This group of potentially great teams from California starts with a look at two of the Lincoln high schools — from San Diego and Stockton — placed right next to each other. There are other schools in this mix who may have a bit more to replace than those in the first 25 and some schools looking to come up from more of a medium school competitive level such as Apple Valley, Inglewood and McClymonds. We also have approximately 20 more schools listed on the bubble.
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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)
26. Lincoln (San Diego) 4-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Monte Vista (Spring Valley).
Outlook: With a lot of players that were still slated to come back this fall, this team’s final game from last spring, a 40-10 victory over St. Augustine (San Diego), secured a preseason top 50 state ranking. It’s just that an earlier 41-0 loss to Cathedral Catholic meant that it wasn’t going to be that high. One of the most versatile players in the state and a top national recruit, WR/DB Jalil Tucker, is Lincoln’s No. 1 honors candidate. He is scheduled to announce his commitment on Friday of this week. DB Jahlil Florence just committed recently and it was a good one: Oregon. Head coach David Dunn has a bunch of others to watch, including junior QB Samuel Cooper and junior RB Rodrick Robinson.
27. Lincoln (Stockton) 4-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Edison (Stockton). We’re staying local for the first week and barring anything COVID-crazy we’ll be there.
Outlook: It’s just a fact and it only makes sense that the Trojans will always have to be ranked behind their rivals from St. Mary’s until they can beat the Rams on the field. It’s just been too many years that St. Mary’s has been the winner in that series. That being said, Lincoln should have its most exceptional team since 2012 when RB Justin Davis and QB Zack Greenlee were leading the way. This time, it’s senior RB Jonah Coleman (Arizona) and QB Kenyon Nelson (offer from Tennessee) leading the way. But there’s more to like than just those two. DB Jomarrion Briggs and DL/LB Tim Thomas also are D1 recruits.
28. Valley Christian (San Jose) 3-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 at Wilcox (Santa Clara)
Outlook: The Warriors have been in a runner-up position in the CIF Central Coast Section behind San Mateo Serra for the last three years and while they don’t have enough returning firepower to allow us to pick them higher right now there also isn’t another team with enough to pass them. The prime-time returnee is junior WR Jurrion Dickey, a big-time D1 prospect who demands double teams. QB Jakson Berman also returns, but new running backs will need to step up. On defense, Valley Christian will have its second and third tackling leaders back — LB Will Cuddie and DT Nehemiah Musika. Cuddie also was the team’s kicker.
29. Central (Fresno) 4-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Bullard (Fresno).
Outlook: This is a team that still has fresh memories from 2019 when it won the CIF D1-AA state title and completed a 15-0 season with a victory against Sierra Canyon. There was a close loss last season to Buchanan and a close win over Clovis. With 15 returning starters, picking the Grizzlies first in the CIF Central Section would be justified but there isn’t the star power (at least shown yet) of Clovis and Buchanan is just a few spots higher. Head coach Kyle Biggs has a wealth of depth at the skill positions, but the leading returnee is two-time all-state (soph & junior) pick Jeremiah Shelton at DE/LB. Tanner Hirschler, a 6-3, 275-pound senior lineman, and Marquise Greene, a senior WR, are two others to watch.
30. Murrieta Valley (Murrieta) 3-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 vs. Paloma Valley (Menifee)
Outlook: It should be another dazzling display of weekly offense this season at Murrieta Valley. QB Brandon Rose is starting for his third season and is a University of Utah commit. He passed for 1,415 yards and 11 TDs in the five spring games. Sophomore Tiger Bachmeier also is back after ranking among the top freshmen in the state. He had 33 catches for 600 yards and six TDs. The defense will be looking to avoid getting into shootouts and has senior LB Teegan Caldwell among those back. He was second on the team in tackles with 40 as a junior.
31. Monterey Trail (Elk Grove) 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Folsom
Outlook: When it’s a matchup like the Mustangs against Folsom to start the season, putting both teams way up in there in the rankings makes a lot of sense. Head coach T.J. Ewing’s program had a win last spring against Bay Area power Clayton Valley en route to going 5-0 and knocked off Folsom in the 2019 Sac-Joaquin Section D1 semifinals. Folsom is higher ranked to start this season with far more returning standouts. The Mustangs will be led by returning QB Frank Arcuri. Two other honors candidates should be WR/DB Brevin Amiga and nose guard Uvante Usher. Monterey Trail also is facing De La Salle, Clayton Valley and Lincoln of Stockton in its pre-league schedule.
