More State Football Players of Year

Elijah Brown of Mater Dei (left) has been named as the State Sophomore of the Year. At right is State Junior of the Year Makai Lemon of Los Alamitos. It is the third time for both schools to have a winner in those categories. Photos: Scott Kurtz & Mark Tennis.

Check inside this post for the honorees who have been chosen among juniors, sophomores, medium schools and small schools. Players from Orange County get the top spots for juniors and sophomores, but the junior honoree may be a surprise to many. A junior also is named for medium schools while it’s a record-breaking quarterback who has gained the top small schools honor.

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

To see who has been named Cal-Hi Sports Defensive 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 2021 football season (joining overall honoree Tetairoa McMillan from Servite of Anaheim):

Los Al fans have a lot to look forward to for next season. Photo: @LAHSactivities /


Perhaps because a two-way player has been chosen Mr. Football essentially in front of a teammate who is a highly regarded quarterback, we have done the same among the leading juniors in the state.

For this one, it’s wide receiver-defensive back Makai Lemon of Los Alamitos gaining the nod. Teammate quarterback Malachi Nelson also was considered right until the end.

Lemon is the third State Junior of the Year from Los Al. The other two are Randy Estes in 2002 and Kevin Feterik in 1994. It also may be surprising for many that Lemon is the first statewide honoree in this category from Orange County since Matt Barkley of Mater Dei in 2007.

Lemon and Nelson are both near the top of national Class of 2023 recruiting rankings and they’ve both recently switched their college commitments from Oklahoma to USC. Those moves of course mirror the Trojans landing Lincoln Riley as head coach, who had gained commitments from several major recruits in the Orange County area when he was leading the Sooners.

The two players helped Los Alamitos to a 9-2 season that included a championship in the Sunset League (one of the best in Southern California) and a berth in the eight-team CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. The Griffins lost in a first-round game, 63-38, to state No. 3 St. John Bosco of Bellflower. In that game, Nelson passed for 196 yards and four TDs. Lemon was more spectacular with nine catches for 180 yards and three of the TDs.

For the season, Lemon capped his 11 outings with 65 catches for 1,065 yards and 15 touchdowns. But like Tetairoa McMillan of Servite, Makai also was a force on defense. He came up with four interceptions and 30 tackles. He also returned kicks and he had one kickoff that was brought back for a score.

Other honors seen so far also have complicated the matter. Lemon was named to the All-Orange County first team on defense. Nelson wasn’t All-Orange County at all (not even third team because that format only went with one QB for each team and it had Nelson behind Noah Fifita, Mater Dei sophomore Elijah Brown and Orange Lutheran’s Logan Gonzalez). Nelson, however, was the Long Beach Press-Telegram Player of the Year.

Nelson is generally ranked as the No. 2 QB prospect in the country for the Class of 2023 behind Arch Manning of Louisiana. He’s been our QB of the Year for last spring and is equally deserving of honors. It’s just that Lemon is a more versatile player, equally impressive in person when watching Los Al play, and it’s just time to get him some accolades close to his teammate.

Brown is shown above during his freshman season. Photo: Kirby Lee / The Sporting Image.


Comparisons with Elijah to Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young of Alabama (and previously from Mater Dei) are already well underway. But as sophomores of course Elijah could be considered to be at an even higher level than Young at the same stage. Bryce was still playing at Cathedral of Los Angeles in his sophomore season. Elijah was leading the Monarchs to the CIF Open Division state title and still has not lost in 17 varsity starts.

Brown, who has offers from USC, Utah, Ole Miss and others, won the starting job as the Mater Dei QB in preparing for the spring of 2021 season. As head coach Bruce Rollinson once explained, getting the ball into the tight windows that are presented in practice by “the best secondary in the state” is quite difficult. Brown proved he could do that despite being a freshman, didn’t flinch in any of the spring games (including a win over St. John Bosco) and continued to do well as a sophomore.

Although he doesn’t yet run the ball like Young did in his senior season (or JT Daniels in his 2017 senior season), Brown passed for 2,581 yards with 30 TDs and six interceptions for the 12-0 Monarchs. He has 3,554 yards and 45 TDs for his career with two more seasons to go.

