For the seventh straight year since Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. John Bosco have gone on their current run of dominance atop California, the winning team from the season before gets to start out No. 1 for the following season. That means until they play again it will be MD at No. 1 and Bosco at No. 2. Three more CIF Southern Section teams all heavily favored to get into its D1 playoffs take up the next three spots in these rankings. Folsom also makes history by becoming the first preseason No. 1 team in Northern California other than De La Salle since 2010.
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(Associate editor Harold Abend contributed to these writeups)
1. MATER DEI (SANTA ANA)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 12-0, No. 1
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. West (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Pretty much everyone else nationally and in SoCal is going with St. John Bosco as its preseason No. 1 and that’s understandable given how many players are back there and the players that have come in via transfer. But the way we’ve done rankings for 40 plus years in the preseason is not to give a No. 1 ranking (even in preseason) to a team on paper but for it to be earned.
The Monarchs beat the Braves last year and the year before that. They are the defending CIF Open Division state champs and certainly have the returning firepower and talent to deserve to stay on top of California until they lose. It’s also not going to take long for the two state superpowers to play as their regular season Trinity League matchup will be in early October.
No one in the media covering the CIF state finals was happy how the school handled things in the aftermath of the reporting of a family suing the school regarding a former player being beaten in a locker room hazing incident. Some thought it would cost head coach Bruce Rollinson his job. Rollinson is still there and whether one likes it or not, the team he will have is going to be great and the players and team have to continue to be evaluated the same way they always have. Off-the-field issues, for the most part, don’t matter.
The biggest question mark surrounding Mater Dei this season is replacing some of the playmakers on offense. QB Elijah Brown starts his junior year as one of the best in his class nationally, but 2021 seniors like Raleek Brown (RB), C.J. Williams (WR), Quincy Craig (WR/RB) and Cooper Barkate (WR) are gone. Upcoming RBs Ajon Bryant (junior who averaged 9.1 yds per carry) and Jordon Davison (sophomore) should be fine, but someone other than junior Jack Ressler (33 catches as a soph) or TE Spencer Shannon (Texas commit) will need to step up.
Elijah Brown passed for 2,581 yards and 30 TDs and has gone 17-0 as a starter. He’ll have a big-time line once again in front of him, anchored by junior DeAndre Carter, who already looks like a first-round NFL Draft prospect. B.J. Tolo (started as a freshman and now a senior) along with all-state sophomore Brandon Baker also figure to be strong.
Defensively, the Monarchs lose State Defensive Player of the Year David Bailey (Stanford), but return all-state LB Leviticus Su’a along with junior standout Zabien Brown in the secondary. Junior DL Aydin Breland also is regarded as one of the top 20 prospects in the state for his class. A big recent loss has been LB Tanner Williams, who just suffered a torn ACL in practice and will be lost for the season.
2. ST. JOHN BOSCO (BELLFLOWER)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-2, No. 3
First Game: Aug. 26 at Allen (Allen, Texas).
Head coach Jason Negro’s bunch, No. 1 in most preseason national rankings but No. 2 for these rankings for reasons mentioned above, will be looking to copy what its rivals from Mater Dei did last season and that’s start out with a big road win in Texas and then go unbeaten for the rest of the way.
The Monarchs posted their first win in 2021 at Duncanville, Texas. The Braves will be going to the high school football palace at Allen (which was a mythical national champion not that long ago with current NFL QB Kyler Murray leading the way). They will be hard to stop despite the “Don’t Mess with Texas” motto.
Bosco not only has most of its starters coming back this season, but has strengthened itself even more through transfers. In some positions on the field, such as the secondary, the Braves’ No. 4 through No. 8 players probably would be among the top 10 units in the state.
If one had to pick a top returning player it would be DE/TE Matayo Uiagalelei, who was almost State Player of the Year as a sophomore but slipped back some spots last year due to the team finishing behind both Mater Dei and Servite (Anaheim) in the Trinity League and for the state. With just one quarterback getting all of the reps, though, the team’s top player of the year candidate once this season is done may be QB Pierce Clarkson. The son of QB coaching guru Steve Clarkson (who we covered in college at San Jose State) has committed to Louisville and was in the final top 11 at this year’s Elite 11 camp. Pierce shared the QB job last season with Katin Houser (now at Michigan State).
