For this final boys sports honor roll for the 2020-21 school year, the headline announcement centers on a track-football standout who already has begun the 2021-22 school year with a bang. Meet Domani Jackson from Mater Dei of Santa Ana, who has been named State Athlete of the Year for his junior year accomplishments. His quarterback teammate for the Monarchs, meanwhile, gains State Freshman Athlete of the Year status. We also have senior, sophomore, Grid-Hoop and divisional state athletes of the year accolades that have been decided.
For a look at updated all-time state list of athletes of the year,
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(Writeups on Domani Jackson & Rodrick Pleasant by Erik Boal)
(All other writeups by Mark Tennis)
There are few athletes in the country who can match the exceptional skill set on the football field of Santa Ana Mater Dei defensive back Domani Jackson.
But the USC commit established himself as one of the most accomplished two-sport competitors in California prep history June 26 when he equaled the state’s fastest all-time wind-legal performance in the 100-meter dash by running 10.25 seconds at Arcadia High.
That special combination of excellence on the gridiron competing for the top prep football team in the country and achievement on the track as one of the nation’s most promising sprinters helped Jackson earn the recognition as 2020-21 State Boys Athlete of the Year.
Jackson has become only the second Mater Dei student-athlete to receive the state’s top honor, joining LeRon Ellis in 1986-87, a three-sport competitor who was selected as Parade All-American in basketball his senior year, before playing collegiately at both Kentucky and Syracuse and then enjoying a 12-year NBA career.
Jackson is the first male athlete from Orange County to be awarded since former Huntington Beach volleyball star and U.S. men’s national team member T.J. DeFalco during the 2014-15 school year.
And he continued a legacy of outstanding football and track performers in California during the past decade who’ve also been State Athlete of the Year, including current USC running back Kenan Christon of San Diego Madison for 2018-19, UCLA running back Kazmeir Allen of Tulare Union for 2017-18, along with Utah graduate and New York Jets defensive back Javelin Guidry, who ran the fastest wind-aided 100-meter time in state history at 10.13 seconds while competing for Vista Murrieta in 2017.
Jackson entered the summer as the No. 1 football prospect in the state and among the top five Division 1 recruits nationally in the Class of 2022. He had didn’t have huge stats, but was a key member of the defense during the Monarchs’ abbreviated five-game spring schedule. He was named to the all-state defense first team. Already this season, Jackson has scored on pick six, which was the team’s first score of the season and first score in a 49-3 victory at nationally ranked Duncanville, Texas.
But the final meet of his junior season at the California Track and Field Championships – organized as a replacement for the annual CIF state meet held at Clovis Buchanan High that was canceled for the second year in a row as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – provided an indication of Domani’s potential as an elite sprinter at the collegiate level as well, should he choose to pursue both opportunities
Despite nursing a sore hamstring that he aggravated June 25 during the prelims, Jackson demonstrated his impressive mental toughness and competitive spirit by matching the legendary 1985 Pasadena Games performance of Hawthorne High star Henry Thomas. It also marked the No. 4 wind-legal effort in the country this year and equaled the No. 9 100-meter performance by a junior in U.S. prep history.
Jackson also captured the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 title June 12 at Moorpark High by running a wind-legal 10.48. In addition, he contributed to the No. 5 overall effort in the state in the 4×100-meter relay at 41.57, as Mater Dei was edged in the final at Arcadia High by San Diego Mission Hills (41.56).
With all of the difficulties the past two years, it would have been amazing to see what Domani could do as a senior track sprinter for the Monarchs. The USC football commit, however, has said he’ll be already enrolled for the spring semester in college and therefore his next sprinting feats may be in a cardinal-and-gold track singlet. California’s last repeat male honoree was Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Cal football and track standout Khalfani Muhammad in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Congratulations to the following additional boys for being selected as a 2020-21 Cal-Hi Sports State Athlete of the Year:
SENIORS (CLASS of 2021)
Richard Figueroa (Selma)
This is one of the rare times that a junior has been State Athlete of the Year (a 10.25 in the 100 by an all-state first team football player caused that) so the senior selection carries more significance. Figueroa landing it, though, shouldn’t be a surprise since the wrestling star was the 2019-20 State Junior Athlete of the Year.
The younger brother of 2017-18 Girls State Athlete of the Year Gracie Figueroa of Selma (also wrestling), Richard no doubt would have tied a state record by winning his fourth straight CIF state title but that event wasn’t held. Looking back, it’s lucky that the CIF got it in for 2020 just before everything shut down.
Figueroa still did some wrestling in his senior year. There was a CIF Central Section meet in he dominated in his weight class. Then just last month, the current Arizona State freshman traveled to Russia for the 2021 Junior World Championships as part of a 31-member US team. He finished in 12th place. Coming into ASU, Richard was ranked as the No. 2 overall recruit in the nation by MatScouts. He also was No. 1 ranked in the nation during his prep career in two different weight classes.