JT Daniels was Mater Dei’s last State Sophomore of the Year for the 2016 season. After the 2017 season, he reclassified to Class of 2018, graduated early and was playing at USC the following fall. Daniels also is the last Soph of the Year from Orange County. The only other Monarch who has been State Sophomore of the Year was receiver Rod Perry for 1994.

MD Catholic’s Tre Edwards led all tacklers in the CIF D2-AA state title game with 9.5 tackles (2 for loss). Photo: Mark Tennis.


This one took some extra time only because Tre is still a junior and it had to be figured out how some of the other top juniors and other medium school players would likely land on the overall all-state teams.

But the bottom line is that Edwards was the No. 1 player on a Mater Dei Catholic squad that won the CIF D2-AA state title with a 34-25 victory against Central Catholic of Modesto, ended 13-0 and was No. 1 in our final medium schools state rankings.

Edwards has been a force for the Crusaders since his freshman season in 2019. He not only started but had 103 tackles, including four for loss. This season, he was essentially the quarterback of a defense that gave up jut 115 points in 13 games and he has been named as the San Diego Union-Tribune Defensive Player of the Year. Edwards was credited with 81 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and six sacks.

As a college prospect, Tre is one of the best in the state for the Class of 2023. He has 15 reported offers, including those from Notre Dame, Oregon, USC and Penn State.

“Tre is a one-in-a-million kid,” Mater Dei Catholic head coach John Joyner recently told the Union-Tribune. “He has been the best player in his age group since he was 9. So it’s hard to stay humble, but he does. He’s a monster on the field, a kid who loves the weight room.”

The last medium schools state player of the year from the CIF San Diego Section was running back Patrick Cormier of San Diego Madison in 2012. There also was Dillon Baxter of Mission Bay for 2009 and Tyler Gaffney of Cathedral Catholic for 2008 (the same year Gaffney was Mr. Football). Mater Dei Catholic has never had a medium schools player of the year, but in 2003 the old school, Marian Catholic, had small schools state player of the year Patrick Gates (a running back).

Sergio Beltran had more than 3,500 yards passing and more than 1,000 yards rushing for 12-1 team. Photo: Pam McKenney / Menlo School.


Since Sergio comes from a school that has had three previous quarterbacks who have been State Small Schools Player of the Year and he has broken many of their records, that’s one good reason that he has now matched that accomplishment. Another is that he led the Knights to a 12-1 record that netted them the final No. 1 state ranking for small schools.

Beltran and his team didn’t win a section or state title, but the Knights had to play in the CIF Central Coast Section D2 playoffs after they went 10-0 in the regular season. In the semifinals, they downed top seed (large school) San Benito of Hollister, 45-35, but in the final they lost 56-20 to (large school) Wilcox of Santa Clara. Even in a loss like the one to Wilcox, Beltran passed for 284 yards (1 TD) and rushed for 83 yards (1 TD). Against San Benito, he passed for three TDs, rushed for three TDs and went 35 of 45 passing for 368 yards.

One of the major school records that Beltran broke was for touchdown passes. His final total of 52 surpassed the previous CCS season record of 49 set in 2014 by Anthony Gordon from Terra Nova of Pacifica. Beltran, who already has been selected as the 49ers Cal-Hi Sports CCS Offensive Player of the Year, also finished with 3,581 yards passing. His total offense total also is believed to be second best in the state with 1,101 yards rushing and seven TDs added to the passing yards.

Menlo’s first Small Schools State Player of the Year was quarterback John Paye, still regarded as one of the best CCS and Bay Area prep QBs ever. He was actually the honoree three times in a row for 1980 to 1982 and he was the State Player of the Year (overall) in 1982. The Knights also had the top small schools pick for 1988 and for 1990 as both Jim McKinley and Jim Noriega captured the major honor.

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

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  1. Samica Skipper
    Posted January 7, 2022 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    How do we vote

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted January 8, 2022 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      You can send an email directly to us or text 209-608-1317. We don’t let the public decide on these things.

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