The Bosco defense has several returnees who collected all-state honors such as LB Deven Bryant, DB Peyton Woodyard and DB Marcelles Williams. Junior LB Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa also is as highly regarded as the others, but didn’t play last season with a knee injury.
On the transfer side, the Braves have added some of the highest ranked players in the Class of 2023. One of them, DeAndre Moore Jr. (coming from Los Alamitos), could help them on both sides of the ball. There’s also DB Aaron Williams (from Corona Centennial), OL Sean Na’a (from Westlake of Westlake Village), OL Vaka Hansen (also Los Alamitos), DB Jshawn Fausto-Ramos (from Alemany of Mission Hills), WR/DB Israel Polk (from Pittsburg) and others.
The major question could be up front on defense, especially when Bosco matches up against Mater Dei’s offensive line.
3. CENTENNIAL (CORONA)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-1, No. 4
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Santiago (Corona).
A regular season matchup with Mater Dei didn’t happen last year due to COVID, but the Huskies got a crack at the Monarchs in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs and gave them all they could handle in a 21-16 defeat. They are set to play them again this year in the regular season.
It will be a different lineup of teams in its league that Centennial is facing in what is being called the Upper Division of the Big West League. This is why a team from the same school district like Santiago is going to be met in a non-league game this season. Norco and Roosevelt from the old Big VIII League are still in but newcomers like Murrieta Valley, Vista Murrieta and Chaparral are being added. None of that should matter in the big picture for the Huskies as they should still roll in their league, but probably not by some of the huge blowouts of the past.
Head coach Matt Logan has used QBs Israel Carter and Carson Conklin for the past two seasons and the two D1 bound players are still there. Carter (Arizona State commit) can do a lot of things, too, so it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s in the backfield at the same time as Conklin in certain situations. Centennial also has very productive RB Jayson Cortes (20 TDs) returning along with standout WR Malachi Riley and others who should keep the offense humming. Last year’s team averaged 55.2 ppg even with the Mater Dei game added on.
One of the reasons for last year’s team scoring so much was a defense that continually got three-and-outs and gave Logan’s offense the ball back. That unit lost a lot of key players with DB Jaden Mickey (Notre Dame), DL Gavriel Lightfoot (Fresno State) and DB Aaron Williams (transferred to St. John Bosco) not there anymore. Top returnee Lucas Conti (DL) is one to watch, however, as is LB Owen Chambliss, a Pac-12 level recruit who missed 2021 with an injury.
4. MISSION VIEJO
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-2, No. 5.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Santiago (Corona).
We’ve been going back and forth between the Diablos and Los Alamitos for the fourth spot to start the season. While there probably still is a big gap after the first three (Mission’s big loss to Centennial in last year’s CIFSS D1 playoffs as an example), recent player defections from Los Al plus Mission beating Mater Dei and others to win the title at the prestigious Battle at the Beach 7v7 summer passing tourney caused a switch.
Sixteen starters in all are back for head coach Chad Johnson’s team and it could very well be the best that he’s had since he moved over from being offensive coordinator at St. John Bosco after the 2017 season and took over for the legendary (now retired) Bob Johnson (no relation).
The skill positions are what stands out most about Mission. QB Kadin Semonza returns after passing for 2,532 yards and 25 TDs. He’s got all of his main targets back and they have looked in sync with a capital S all summer. WR Mikey Matthews comes back with 66 catches for 843 yards and nine TDs while Jackson Holman and K.J. Reed are equally effective. Up front, OL Mark Schroller has an offer from San Diego State while OL Brady Norton has been a lineman MVP at at least one summer camp.
Even with a lot of returning starters, the defense will have to improve if the Diablos do have a chance at moving closer to the big three above. They have several standouts returning, including junior DB Troy Tolmaire (4 interceptions) and LB Tommy Reese.
5. LOS ALAMITOS
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-2, No. 18
First Game: Aug. 19 at Garces (Bakersfield).
When you start with QB Malachi Nelson and WR/DB Makai Lemon, that’s about all you need to know why the Griffins are starting out in the top five of the state rankings.
Nelson was recently moved to No. 1 among Class of 2023 recruits in the nation by ESPN but is still behind Arch Manning of Louisiana by others. Malachi, who has committed to USC, has thrown for 4,203 yards and 63 TDs so far in his varsity career.