32. Loyola (Los Angeles) 4-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Muir (Pasadena).
Outlook: Graduation losses for the Cubs are significant, including State DB of the Year Ceyair Wright (USC) and QB Brayden Zermeno. But as longtime school supporter Patrick Jacobs points out there are still 14 players with starting experience who are back. The offensive line should be stellar with one of the state’s top seniors (Sam Yoon) and one of the top juniors (Jack Susnjar). Junior RB Tahj Owens also is back after becoming the first sophomore back in school history to earn all-CIFSS honors. One of the more versatile returnees will be RB/WR Peter Vanis while a transfer from Oregon, Keenan Tarbet, should be a big impact to the defensive line. He was one of the top 10 Class of 2023 college prospects from Oregon.
33. Apple Valley 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Mission Viejo.
Outlook: You always love it when a school that has never quite been toward the top of the higher levels of competition has players coming back like this team does and buffs up the schedule with some heavyweights. The Sun Devils closed their spring with a big win over Culver City in a matchup of unbeaten teams and are loaded with returnees. In addition to Mission Viejo in the opener, they also are playing Murrieta Valley. QB Jayden Denegal, who has committed to Michigan and pushed Servite’s Noah Fifita for State Junior of the Year, will lead the way. Linebackers Dustin Reynolds and Gavin Hambrick were the leaders on defense and also will return. All-State sophomore Raymond Pulido (6-7, 340) is back on the offensive line as well.
34. San Ramon Valley (Danville) 4-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 vs. Vintage (Napa).
Outlook: A lot of folks probably chuckled when returning all-state tackle Jackson Brown commented that he and his team’s goal was to beat De La Salle this season. How can anyone not like that? What’s he supposed to say? It certainly should be a strong campaign for the Wolves. Fifteen starters are back from a team that lost to De La Salle and then by just three to Clayton Valley of Concord with a solid win over Monte Vista of Danville to end the spring. QB Jack Quigley passed for 1,261 yards and eight TDs while the leading rusher was Za’darion Nardi and the leading receivers were Caleb Padrid and Caden Ridley. All four of those players are among the returnees.
35. Chaminade (West Hills) 4-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Oaks Christian (Westlake Village).
Outlook: The Eagles enjoyed a surge at the end of last season behind QB Jaylen Henderson, who is now at Fresno State. They also lost perhaps their top junior, WR/DB Ian Duarte, who moved out of state. But it still should be a solid group for head coach Ed Croson, just one that will be starting behind league rivals Alemany and Serra (Gardena). Seven starters on both sides of the ball are back. Paul Holyfield (RB/DB) is the most productive returnee on offense. Senior OL Zach Eagle and junior WR Josh Mailander also are going to be counted on heavily by Croson.
36. Eastlake (Chula Vista) 4-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Steele Canyon (Spring Valley).
Outlook: Most of the players that pushed the Titans to wins over Mater Dei Catholic and Otay Ranch to clinch last spring’s 4-0 showing are back for the fall. The leader is LB Trey White, who is receiving D1 college attention and who is a 4.0 student. White can also play fullback on offense. One of the squad’s other top players, all-league WR Jordan Blondin, also is a 4.0 student. Joining White in what should be a strong LB corps will be teammate Christian Aguilar, another all-leaguer and someone who just got his first college offer.
37. Rocklin 4-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Turlock.
Outlook: Sam Pulino is taking over for Jason Adams as the head coach of the Thunder, who were our D2 State Team of the Year for the wins they had against Sierra Foothill League opponents (one of them that wasn’t Folsom). QB Richie Watts is gone, but the new QB, Kenny Lueth, has great speed as a runner and it should remain an effective offense. Thirteen starters in all are back with the leader being two-way trench warrior and four-year starter Bobby Piland. He’s the top returning lineman in the Sac-Joaquin Section. Brad Baur (6-6, 280) is another lineman to watch.
38. Lutheran (Orange) 1-3
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Serra (Gardena).
Outlook: New head coach Rod Sherman is someone we’ve never met but we know all about him since his father, Doug, has lived across the street from us in Stockton for many years. Sherman was previously an athletic director at OLu when the team was at the top of the CIFSS in 2006 and won the first-ever CIF D2 state title. He’s been in Colorado in recent years and is now back at OLu looking to help the football program become more competitive in the insanely tough Trinity League. It would be a major accomplishment to just get to fourth-place this season. Even a fifth-place team in the Trinity League, however, is clearly top 40 or higher in the state and the Lancers have some good pieces in place for Sherman to begin with. QB Logan Gonzalez, OL Anthony Tena and LB Gabe Morin are among the team’s top returnees.
39. Valencia 4-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 at Quartz Hill.
Outlook: An 11-year run of winning titles in the Foothill League by the Vikings was snapped last spring by Saugus. This fall, though, they are expected to resume winning the title in that league and could have one of the best teams under longtime head coach Larry Muir. QB Tyler Voss passed for 1,200 yards in the short season and has committed to San Jose State. There’s also the uber-athletic Zamondre Merriweather (WR/DB), who has committed to Boise State. Valencia also returns leading rusher Daniel Hernandez (a junior) and leading receiver Duhron Goodman.
40. St. Francis (La Canada) 4-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 vs. Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach)
Outlook: Former Paraclete and Alemany head coach Dean Harrington has taken over as the new head coach of the Golden Knights. Last spring it was an interim situation following the death of longtime head coach Jim Bonds from cancer. Harrington had coached Bonds himself when Bonds was a quarterback at Hart (Newhall). It’s a good situation for Harrington. QB Jack Jacobs was outstanding as a sophomore in the spring with 1,329 yards passing in six games. The other returning standout is Max Garrison, who rushed for 784 yards and 10 TDs but is even more highly regarded as a cover corner on defense. Second-leading tackler Myles Shannon also is back.
41. Chaparral (Temecula) 4-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Mission Hills (San Marcos).
Outlook: This team had a win over Murrieta Valley with a loss to Vista Murrieta in the Southwestern League last season and should be strong again. The Pumas lost some strength up front, but return RB Hunter Roddy and QB Caron Tyler. Roddy rushed for 405 yards in just the one win over Murrieta Valley. LB Cody Stordahl should be one to watch on defense while a lot is expected from OL Izaiah Souriolle, a 6-3, 300-pound junior.
42. La Habra 6-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Upland.
Outlook: The Highlanders were pushed in close Freeway League games by both Sunny Hills of Fullerton and Fullerton last season, but with just about everyone returning should be more dominant in that league and could go a long way in the CIFSS playoffs (assuming D2 or D3). Junior QB Justin Gil and junior RB C.J. Zackery both had explosive showings late in the spring. Leading WRs Jacob Apodaca and Braedon Simonian also are back.
43. Inglewood 4-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at St. Bonaventure (Oxnard).
Outlook: This is a squad tricky to rank from an overall perspective because it isn’t facing teams from the best leagues. It’s more of a medium school level schedule, but with big-time high-end talent. How about a potential CIF D2-AA or D2-A state final between these guys and Oakland McClymonds? QB Justyn Martin has had eight TD passes in one game and has a commitment to Cal. One of his top receivers, Terrell Bradshaw Jr., also is back. On defense, LB Taariq Uqdah captured first team all-state juniors honors while DE Marshon Oxley has a commitment to UNLV and also should be a force.
44. Clayton Valley (Concord) 4-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 at Turlock.
Outlook: The Ugly Eagles dropped games to higher ranked De La Salle and Monterey Trail last spring after winning the CIF D2-AA state title in 2019. RB Omari Taylor was a standout on both of those teams and has graduated along with third team all-state LB Dylan Seeley and others. Head coach Tim Murphy still has 11 returning starters. Rahsaan Woodland should become the workhorse in Murphy’s run-based offense. QB Brandon Bush, junior OL Richard McKay (6-7, 280) and LB/OL Jared Palega (6-2, 260) should be among others leading the squad.
