With positive thoughts that there won’t be the similar numbers of games cancelled this fall as there were last spring due to COVID, we present the starting point of state football rankings for the 2021 fall season. This will be the 44th season in which Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis (1936-2004) or Cal-Hi Sports publisher Mark Tennis has compiled state rankings for California high schools. For this first part, there are 25 teams written up. Mater Dei and St. John Bosco are obvious teams for the first two spots, but we’re sure there will be plenty of debate starting even at No. 3.
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(Teams listed with 2021 spring season record)
(*Record does not include forfeit wins or losses)
(50 teams also will be ranked every Monday night during the season, beginning on Monday, Aug. 23)
(First games could be added/changed quickly due to reporting errors & teams having to cancel with a positive COVID-19 test)
1. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 5-0
First game: The one scheduled for Aug. 20 vs. Centennial (Corona) was cancelled. If another matchup doesn’t get secured, the first game would be Aug. 27 at nationally ranked Duncanville (Texas).
Outlook: In this current era of the Monarchs and St. John Bosco looking to be No. 1 in the nation, competing strongly with each other but essentially slaughtering every other team in the state, the team that won the last game is always and should be ranked higher until they meet again. That’s Mater Dei right now. The senior class could be the school’s strongest yet, with easily four of the state’s top 10 recruits — DB Domani Jackson, RB Raleek Brown, WR C.J. Williams, and LB David Bailey. Looking for question marks in head coach Bruce Rollinson’s projected lineup is difficult. It could be possible that sophomore QB Elijah Brown had too small of sample size (just five games) to see if he’s capable of being considered among the school’s great recent QBs, but probably not.
2. St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 4-1
First game: Friday, Aug. 20 at home vs. Central of Miami, Fla.
Outlook: There are a lot of questions about the Braves as the season gets underway, but they come in the context of having good situations to deal with. Will head coach Jason Negro continue to use both QBs that split time last year — senior Katin Houser (Michigan State) and junior Pierce Clarkson? How will freak athlete Matayo Uigalelei (the State Sophomore of the Year) be utilized on both sides of the ball? And how will Alemany transfer R.J. Jones (one of the top junior recruits in the state) fit in with an already experienced secondary? Compared to Mater Dei, one part of the squad that does have some question marks and will need to come through is the receivers. The rest of Bosco’s list of projected starters and standouts are all as loaded as usual.
3. Servite (Anaheim) 4-2
First game: It was supposed to be happening on Thursday, Aug. 19 at Bishop Amat (La Puente), but Amat had to shut down practices for a COVID reason. If there’s no replacement, the next game would be Aug. 26 vs. Mission Viejo. The Amat game has since been rescheduled for Sept. 9.
Outlook: Just as was done to start the 2021 spring season, we are starting the Friars in the third position of the state rankings since they will face both Mater Dei and St. John Bosco in the regular season. In the two games last spring, Servite fell 21-14 to the Monarchs and 38-28 to the Braves. If the team had not given up a pick six to MD and instead had scored on one itself, that elusive win over one of the big two might have indeed taken place. Head coach Troy Thomas has some holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but the one-two punch of QB Noah Fifita (Arizona) and junior WR Tetairoa McMillan (either the No. 1 or No. 2 Class of 2022 recruit in the state depending on which ranking you’re looking at) is one of the best in the nation. Houston Thomas, the coach’s son, also returns and can be a very strong running back.
4. De La Salle (Concord) 6-0
First game: Friday, Aug. 27 at St. Mary’s (Stockton). We usually take advantage of seeing DLS whenever it comes close to our home base, but on the same night an even bigger NorCal clash of ranked teams will be Serra (San Mateo) at Pittsburg.
Outlook: What’s going to happen first — the Spartans returning to the top of the state with a win in the CIF Open Division final or taking their first loss to another team from Northern California (not counting Fresno) for the first time since 1991? For this season at least, it’s more likely for the second result than the first. North Coast Section rival Pittsburg and non-league foe Folsom (ranked No. 7 below) are seen as possibilities to getting that historic win. DLS will be replacing some key cogs on offense — especially three-year QB Dorian Hale and WR Lu Magia Hearns — but may not drop off if sophomore Carson Su’esu’e (6-5, 180) is as good as a lot of recruiting types think he’ll be. There are other top-notch returnees with WR/DB Zeke Berry, junior TE Cooper Flanagan, TE/DE Brodie Tagaloa and LB Damonie Perkins at the top of the list. All-State sophomore OL Derek Thompson is another to watch.
5. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 5-0
First game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Torrey Pines
Outlook: Almost everyone is back on offense and defense from a group that just a few months ago ended the spring as not just the No. 1 team in San Diego but a dominant No. 1 team. The Dons didn’t play all of the top teams in the section (most notably Carlsbad) but impressed against the ones they did play. Senior RB Lucky Sutton rushed for an average of 180 yards per game, senior QB Charlie Mirer threw for seven TDs and senior WR Rex Haynes is getting D1 offers. The defense will be led by Cal-bound DE Jaxson Moi. The schedule also is challenging, including a trip to Concord to face De La Salle and a matchup vs. Corona Centennial.
6. Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 5-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. JSerra (SJ Capistrano).
Outlook: Based on the number of college prospects on the roster, it could be argued that Alemany (Mission Hills) should be No. 1 for the San Fernando Valley area of the CIFSS, but the way that the Trailblazers played last season they just deserve to be a lot higher. Their only loss of the spring was to St. John Bosco in a competitive game (42-21) and they blitzed everyone else, including that 42-0 mauling of Oaks Christian. There are some grad losses (which is why Cathedral Catholic is starting out higher), but generally this looks like a solid CIFSS Division I qualifier and top 10 state squad. QB Daniel Duran and RB Jason Jones will lead the offense behind one of the state’s most impressive offensive lines led by Kenji Swanson (6-8, 310) and Michael Wooten (6-6, 290). The defense still has sack master Ezekiel Larry, one of the state’s top-ranked senior DBs (Kamari Ramsey) and one of the state’s top-ranked junior DBs (Jonah Lewis).
7. Folsom 6-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Monterey Trail (Elk Grove)
Outlook: This group of Bulldogs has the makings of being similar to their teams from 2017 and 2018 that won the CIF D1-AA state titles. Head coach Paul Doherty counts 10 starters back on offense with nine on defense from a squad that was No. 1 ranked from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section last spring. Folsom also is playing a schedule in which it will be tested early and often, including right away against Monterey Trail in what will decide the early No. 1 ranking for the Sacramento metro region. Two pass catchers both with offers from Alabama — junior Rico Flores and junior Walker Lyons — are among the returnees. QB Tyler Tremain also is back after becoming the only QB in the state with 2,000 yards or more from the short season. His twin brother, Josh, a linebacker, was the team’s leading tackler.
8. Centennial (Corona) 4-1
First Game: The one scheduled for Friday, Aug. 20 at home vs. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) was called off due to a COVID issue. Next on the schedule would be a big one against Cathedral Catholic of San Diego.
Outlook: It almost had the feel that since the Huskies were only going to play league opponents in the spring that it was just a series of glorified scrimmages. No disrespect intended toward Norco (which ended Centennial’s long league win streak at 57 games), but many expect the “real” Huskies to be ready to roll this fall. We’re not the only ones. The Riverside Press-Enterprise also had ranked Centennial No. 1 for the Inland Empire to start with Norco at No. 2. QBs Carson Conklin and Izzy Carter both had their moments in the spring, but the real strength of the squad is in the secondary with all-state candidates Jaden Mickey (senior) and Aaron Williams (junior) leading the way. All-State sophomore Owen Chambliss (a rush end/linebcker) is another to watch.
9. Serra (San Mateo) 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 at Pittsburg. We’re currently scheduled to be heading over on Highway 4 to check it out.
Outlook: The Padres had some dominating outings last spring with junior RB Hassan Mahasin and junior QB Dominique Lampkin leading the way. With both back (Mahasin was first team all-state and was the State RB of the Year) plus other players plus a schedule that opens up at Pittsburg (also forecast to be among the top five in Northern California this season) are all reasons why we’re starting Serra in the top 10. State Coach of the Year Patrick Walsh will need a couple of players to step up on defense, but it won’t be a surprise if the Padres are the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division champions (same as 2019) and playing in the CIF D1-AA or CIF D1-AA NorCal regional bowl game.
10. Los Alamitos 6-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Bakersfield.
Outlook: With all of the excitement surrounding the Griffins, some could be ranking them as high as fifth in the state to start the season. For us, we still want to see this group actually go out and win a big game (last spring’s wins were only against league opponents). We will see them on Sept. 10 when they head up to play Buchanan of Clovis (No. 1 team last spring from CIF Central Section). The primary excitement surrounds junior QB Malachi Nelson and junior WR/DB Makai Lemon, who are both committed to Oklahoma and are generally ranked as the top two college prospects in California for the Class of 2023. Los Al does have other top returnees (including DE Sinn Brennan) and has several significant transfers coming in to play with Nelson (RB Nygel Osborne from St. John Bosco) and WR Deandre Moore Jr. (from Nevada).