Lemon, who also has committed to USC, is the returning Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year. He went in front of his teammate and others for that honor for his exploits on both sides of the ball. He has 165 career receptions for 2,602 yards and 26 TDs. Lemon also has had four interceptions on defense for each of his three previous varsity seasons.
Other key returnees coming back for the Griffins include RB/Slot Gavin Porch, emerging D1 recruit Sinn Brennan on the defensive line and DB Ethan O’Connor (also getting D1 offers).
One major impact transfer should be DL T.A. Cunningham. He’s a 6-foot-6, 265-pound junior from a small school in Georgia and has offers from throughout the nation. He’s also ranked in the top 20 nationally for all positions in his class as a recruit. Los Al did lose a few players to transfer, however, including WR/DB DeAndre Moore Jr., RB Nygel Osborne and OL Vaka Hansen. That wouldn’t have put the team ahead of Mater Dei, St. John Bosco or Corona Centennial in the preseason rankings, but it did keep them behind Mission Viejo.
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank:
11-3, No. 9
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Monterey Trail (Elk Grove)
The race for the CIF NorCal Open Division slot in the state finals this season likely won’t require much discussion. All of the preseason top teams in the region are playing each other, including Folsom against Serra (San Mateo) and De La Salle (Concord).
Among those leading teams, it’s the Bulldogs who have the most returning talent. They’ve won CIF state titles in 2010, 2014, 2017 and 2018 and lost in the D1-AA state final last season to Cathedral Catholic (San Diego). They’ve never been in the Open Division final before and it would be interesting to see them take a shot at it.
Last year’s team finally got over the hump against De La Salle in the NorCal D1-AA final after losing to the Spartans in the regular season. Head coach Paul Doherty’s squad has the best WR-TE combo in the state and possibly the best in the nation with Rico Flores and Walker Lyons. Flores (offers from everyone) hauled in 81 catches for 1,157 yards as a junior. Lyons (committed to Stanford) wasn’t far behind. The offense also will feature up-and-coming junior QB Austin Mack, who needs to show in the high school season what he did in the spring and summer. Mack didn’t have great numbers when he played last fall, but regardless has offers from several major colleges as a prospect.
Folsom’s back part of its defense also looks very strong. DB Slade Wilson led the way with six interceptions last season while DB Greco Carrillo had 46 tackles. Look for contributions as well from WR/TE Mason Norberg, DB Joseph Chavez and ATH Onterrio Smith Jr.
After the team opens the season against Monterey Trail, it plays Serra on Aug. 26. The De La Salle game will be in Concord on Sept. 23.
7. DE LA SALLE (CONCORD)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-3, No. 10.
First Game: Aug. 26 at Monterey Trail (Elk Grove).
The 2021 season at De La Salle elicited these remarks from head coach Justin Alumbaugh in talking to associate editor Harold Abend. “I think our guys have a bone to pick with themselves, and to be honest, ourselves as coaches and ourselves as a program. I’m sorry but at De La Salle you don’t have a 10-3 season and feel good about yourselves.”
Six of the top returners are senior Harvard-committed offensive lineman Derek Thompson, Notre Dame-committed senior tight end Cooper Flanagan, Fresno State-committed senior running back Charles Greer, senior defensive lineman Chase Tofaeono, senior offensive lineman and TCU-committed Cooper Powers, and senior defensive back and Nevada-commit Journey McCoy. All six were either first or second team All EBAL, and Thompson was a Cal-Hi Sports All State Juniors First Team selection.
Junior Marley Alapati, an All EBAL and All State honoree, has moved out of the area and has transferred to Serra. With the schedule they have it’s going to be tough but at De La Salle nothing changes when it comes to goals. “The goals are always the same,” Alumbaugh remarked. “We want a state championship and an undefeated season, but it’s going to take a lot of work with this schedule.”
8. SANTA MARGARITA (RANCHO SM)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 6-5, No. 16.
First Game: Aug. 19 at San Juan Hills (SJ Capistrano).
With Servite of Anaheim taking a big hit from graduation losses and transfers, the consensus in Orange County is that the Eagles are poised to move up into the third position in the super-tough Trinity League behind Mater Dei and St. John Bosco.
A couple of the players who left Servite, highly regarded Class of 2024 national recruit Emmett Mosley (DB) and LB Gage Burnett, are now at Santa Margarita.