The last time there was a Senior Athlete of the Year when a non-senior was State Athlete of the Year was in 2011-12 when distance runner Darren Fahy from La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad was honored. The State Athlete of the Year for that school year was football running back / track sprinter Khalfani Muhammad from Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks.
More Senior Athletes of Honor
Jacob Badawi (Ayala, Chino Hills) football, baseball
Kamren Beachem (Oceanside) football, boys bb
Justin Brown (Grossmont, El Cajon) baseball, football
J.T. Byrne (Carmel) football, boys hoops, baseball
Luke Casper (Bellarmine, San Jose) tennis
Raesjon Davis (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) football
Dylan Kordic (San Pedro) football, baseball
Jaimai Mashack (Etiwanda) basketball
Marcelo Mayer (Eastlake, Chula Vista) baseball
Thomas Notarainni (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego) football, boys bb
Quincy Scott (Mission Hills, San Marcos) football, baseball
Thomas Southey (Mira Costa, Manhattan Beach) lacrosse, soccer, football
Nico Torrez (De La Salle, Concord) football, baseball
JUNIORS (Class of 2022)
Domani Jackson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana)
The 2020-21 State Athlete of the Year also would be listed for his graduating class.
More Junior Athletes of Honor
Amari Bailey (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth) basketball
Jake East (Agoura, Agoura Hills) lacrosse, football
Nicholas Iamaleava (Warren, Downey) football, volleyball
Nathan Johnson (Clovis) football, track
Jadyn Marshall (St. Mary’s, Stockton) football, track
Tetairoa McMillan (Servite, Anaheim) football, volleyball
Malcolm Moore (McClatchy, Sacramento) baseball
Cade Moran (Murrieta Mesa, Murrieta) track, football
Luke Potter (Classical Academy, Escondido) golf
J.T. Thompson (Harvard-Westlake, Studio City) football, track
Rodrick Pleasant (Serra, Gardena)
Had it not been for the memorable performance by Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Domani Jackson, it would have been Pleasant earning the recognition as the most impressive male competitor June 26 at the California Track and Field Championships.
Already considered the state’s top defensive back in the Class of 2023 after recording 22 tackles, five pass deflections and an interception during a six-game spring schedule for the Cavaliers, Pleasant became the fastest sophomore in California prep history in both the 100 and 200 meters with his remarkable double at Arcadia High.
Pleasant clocked 10.32 to place runner-up behind Jackson in the 100 final, taking down the 2007 mark of 10.39 established by Rancho Cucamonga graduate Charles Saseun at the CIF Southern Section Masters meet.
Pleasant won the 200 title in a wind-legal 20.59 to eclipse the 2014 performance of 20.82 produced at the Masters meet by Vista Murrieta graduate and Olympic 4×400-meter relay gold medalist Michael Norman. His 200 effort was equal to the No. 4 wind-legal competitor in the U.S. this year, with his 100 mark good for No. 6 overall nationally.
Pleasant also elevated to the No. 7 performer in state history in the 200 and equaled the No. 12 all-time California competitor in the 100. He ranks No. 3 among sophomores in the 200 in U.S. prep history and No. 6 all-time among 10th-graders in the 100.
Pleasant became the first Southern Section male athlete to earn the state’s top sophomore honor since former Bellflower St. John Bosco football and track standout Sean McGrew during the 2013-14 school year. He is also the first Serra athlete to receive sophomore recognition since Adoree’ Jackson in 2011-12.
More Sophomore Athletes of Honor
Kylan Boswell (Centennial, Corona) basketball
Gavin Grahovac (Villa Park) baseball
Malachi Nelson (Los Alamitos) football
Matayo Uiagalelei (St. John Bosco) football
Lex Young (Newbury Park) track, cross country
FRESHMEN (CLASS of 2024)
Elijah Brown (Mater Dei, Santa Ana)
There were no CIF state championships in wrestling or golf, which have had freshmen win individual state titles in recent years, but it might not have mattered compared to the impact that Brown made on the gridiron. He caused a stir initially just for being selected as the starter, a big question mark for the Monarchs after the graduation of Bryce Young (going to start this fall at Alabama) from the year before. That put him on the same path as Mater Dei’s last freshman starter, J.T. Daniels (now starting at Georgia).
Despite only getting in five spring games, Brown and the Monarchs did get to play their rivals from St. John Bosco and in that game he threw four TD passes in a 34-17 win that was more than enough for MD (5-0) to be State Team of the Year. In the five wins, Brown passed for 973 yards and 15 TDs with just one interception.