11. Pittsburg 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 at home vs. Serra (San Mateo).
Outlook: One of the nation’s top junior QB recruits, Jaden Rashada, will be in the spotlight at Pitt for this season and next (although he is a player who has transferred out of the area before). He has two major college receiver recruits to work with as well in Rashid Williams (a freshman starter in 2019 but who was injured in the spring) and Israel Polk (also a junior). Senior LB Jakobe Harmon also returns as the leading tackler. We weren’t going to start out the Pirates that high because Serra rolled over them pretty easily in 2019 and that’s who they play in this season’s first game. Head coach Vic Galli also is taking his team into a matchup vs. Folsom.
12. Alemany (Mission Hills) 4-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Lone Peak (Utah).
Outlook: This is the season that the Warriors have been shooting for since Casey Clausen became head coach in 2018. Several four-year varsity standouts have been there since day one and they’ll be a force: WR Kevin Green Jr. (USC commit), LB Niufe Tulihalamaka (Notre Dame) and RB Floyd Chalk (D1 offers). QB Dylan Gebbia also returns from last spring and many more have college offers/commitments, including DL Damonic Williams, DE Rashad Mckenzie and DB Ephesians Prysock. Larry Turner-Gooden (WR/DB) and Jaylen Thompson (RB) also have checked in as D1 recruit transfers from St. Bernard of Playa del Rey and will be inserted into the mix. It’s safe to say if Alemany had not lost to Chaminade last spring and instead was coming off of a 5-0 season that it would have been closer to No. 8 or No. 9 for these rankings.
13. Mission Viejo 4-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Apple Valley.
Outlook: It should be a hungry group of Diablos after they were upended in their last game of last spring by league rival San Clemente. That was a close game and to start this season Mission Viejo just has a bit too much returning so it can go higher in the preseason. The Orange County Register also has agreed in its preseason rankings. The offense has more back than the defense and should roll behind junior QB Kadin Semonza and junior WR Mikey Matthews.
14. Carlsbad 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Great Oak (Temecula)
Outlook: Head coach Thadd MacNeal is counting 13 starters from last spring’s group that was dominant in all five of its wins and is the consensus No. 2 preseason team from San Diego. The Lancers also were generally No. 2 in section last spring behind Cathedral Catholic, but their fans will always remind everyone that they beat the Dons the last time they played in 2019. The big excitement surrounding the team is sophomore QB Julius Sayin, already regarded as one of the nation’s best for his class. He is taking over for graduated older brother Aidan. Other key returnees are LB Anthony Ferrelli, WR/DB Josh Davis and WR/DB Matt Moore.
15. Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 4-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Leuzinger (Lawndale)
Outlook: Are the Jackrabbits back to where they were about 10 years ago when they were a regular in the CIFSS highest division playoff semifinals? No, but the signs are all looking good. Their win over Serra of Gardena last spring keyed them to a 4-0 record and there are numerous returning standouts. The list includes all-state junior OL Wendell Moe, powerful DE/LB Donovan “Poe” Yandall, QB Shea Kuykendall and DB Daylen Austin, an all-state sophomore from two years ago who didn’t play in the spring. Junior RB Devin Samples also had some magical moments running the football.
16. San Clemente 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Oceanside.
Outlook: Going automatically with Mission Viejo to win the South Coast League doesn’t make sense as the Tritons have actually won the league title in two of the last three years. We’re not doing that here with Mission higher to start. It’s more a reflection of other rankings we’ve seen so far and a check of returning players. San Clemente’s leading players from last season are gone, but there are 12 returning starters and the program under head coach Jaime Ortiz is consistently strong. QB Lachlan Rosmalen is San Clemente’s leading returnee. If RB Blake Allen can come close to duplicating what James Bohls (Arizona) did last season, then the Tritons can make it three out of the last four league crowns.
17. Norco 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Vista Murrieta (Murrieta)
Outlook: The primary reason that the Cougars were able to dethrone Corona Centennial in the Big VIII League last season was the dual-threat play of Kyle Crum, who returns as the team’s quarterback this fall. Another boost is the addition of transfer RB Jadyn Ott, who is coming in from Nevada but previously shined for Norco as a freshman starter in 2018. Norco also has an anchor coming back at linebacker to lead the defense in Chase Miller.
18. Clovis 3-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Sanger (Tom Flores Stadium).
Outlook: It figures to be a three-team race for the top of the CIF Central Section and the Tri-Rivers Athletic Conference between Clovis, Buchanan and Central (Fresno). Head coach Rich Hammond’s squad lost in two close contests to both teams, but since QB Nathan Johnson is the section’s leading player and since RB Tristan Risley isn’t far behind we decided to go against the grain a little bit and are going with the Cougars at the start of the season. Johnson has to be one of the fastest players at the QB position in state history based on his track times and he was strong enough with his skills that he was in this year’s Elite 11 Finals. He has committed to Utah. Risley is a player who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore in 2019.
19. Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 4-1*
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Chaminade (West Hills).
Outlook: If nothing bad happens with COVID, we are planning to get a personal look at the Lions this year when they play Valor Christian of Colorado on Sept. 3 at the Honor Bowl in San Diego. The one aspect of the squad that could be extra-special is the defensive line which can send pass rushers Sterling Lane and Mathias Malaki-Donaldson in all sorts of ways to create a quarterback sandwich. QB Cole Tannenbaum also is back along with one of the state’s top junior DBs (Jalen Lewis) and one of the state’s top sophomore WRs (Chase Farrell).
20. Serra (Gardena) 4-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Lutheran (Orange).
Outlook: The Cavaliers earned a three-way tie for the top of the Mission League last spring with Chaminade and Alemany. They don’t have the returning talent of Alemany, but they have more than Chaminade. QB Maalik Murphy is one of the best at his position in the state and has committed to Texas. There’s also super speedy DB Rodrick Pleasant, a junior who ran 10.32 in the 100 meters as a sophomore. There are some key replacements needed on defense, but junior LB D’Angelo Davis should be outstanding.
21. Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 2-3*
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at San Juan Hills (SJ Capistrano).
Outlook: Head coach Anthony Rouzier enters his second season clearly at No. 4 in the Trinity League pecking order and seemingly with a chance to climb closer to the first three of Mater Dei, St. John Bosco and Servite. The team has a superstar on defense in DL Hero Kanu, who moved from Germany prior to the start of the last spring season. QB Jaxon Potter also looks like one of the best at his position in Orange County as does OL Kilian O’Connor and LB Syncere Brackett.
22. St. Mary’s (Stockton) 3-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 vs. De La Salle (Concord).
Outlook: One of the big decisions for the preseason rankings was whether to put the Rams (along with their league rivals from Lincoln) higher than Monterey Trail of Elk Grove but behind Folsom in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. Both squads just have a bit too much back in comparison so that move was made. St. Mary’s, in fact, has the leading player in the section in WR Jadyn Marshall (UCLA commit). He’s just so dynamic in the open field. The Rams also have a returning QB with experience (Cruz Herrera) plus others who were among their standouts last spring: DL Jahzon Jacks (Fresno State), junior WR Naseri Danielson, OL Hayden Jones and junior DB Pauli Mafi. In St. Mary’s only loss last spring the score was just 35-25 to De La Salle.
23. Mission Hills (San Marcos) 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Chaparral (Temecula).
Outlook: Another team from the CIF San Diego Section that was looking strong at the end of last spring and finished unbeaten was the Grizzlies. Head coach Chris Hauser doesn’t have quite the numbers of returning starters as either Cathedral Catholic or Carlsbad, but does have QB Gunnar Hensley, leading tackler Jaiden Letua and top receiver Matt Martin among those back. Letua, in fact, was the San Diego Union Tribune’s top linebacker for the season. That was based in part on his three-game streak of scoring on defensive return TDs. RB Canaan Ridill was another of the team’s top players from last spring who is returning this fall.
24. Buchanan (Clovis) 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Kingsburg.
Outlook: The second of three teams from the CIF Central Section that we are starting out in the top 30 of the state is the Bears. They’re the ones who posted wins last spring over both Clovis and Central of Fresno en route to winning a league title. Like Clovis, Buchanan also has a returning QB who is also a standout in another sport. In its case, that’s junior Jayden Mandal, a Fresno State baseball commit. One of the team’s top receivers, Josiah Ayon, also is back. Yet another good sign for the Bears is that an unbeaten JV team is coming up.
25. Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Norco
Outlook: That first game between the Broncos and Norco will be big for the pecking order in the Inland Empire as those teams are starting No. 2 and No. 3 in rankings by the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Vista Murrieta emerged as the top team from the Southwestern League over both Murrieta Valley and Chaparral in the spring and have a strong group of returnees, including QB Brady Jones and LB A.J. Poyer. Another big plus is the return of tight end Jack Pedersen, who had transferred out of state for his junior season. Pedersen has committed to UCLA.
FOR PART 2 OF THESE PRESEASON RANKINGS, CLICK HERE.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports