More State Football Players of Year

Matayo Uiagalelei of St. John Bosco (left) gains the No. 1 selection among sophomores (just like older brother only two years ago). At right is State Small Schools POY Jason “J.T.” Thompson from Harvard-Westlake. Photos: Kirby Lee / Image of Sport & @hwfootball / Twitter.com.

Check inside this post for the honorees who have been chosen among juniors, sophomores, medium schools and small schools. Our defensive state player of the year is the same person who is Mr. Football so there’s no extra pick for that this time. The Trinity League also gets the Junior and Sophomore State Players of the Year, but both selections were not easy. NorCal gets the top medium schools pick while for small schools it goes to SoCal.

To see who has been named Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year, CLICK HERE.

For a list of our all-time players of the year for juniors, sophomores, medium schools and small schools, CLICK HERE.

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Congratulations to the following additional Cal-Hi Sports State Players of the Year for the 2020-21 football season (joining overall honoree Raesjon Davis of Mater Dei):

Fifita will be a contender for Mr. Football State Player of the Year for the fall, but may have to get a win over either Mater Dei or St. John Bosco for that to happen. Photo: @mikeortiz / Servite Football.


STATE JUNIOR OF THE YEAR:
NOAH FIFITA (SERVITE, ANAHEIM)

Getting a breakthrough win over either final state No. 1 Mater Dei or final state No. 2 St. John Bosco didn’t happen, but Noah and the Friars were closer to the top and he had several outstanding performances that combined to be good enough for him to gain the top statewide junior honor.

Fifita was in the position of being the State Sophomore of the Year for the 2019 season and it would have taken a much superior spring 2021 season by someone else for it to switch. One of his teammates, wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, is ranked higher by national recruiting services and he shined as a junior as well. Two other QBs who were strongly considered were Jaden Denegal of Apple Valley and Tyler Tremain of Folsom.

The two best games for Noah were his first two: 19 of 25 for 329 yards and three TDs in a 42-6 win over Damien of La Verne (which was that team’s only loss) and then 18 of 19 for 294 yards and four TDs in a 69-13 Trinity League victory over Orange Lutheran. Fifita had a better game vs. Bosco (38-28 loss) than the one vs. Mater Dei (24-17 loss). Against the Braves, he went 13 of 27 for 177 yards and one TD plus he rushed 10 times for 43 yards and two scores. He gave up a pick six in the early going of the Mater Dei game, but had a TD pass and TD run.

In Servite’s six-game season (final state ranking was fourth), Fifita had 1,263 yards passing and 10 TDs plus 130 yards rushing with 11 scores.

When he was selected as State Sophomore of the Year, it wasn’t clear that Noah would get any major D1 college offers since he’s not above 5-foot-10 in height. But with his continued development, some began to come in over the summer and fall of 2020. Last April, Fifita committed to the University of Arizona.

Servite High has never had the State Junior Player of the Year before. The last one to earn the honor from Orange County was quarterback Matt Barkley of Mater Dei in 2007.

It’s hard to imagine Matayo one day trying to sack his brother, which is why his future may be on offense. Photo: Twitter.com.


STATE SOPHOMORE OF THE YEAR:
MATAYO UIAGALELEI (ST. JOHN BOSCO, BELLFLOWER)

After having been already named as the L.A. Times Player of the Year (including seniors), it might seem like it was a slam dunk for Matayo to be State Sophomore of the Year. The reason it wasn’t is because two QBs who also were sensational and are considered among the best in their class nationally — Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos and Nicholas Iamaleava from Warren of Downey — had to be seriously considered as well.

Matayo, however, was just too much and becomes even harder to top for player of the year honors since he uses his skills, size and athleticism on both sides of the ball. As a hybrid receiver, Uiagalelei came up with two memorable TD catches in Bosco’s win over Servite of Anaheim and ended the six-game season with eight catches for 120 yards and three TDs. On defense, he seemed to get a big sack or big hit in every game and had 16 tackles.

Family is the first thing to think of with Matayo. His big brother, D.J., was the Mr. Football State Player of the Year just two years after leading Bosco to the 2019 CIF Open Division state title. None of that, of course, was available for Matayo this spring, and the Braves weren’t able to win in their big matchup with Mater Dei. D.J. also was State Sophomore of the Year in 2017 with Bosco’s other State Sophomore of the Year being running back Sean McGrew for 2013. It’s also noteworthy that one of Matayo’s cousins is Iamaleava, the sophomore QB at Warren.

At 6-4, 255 pounds, the offers from colleges have come pouring in for Matayo. With his brother starting at quarterback in the fall at Clemson, the Tigers would of course appear to be in the lead to get Matayo as well. The bigger question may be whether Uiagalelei will be “Baby Gronk” catching passes or “Young Concrete” sacking quarterbacks down the road.

STATE MEDIUM SCHOOLS PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
TSION NUNNALLY (CARDINAL NEWMAN, SANTA ROSA) SR.

Many longtime observers of high school sports in the Redwood Empire portion of the CIF North Coast Section feel Cardinal Newman senior wide receiver and defensive back Tsion Nunnally may be one of if the not the best all around athletes ever from the area. He was used sparingly as a sophomore, but over the past two seasons the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Washington State-bound Nunnally has shown just why the locals have been so impressed by his athletic prowess. This past season he even took on the punting duties with the team needing a punter, and he occasionally returned punts and kickoffs.

Tsion Nunnally did it all for Cardinal Newman this spring. Photo: Harold Abend.


Now, after being named First Team as a wide receiver by every major San Francisco Bay Area media outlet, Nunnally snags an even more prestigious statewide honor after being named the Cal-Hi Sports Medium Schools State Player of the Year.

“Wow, thank you so much. It feels really good to be recognized across the state,” Nunnally said when told he was adding a statewide honor to his collection of awards.

“Tsion is a special player and an even more special person,” said Paul Cronin, his high school coach at Cardinal Newman. “He’s the best skill guy we’ve had in our area since Scott Ware in 2001.” Ware starred at Santa Rosa Montgomery and then at USC before a short NFL career.

Cronin has had many medium school all-state players during his years at Cardinal Newman since 2004 (which are ending after his announcement several days ago of accepting the head coaching job at Windsor). But he never had a medium schools state player of the year before. Cardinal Newman’s only two others on the all-time state list are LB Jerry Robinson for 1974 and RB Percy Grogans for 1969.

Nunnally served notice in the season opener that he was going to be a force for a Cardinals team that went 5-0 this past season. In a 28-7 win over North Bay League rival Windsor, Nunnally accounted for all four scores with pass receptions and ended up with 247 yards receiving. One of his TDs was on a short route and Tsion shook off a couple of defenders and bolted past everyone 58 yards to paydirt. He also had four tackles, a batted pass, he punted four times with a longest of 45 yards, and he returned two punts, including one for 54 yards. In a 28-21 win on the road at Fairfield Vanden, Tsion was held in check as a receiver but his 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the difference in the game, plus he had a season-high six tackles.

For the season, Nunnally had 25 catches for 520 yards and seven touchdowns. With his special teams production and a handful of rushes, Tsion finished with eight TDs and 862 yards of total offense. On defense he had 20 tackles and he punted for a 33-yard average.

Last season Nunnally had 45 receptions for 770 yards and 10 TDs receiving and was a major force on a Newman team that went 14-1 and captured the state CIF 3-AA Bowl Game championship.

On a final note, Nunnally is almost as big a star on the hardwood as he is on the gridiron. He’s been a varsity basketball player at Newman for two season and this season he’s a starter and plays a big role, averaging around eight points and eight rebounds a game on a Cardinals team that is currently 8-1 this season.

Jason “J.T.” Thompson is going to give Harvard-Westlake the type of elite athlete in football that the school has enjoyed seeing develop in many other sports in recent years. Photo: Twitter.com.


STATE SMALL SCHOOLS PLAYER OF YEAR:
J.T. THOMPSON
(HARVARD-WESTLAKE, STUDIO CITY) JR.

One of the most elite junior athletes in the state (J.T. also shines in track), he became the favorite for this honor once it’s clear that the Wolverines would indeed be considered “small schools” in football for the 2021 spring season. That’s the case because of what division they were in during the most recent CIF Southern Section playoffs (2019 fall) and the league they played in that includes other schools that have been “small school” or D4 by our own divisions in the last 10 years.

Harvard-Westlake, of course, isn’t “small school” in any other sport. Its teams in baseball, boys basketball and girls basketball (plus many other sports) compete at the highest levels of the CIFSS playoffs (D1). Its players are only eligible for large school or overall all-state honors. We’d expect with what the football team did this season (6-0 under first-year head coach Aaron Huerta) that in the fall it will be in a much higher CIFSS competitive equity playoff division and likely won’t be “small schools” for awhile.

Teammate and fellow junior Marshall Howe passed for nearly 1,300 yards and 15 TDs, but Thompson also returned kicks along with catching passes and was named the player of the year in the Del Rey League. In the six games, he caught 28 passes for 565 yards and eight TDs plus he had 355 returns yards with three more scores. In a 58-40 shootout win over La Salle of Pasadena, J.T. caught six for 186 and three TDs and he had a kickoff return TD plus a punt return TD. With that game also able to have been played at the iconic Rose Bowl just made it all the more special.

Just after the last football game was played, Thompson quickly turned his attention to track and field and within two weeks was the state leader in the triple jump with a mark of more than 47 feet. He won the event at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational. He also has a 3.7 GPA.

Football recruiting analyst Greg Biggins of 247 Sports has mentioned he thinks J.T. will become one of the top targets for high major colleges later in the summer as a receiver. So far, he has 11 listed offers, including one from the University of Arizona where his grandfather, the late Robert Lee Thompson, is in its Hall of Fame. Bobby Thompson still holds UofA records as a running back and was a high jumper and long jumper.

Harvard-Westlake has never has a state player of the year in football before at any level or class. The small schools honoree for 2016, quarterback Johnny Buksa, played for league rival St. Anthony of Long Beach. Thompson also is the first small schools state player of the year from the San Fernando Valley since 1992 and 1993 when the back-to-back winners were Eliel Swinton (RB) from Montclair Prep of Van Nuys and Jim Romero (WR) from L.A. Baptist of Sepulveda.

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


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