There hasn’t been a State Freshman Player of the Year for football selected by Cal-Hi Sports, but Brown would have been the honoree for the 2021 spring season. Mater Dei’s only other State Freshman Athlete of the Year is for 1993-94, which is when then freshman Schea Cotton starred for a boys basketball team that won the CIF Division I state title. A few years before Schea, Orange County golfer Tiger Woods (from Western of Anaheim) was State Freshman Athlete of the Year.
More Frosh Athletes of Honor
Isaiah Elohim (Heritage Christian, Northridge) basketball
Bryce Rainer (Harvard-Westlake, Studio City) baseball
Domani Jackson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) Jr.
Our 2020-21 State Athlete of the Year (a junior during the school year) also is on this list one more time and in D1 due to the competitive level of just about every team in every sport at Mater Dei.
Richard Figueroa (Selma) Sr.
Our 2020-21 State Senior Athlete of the Year is from a school that could be classified as D2 or D3. We just looked at all of those athletes on our board for those divisions and put Richard for D2.
Tsion Nunnally (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) Sr.
After leading Cardinal Newman to a perfect record and No. 1 D3 state ranking in football, Nunnally was selected as the Medium Schools State Player of the Year. He now adds D3 athlete of the year honors since he also was a leading player for the Cardinals in basketball.
Nunnally, who is now at Washington State, latched on to 25 balls as a receiver or 520 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had a big kickoff return TD in a win against Vanden (Fairfield), he had 20 tackles on defense and even punted for a 33-yard average.
On the court, Cardinal Newman head coach Travis Taylor reported that Tsion led a team in rebounding that posted a 15-1 record with its only loss to De La Salle (Concord). He averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. “Tsion is an amazing athlete,” Taylor said. “He was a leader on our team and always played his best in the big games.”
The last D3 or State Medium Schools Athlete of the Year from Cardinal Newman (and the Redwood Empire) was Jerry Robinson (future NFL LB) for the 1973-74 school year.
DIVISION IV &
GRID-HOOP PLAYER OF YEAR
Noah Short (The King’s Academy, Sunnyvale) Sr.
There were no Grid-Hoop all-state teams this year due to the lack of players trying both at almost the same time, but a decision was made to include a Grid-Hoop State POY within the 2020-21 various athletes of the year. The winner ended up being the same young man getting the nod as the D4 State Athlete of the Year.
Short is currently getting started as a cadet at the U.S. Army Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. He signed with Army as a football recruit, but also was one of the state’s most prolific scorers in the spring in basketball. The two-time all-state small schools football player rushed for 357 yards and five TDs in three reported spring games (a fourth was not reported). He also had 14 catches for 95 yards and two scores and was one of the Knights’ leading tacklers. In a 35-34 win over Half Moon Bay, Noah rushed for 130 yards and two TDs on 20 carries and he caught four passes for 51 yards and one TD. On the court, Short pumped in an average of 27.9 ppg. His single game highs were 44 points vs. Terra Nova (Pacifica) ad 43 vs. Crystal Springs Upland (Hillsborough). He also competed in track and field in the spring and was one of the top sprinters in the CIF Central Coast Section. Short was second in the 100 meter final, just one-tenth of a second behind winner Evan Johnson (Pebble Beach Stevenson).
Among Short’s other honors for 2020-21 was being placed second in a countdown of leading boys & girls athletes in the San Francisco Bay Area by SportStars Magazine (No. 1 was a girl). He is the first-ever State Athlete of the Year in any category from King’s Academy. The last two D4 State Athletes of the Year from the CCS were Andrew Daschbach from Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton) in 2012 and swimmer Tom Kremer of Sacred Heart Prep in 2012. The last Grid-Hoop State Player of the Year from the CCS was Rob Jones from Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco for 2006-07.
Cameron Butler (Big Valley Christian, Modesto) Sr.
There wasn’t a D5 player of the year in the baseball because that is a sport in which there is a small schools all-state team and not divisions and a D4 player earned that honor. Butler arguably could have gotten that nod so in looking over the D5 possibilities — especially after July’s MLB Draft — he’s the winner among D5 athletes.
Butler was one of the state’s highest drafted players. He was chosen in the 15th round as an outfielder by the Chicago White Sox and on July 22 he signed with them. Cam will forgo a scholarship he had gained from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
On the field for Big Valley Christian, which plays in the lowest competitive level in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, Butler put up astronomical numbers. The state record lists still need to be updated, but Cam will gain entries in several categories after he went 60-for-81 in 22 games as a batter for a .741 average with 59 runs, 61 RBI and 15 homers.
Track hurdler Russell Gordon of Fort Bragg, who captured the 300-meter hurdles title at the unofficial state championships, also was strongly considered.
Erik Boal has covered high school sports in California for 25 years, formerly serving as editor at the Glendale News-Press and Los Angeles Daily News. He is currently the editor for DyeStat.com and RunnerSpace.com, which focus on track and field, cross country and road racing, but has been a regular attendee at major Southern California high school sports events since the early 2000s.