45. Damien (La Verne) 5-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 26 vs. Loyola (Los Angeles)
Outlook: There are some graduation losses, but the folks in the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire (Damien plays in the Baseline League with Inland Empire schools) both have the Spartans very high in preseason rankings. Head coach Matt Bechtel’s team also is playing the type of schedule that can help in the rankings game. DB Richard Perez is the top returnee on defense. The team has two QBs who could perhaps get the job done — Rahim Wright and Dylan Gutierrez — and the offensive line led by returnees Tyler Palm and Ramsey Quishta — could be another strength.
46. Edison (Huntington Beach) 5-1
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Venice.
Outlook: No, it isn’t being forgotten that the Chargers went toe-to-toe with Los Alamitos in a Sunset League showdown last spring. It’s just hard not to get excited about all of the players returning and coming on-board at Los Al. Edison, meanwhile, should remain in the top 10 for Orange County. The Sunset League Offensive Player of the Year, WR Nico Brown, is the leading returnee. The Chargers also have two all-league players, Hudson Letterman and Austin Grbic, coming back on the defensive line. Junior Parker Awad (transferring in from Mater Dei) may be Edison’s quarterback.
47. McClymonds (Oakland) 4-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 vs. Tamalpais (Mill Valley).
Outlook: Head coach Michael Peters’ program has won CIF state titles in lower divisions and is now building toward trying to win one at a higher level. The Warriors’ first attempt to get one for D2-A didn’t go well in 2019 (loss to Oxnard Pacifica). They have the makings of an even stronger team this fall with 19 returning starters. Four-year starting QB Dreyan Paul will lead the offense. Other leading individuals should include OL Simeon Mitchell (6-3, 315), WR/DB Dwayne McDougle and two-way lineman Tigana Cisse (6-5, 280). Mack also is making sure to play major powerhouse teams before the less competitive Oakland Section league and playoff schedule begins. Among those opponents will be Marin Catholic of Kentfield and Pittsburg.
48. Menlo-Atherton (Atherton) 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 27 at Bellarmine (San Jose).
Outlook: Matt MacLeod returns with three previous years of experience at QB and should be one of the top QBs in the CCS. WR Jalen Moss also is back. He’s one of the best in the CCS as well and has offers from Nevada, Nebraska, Arizona State and more. The leading tackler from last spring, Andrew Buck, also is back. Another DB to watch is junior DB Jeremiah Earby (offers from Oregon State, Cal and more). There’s kind of a lot to like about the Bears.
49. Granite Bay 4-2
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 at Vista del Lago (Folsom).
Outlook: Change is in the air for the Grizzlies as Joe Cattolico takes over as head coach following the departure of Jeff Evans. Cattolico is well-known in NorCal coaching circles for his success at schools such as Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove), Sheldon (Sacramento) and Roseville. Granite Bay lost last spring to Folsom (35-25), Rocklin (17-14) but had a win over Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills (32-31). Oak Ridge also is going to have a familiar face around NorCal as its new coach will be Casey Taylor taking over for Eric Cavalliere. Granite Bay’s top returnees include DE James Stabbert, LB Zach Annis and junior OL Talae Tuimaunei (6-3, 250).
50. La Jolla 5-0
First Game: Friday, Aug. 20 vs. Bishop’s (La Jolla).
Outlook: It’s always going to be a consideration of hunch teams toward the end of any top 50 preseason ranking and the hunch about the Vikings is that with Washington-bound QB Jackson Stratton leading the way is that they will be among top six or seven squads in the CIF San Diego Section. Completing last spring with a win over Helix of La Mesa (the section’s Open Division winner from 2019) certainly helped with the selection.
TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
BIshop Diego (Santa Barbara) 5-0
Birmingham (Lake Balboa)
California (San Ramon) 2-4
Campolindo (Moraga) 6-0
Corona del Mar (Newport Beach) 4-2
Frontier (Bakersfield) 4-1
Garces (Bakersfield) 2-3
Liberty (Bakersfield) 4-0
Liberty (Brentwood) 4-1
Los Gatos 5-0
Marin Catholic (Kentfield) 5-0
Pacifica (Oxnard) 5-0
Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley) 5-0
San Juan Hills (SJ Capistrano) 2-3
Simi Valley 4-1
St. Augustine (San Diego) 2-2
Tesoro (Las Flores) 3-2
Torrey Pines (San Diego) 3-3
Vintage (Napa) 6-0
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports