NorCal/SoCal Players of the Week

Two of this week’s NorCal/SoCal Players of the Week are Emmanuel Barajas of Yucaipa & Jake Bower of Santa Margarita. Photos: & @SMCHS_Football /

For this week’s journeys, we start with two stops in Contra Costa County and the North Coast Section before heading to the valley for our final NorCal destination. Next, we head to Southern California to the far reaches of the Inland Empire before heading to the San Fernando Valley and then south to southeastern Orange County for the final stop.

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Note: For these honors, we consider CIF Central Section players for Northern California. To nominate anyone, email We are picking the winners on Monday nights for the rest of the spring season.


Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Defensive Player of the Week

Tate Asborno (California, San Ramon) Sr.

We start in Contra Costa County for our Northern California Defensive Player of the Week, only this time we’re near the southern slopes of Mt. Diablo.

While California may not challenge De La Salle when the two teams meet on October 15, the 4-0 Grizzlies have had four impressive outings to rate as one of the top teams in the CIF North Coast Section, and while the California offense gets most of the ink after averaging 52 points per game to start the season, Asborno, a senior linebacker, has been a key contributor on defense.

Last week was a perfect example after Tate and the rest of the defense had a lot to with the fate of visiting Milpitas in a 41-7 victory that saw Asborno force three fumbles and register a team-best 11 tackles.

In short: Attaboy, Asborno.

It took only two starts for Miramonte’s Luke Duncan to put his name into the state record book. Photo:

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Offensive Player of the Week

Luke Duncan (Miramonte, Orinda) Jr.

Central Contra Costa County is our destination for this week’s Northern California Offensive Player of the Week.

There we find a Miramonte quarterback who played a game for the Matadors in his freshman season before transferring to IMG Academy for his sophomore year, but that was after the Florida school had completed its regular football season but in time for him to get in some off-scheduled games.

According to Miramonte head coach Jack Schram, his signal-caller always intended to return to Miramonte and he’s certainly glad he did. Without Duncan, the Mats struggled to a 1-4 record in the pandemic-shortened season and now with him under center the team is off to a 3-0 start.

We’re not close to making a comparison at this time other than in height, but at 6-foot-6 he’s an inch taller than the greatest quarterback in Miramonte history, Ken Dorsey, who had an award-winning college career at Miami and then an 8-year pro career before going into coaching where he is currently the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Buffalo Bills.

One thing Duncan has done in the first three games is put up some Dorsey-like numbers. Last week, in a 37-18 victory over Berkeley, Duncan was 25-of-42 for 363 yards with two touchdowns. Last week, in a 62-0 rout of Lower Lake, Luke etched his name into the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book on the Best Perfect Passing Performances (Game) list after he went 11-for-11 for 301 yards and six touchdowns. So far this season, Duncan is 57-of-85 for 966 yards and 13 TDs with three interceptions, and that translates into a very solid 130.2 QB Rating.

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Special Teams Player of the Week

Fermin Villegas (Le Grand) Jr.

We head close to the CIF Central Section but it’s still the Sac-Joaquin for Villegas. Still, it’s good to remind readers that for all our Player of the Week features in all sports, boys and girls, The Valley as locals call the Central Section, is considered Northern California.

For this week’s trip to the Valley, we land in Le Grand, around five miles east of Highway 99 and between Merced and Madera. In this old railroad town, we find a nominee for the Merced Sun Star Player of the Week who hasn’t won it yet but he’s leading the pack in voting and if he wins he’ll have a local award to add to this statewide honor.

More often than not we have a kicker that booted a long field goal or split the uprights multiple times as the special teams winner, however Villegas was the worst nightmare for the Orestimba (Newman) kicker after the 6-foot-2 junior used his height to block three kicks, including a potential game-winning field goal. The other two blocked kicks came on a PAT and another field goal. The final score for the Le Grand win was 14-12 so Villegas’ impact on the game was obvious.

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Offensive Player of the Week

Emmanuel “JoJo” Barajas (Yucaipa) Jr.

The far eastern reaches of the Inland Empire just east of Redlands and a little over a mile north of Interstate 10 is our destination in the search for our Southern California Offensive Player of the Week.

In Yucaipa we find a senior running back who also plays linebacker that has been a huge part of a 5-0 start for the Thunderbirds this season.

Last week against San Diego University City, the T-Birds only passed for 17 yards, but they didn’t need to air it out as the running game put up 332 yards with Barajas accounting for 327 of them and all five Yucaipa TDs on a whopping 51 carries in a 37-28 victory. He took over after Yucaipa trailed 21-17 at the half. JoJo also contributed three tackles on defense.

The 51 carries will earn Barajas a spot in the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book on the Most Carries (Game) list.

This isn’t the first time the Thunderbirds faithful has yelled “Go JoJo Go” this season. Barajas has been over 250 yards rushing two other times. He had 279 yards and four TDs in a 31-22 victory over Silverado of Victorville, and 269 and two TDs in a season-opening 34-28 win over Palm Springs.

On the season, JoJo has gone for five 100-yard rushing games and his 1,125 yards on the ground is the top reported mark in the state by almost 100 yards. His 15 total TDs is also tied for No. 4 in the state among reported leaders.

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Defensive Player of the Week

Jake Bower (Santa Margarita, Rancho SM) Sr.

Southeastern Orange County is where we find our Southern California Defensive Player of the Week and my gosh what a doozy we found in Bower.

Facing a previous state No. 7 Los Alamitos and its 5-star quarterback Malachi Nelson, the offense produced the points but Bower was part of the defense that powered the Eagles to a 42-21 homecoming win to remember.

Bower, a 6-foot, 184-pound linebacker, was all over Nelson and intercepted the all-everything quarterback twice. He also scooped up a Nelson fumble, as well, and returned it for a 27-yard touchdown. In addition, Bower hit the shower with a registered nine tackles (one for loss).

With the victory, Santa Margarita improved to 4-1 with a lone loss to state No. 6 Norco and it allowed the Eagles to jump 10 spots to No. 12 in the most recent state rankings.

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Special Teams Player of the Week

Jason Wagner Jr. (Reseda) Sr.

The final stop this week is in the San Fernando Valley where we find our Southern California Special Teams Player of the Week.

We do a Multi-Purpose category for most of our All State football teams, but for our weekly winners we don’t. Still, this is a great spot to feature multi-purpose stars and Wagner would more than qualify.

After two losses to start the season, the Regents needed a win and Wagner was a catalyst.

Last week, in a 49-0 throttling of host and nearby San Fernando, Jason won this statewide honor for a 90-yard kickoff return for a TD, and a 54-yard punt return for a second score on special teams.

Wagner actually finished with four scores in addition to the two on special teams. The senior wide receiver and cornerback had a touchdown reception and on defense he scooped up a fumble and rambled into the end zone for another score.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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