Head coach Anthony Rouzier already was going to have a possible top 10 team for this season just based on the players who were coming back from last year, which beat CIFSS D2 champion Orange Lutheran in league but had to move up and play in the D1 section playoffs.
QB Jaxon Potter passed for 2,869 yards and 23 TDs as a junior starter and can make all the throws. Leading running back Jake Foye also returns while WR/TE/LB Niko Lopez just picked up a commitment to Colorado State.
The top three tacklers are back on defense, led by University of Washington baseball commit Blake Wilson. Many eyes on the defense also will be on 6-foot-1, 295-pound sophomore lineman Tyler Parker, who blew up on Twitter when people got a look at his bulky frame while working out.
9. SERRA (SAN MATEO)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 12-2, No. 6.
First Game: Aug. 26 at Folsom.
On the surface it looks like this will be a rebuilding year for head coach Patrick Walsh and his Padres, and while some teams pare back their schedules under those circumstances, you wouldn’t know it if you saw who the defending CIF Open Division runner-up has on its schedule. Serra opens with back-to-back road games at defending state CIF Northern Regional Division I champion Folsom and then the De La Salle team Folsom beat to win the NorCal title.
“We scheduled tough by design so we’ll know right away what holes we have to fill,” Serra head coach Patrick Walsh remarked. One of those holes is up front on offense where Serra has four unproven line spots. The entire starting backfield has graduated but the Padres have two solid juniors that can rush the ball and were both All State Sophomores last season. The primary running back will be 6-foot, 200-pound Jabari Mann. He was Multi-Purpose and also all WCAL Honorable Mention and will also be an anchor at linebacker where he had 49 tackles last season.
De La Salle transfer Marley Alapati is now a Padre after he moved into the area. Alapati didn’t run a ton last year on a loaded Spartans’ team, but will be a key on Serra. He was All State as a linebacker where he had 46 tackles and two sacks last season. Walsh will use him at strong safety. Seamus Gilmartin, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior tight end is getting some college interest and will also play on the defensive line.
Walsh notes that defense will be the strength of the team and the line and linebacking corps is solid. Danny Niu, a 6-foot, 190-pouns sophomore will be another anchor at linebacker. San Diego State-committed 6-foot-4, 300-pound Ryan Silver will anchor both lines along with 6-foot, 280-pound junior Timo Poloka. Seniors Maealiuaki Smith and Alexander Atkins, and junior Brooks Timmer will give Serra depth at quarterback.
10. SERRA (GARDENA)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-4, No. 20
First Game: Aug. 19 at Lutheran (Orange)
After the Trinity League in the CIFSS, the next best league is the Mission League, which is going to be even stronger this season with the addition of Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth). Serra has 15 returning starters coming back off of a CIF D1-A state title team and starts out this year as a slight favorite in that league. If the Cavs don’t have to move up to the CIFSS D1 playoffs and can stay D2, they definitely could win another state title to close out 2022.
Head coach Scott Altenberg, who won his 200th game with the state title victory over Liberty of Bakersfield to gain entry into the state coaching records list, will need to figure out the quarterback position but the rest of the Serra lineup is super-fast and super-tough.
There was speculation in a preseason article in the South Bay Daily Breeze that standout athlete Jason Mitchell could be playing a lot of quarterback. Mitchell has more than 30 D1 offers to play defense, however, and if another QB emerges, Mitchell can be used more frequently in other roles.
Serra’s offense should be terrific running the ball with an experienced line blocking for junior Cincere Rhaney (1,024 yards, 12 TDs) and senior Kai Honda (821 yards). Honda also is one of the top kickers in the CIFSS. WR Jeremy Lucky also should get a lot of touches.
State Junior Athlete of the Year Rodrick Pleasant is the headline performer for the Cavs on defense. He is coming off of a track season in which he set the new all-time state record in the 100-meter dash. Pleasant, who also can return kicks, will be joined in an all-star secondary by junior Dakoda Fields and sophomore Tre Harrison. We thought Tre was one of the top two or three freshmen that we saw play last season. LB Tanu Sosa, a junior, is another highly productive returnee on defense.
TO SEE PREVIEWS FOR TEAMS RANKED FROM NO. 11 TO NO. 30, CLICK HERE.