fred Warner (Mission Hills, San Marcos)
At Mission Hills in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Fred was a tackling machine for teams that did very well, including one that won the San Diego Section D1 title. He was first team all-state in 2013 and is considered one of the state’s best linebackers for the decade. This year for the 49ers, Warner has emerged as one of the top young linebackers in the NFL. He just earned his first All-Pro honor. He also was NFC Defensive Player of the Month for the games he had in November.
RB Damien Williams (Mira Mesa, San Diego)
Here is the fourth of the 13 guys from California in this year’s Super Bowl who began their NFL careers as undrafted free agents. Williams also is similar to two of the other three (Daniel Brunskill, Ross Dwelley) in that they also didn’t sign letters of intent with D1 colleges coming out of high school. Williams has become the primary running back this season in the Chiefs’ offense, primarily for his abilities to catch passes out of the backfield. He played at Arizona Western College after high school and then got an opportunity at the University of Oklahoma. Michael Pittman, the father of the recent Pittman brothers at Oaks Christian, is the only other grad of Mira Mesa to play in the Super Bowl. Pittman made it in 2003 with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
DB Akhello Witherspoon (Christian Brothers, Sacramento)
While Witherspoon was a third-round draft pick by the 49ers in 2017 coming out of the University of Colorado, he’s like some of the others on this list who was not recruited in high school. In his case, Akhello only started playing football for one season at Christian Brothers. He went the JC route to Sacramento City College and then hit it big enough there to earn a ride to Boulder. Witherspoon is the third player from CBS to play in the Super Bowl.
Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid
If Kansas City can get the win in this year’s game, Reid would be the first from California to win a Super Bowl as a head coach since Pete Carroll won for Seattle in 2015. Reid is from Marshall High of Los Angeles. Carroll went to Redwood of Larkspur (in Marin County). A lot of people in the football coaching community will be very happy if Reid can win his first Super Bowl. Combining his years with the Chiefs and with the Philadelphia Eagles (1990-2012), he’s the sixth winningest coach in NFL history. Two of his previous assistant coaches, John Harbaugh and Doug Pederson, have won Super Bowls, and many know that he has had the tragedy in his life of losing a son, Garrett, due to an drug overdose in 2012.
49ers General Manager John Lynch
One of the architects of the 49ers’ rebuild has been Lynch, an all-state player back in the day at Torrey Pines of San Diego. Lynch played in the Super Bowl for two teams, the Tampa Bay Bucs and Denver Broncos, and is considered by some to be a candidate eventually to get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2016, Lynch’s son, Jake, played for the CIF Division I state champion Cathedral Catholic Dons of San Diego.
More Fun Facts: We don’t do the research for offensive and defensive coordinators, but Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is a former all-state running back from Bishop Amat of La Puente. He should be a candidate to become a head coach in the NFL in an upcoming season. Bieniemy also played in the Super Bowl as a member of the San Diego Chargers in 1995. The team he went up against in that Super Bowl: the San Francisco 49ers….
California’s total of 13 this year is four less than than last year, but that still was easily in front of any other state. Florida placed second this year with 10 players in the Super Bowl while Texas went from 13 two years ago and 16 from last year all the way down to seven. California has not only had the most players in the Super Bowl for two straight years, but also for five of the last six seasons, including 22 in 2015. The state’s all-time highest total of 25 was set in 1995 by the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and tied in 2008 by the Patriots and New York Giants…..
Alabama might have its highest total ever with seven players in the Super Bowl. That’s the same as Texas. Two of those from Alabama were Davidson High (Mobile) teammates Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, and those two actually start alongside each other as safeties for the 49ers’ defense. Pennsylvania also has seven Super Bowl alums this year while Illinois has six. There’s also another school nationally that has two in the game, which would be Good Counsel of Olney, Md. Good Counsel’s twosome both play for the Chiefs — LB Dorian O’Daniel and DB Kendall Fuller. Last year, Lincoln of Stockton had two teammates playing for the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl — WR Brandin Cooks and RB Justin Davis. You would think something like two players from the same high school on a Super Bowl roster would be quite rare, but it’s not. We found three schools with two players each nationally last season and this year there’s two (but none from California).