Preseason State TOP 50 Ranks (11-30)

Players from Mater Dei Catholic celebrate after winning the CIF D2-AA state title last season. If the Crusaders are to win another one this year, it will probably have to be for the much more difficult D1-AA crown. Photo: Mark Tennis.

This group starts with Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, which is continuing to show signs of building the kind of program that wants to go for everything. We also have the top two teams from the CIF San Diego Section that are playing each other in their first game plus we have two teams — Long Beach Poly and Buchanan — that we will be seeing on our own season-opening trip next week to the CIF Central Section.


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(Associate editor Harold Abend contributed to these writeups)

Cameron Brandt will be one of the leading players on defense this season at Sierra Canyon. Photo:

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 7-5, No. 14
First Game: Aug. 19 at JSerra (SJ Capistrano).

With the new CIFSS format last year of the top eight teams playing in a loaded Division 1 bracket, the goal for the Trailblazers was to get in it and be competitive. They fell short, but may have added enough ammunition through the transfer circuit and should have stronger odds of getting that done this season.

Sophomore QB Alonzo Esparza checked in after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards as a freshman at Culver City, but has reportedly been in a battle with returning junior Damon Wrightser for the starting role. The biggest transfer, literally and figuratively, looks like 6-foor-2, 360-pound Eugene Brooks, a junior coming from Las Vegas. He’s also one of the top junior OLs in the nation. Another transfer from Las Vegas, WR Lavon Brown (and also a junior), has committed to Colorado State. There’s also LB/RB Xavier White, the son of former State Player of the Year Russell White, coming in from St. Genevieve (Panorama City), and there’s WR/KR Jaylen’Dai Sumlin from nearby Alemany. Just this week it was reported the linemen Rodney Leaks (6-4, 275, Jr.) and Elijah Payne (6-6, 300) have transferred from out-of-state.

Sierra Canyon had several others from last season already back and gaining D1 college offers. The list includes DL Cameron Brandt (Stanford) along with RB/ATH Terrell Cooks Jr. and WR JoJo Phillips. LB Carmel Crunk showed he could make big plays while another WR/DB to watch should be Ruben Gamboa.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-2, No. 8
First Game: Aug. 20 vs. Mater Dei Catholic (Chula Vista).

This school’s beautiful home stadium will be a good place to be during the upcoming regular season. In the very first game, the CIF San Diego Section’s No. 1 ranking will get decided between the host Dons and Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista. The Honor Bowl will be held two weeks later with those two teams playing in separate games against top-notch out-of-state opponents. And then later in September it will be the legendary program from De La Salle of Concord coming down to play the Dons.

Whenever there’s an opening game like Cathedral Catholic vs Mater Dei Catholic, our preseason rankings (now in our 44th season) have learned that it makes the most sense to place those teams at the top of a section and then the winner is simply No. 1 moving forward after that. Plus, in the case of the Dons, they aren’t just the defending CIF San Diego Section Open Division champions, they also won the CIF D1-AA state title and their big wins against the section were to be honest not close (52-0 vs Helix, 38-10 vs Mission Hills and 48-19 vs Carlsbad).

This is not to say that head coach Sean Doyle and staff don’t have a lot of holes to fill. On offense, there’s just one returning starter and State RB of the Year Lucky Sutton will really be tough to replace. RB Will Bond could be one player looked upon to step up.

The defense, on the other hand, doesn’t lose much and has recruited players up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. Leaders include DB Marcus Ratcliffe (San Diego State commit), all-state junior LB Victory Johnson , DE Jack Janikowski and LB Sean Kagen.

This is a program and staff that rarely falls off that much, and it won’t take long to see where the Dons stack up against a quality first-game opponent.

Rashid Williams of Pittsburg wasn’t happy after a loss to De La Salle, but the junior wideout had a great season and will be one of the top WR recruits nationally for the Class of 2023. Photo: Willie Eashman.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-3, No. 35
First Game: Aug. 26 vs. Bethel (Vallejo).

For the first time since 1991, the Pirates were crowned a CIF North Coast Section champion, but unlike that year the title-game victory did not come against De La Salle. Even last year when De La Salle looked vulnerable with two losses to teams north of Fresno, Pittsburg couldn’t turn the trick and lost 42-14 in the Open Division qualifying game. With the newly adopted split bracket Open/Division I format in the NCS, the Pirates still got into a title game when after the loss they dropped into Division I where they defeated Clayton Valley (Concord), 28-14.

The season ended in a bit of disappointment when Pittsburg went on the road for the state CIF Northern Regional Division I title game and lost convincingly to Liberty of Bakersfield, 35-7. Still, Pittsburg won an NCS championship and head coach Vic Galli returns a ton of talent led by Miami-committed senior quarterback Jaden Rashada, a Cal-Hi Sports All Juniors First Team Multi-Purpose honoree. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound Rashada passed for 2,220 yards and 27 TDs with only five interceptions. He also rushed for 193 yards and one score. Leading rusher Charles Brown has transferred to Antioch and Israel Polk is now at St. John Bosco (Bellflower), but three Pirates returners that garnered All BVAL honors are Washington-bound senior wide receiver Rashid Williams, Oregon State-bound wide receiver and defensive back Zach Card, and senior defensive back Robin Boyd. Williams had 55 receptions for 753 yards and 11 TDs last season. Card had 36 catches for 738 yards and nine TDs, plus he had 66 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions. He was first team on offense and defense. Boyd led the team with four interceptions.

The offensive line is a question and the defensive line will be anchored by All BVAL Honorable Mention selections Odera Okaka and sophomore Jewelous Walls.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-4, No. 24
First Game: Aug. 18 at Clovis.

There will be some sadness when we head down to Clovis to check out the Jackrabbits in their first game. They’ll be playing at Lamonica Stadium there on a Thursday, and it will be the first game that the Cougars have played at their home field since the namesake, former Oakland Raiders’ QB Daryle Lamonica, died last April.

Odds are that head coach Stephen Barbee and his team will head back home in a good mood. Poly is loaded with top players who are back from a 2021 squad that lost 28-27 and 21-17 in super-competitive contests with Gardena Serra. If we’re starting Serra high, then the Jackrabbits have to be up there, too.

Although the transfer of five-star QB Nico Iamaleava from Warren of Downey didn’t happen, that move probably only cost Poly a few spots in these rankings. Junior QB Darius Curry should be more than fine. The offense also still has RB Devin Samples, who racked up 1,519 yards and 20 TDs last season, plus there’s USC committed junior WR Jason Robinson. Another bonus is the return of OL Tyson Ruffins (6-3, 305), a second team all-state junior.

Poly’s defense has its share of big-time major college guys, too. DB Daylen Austin has offers from all over the Pac-12, while LB Dylan Williams already has committed to USC.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 13-0, No. 21
First Game: Aug. 20 at Cathedral Catholic (San Diego).

A lot of folks (and the CalPreps computer) already have the Crusaders in the No. 1 spot for the San Diego Section. It makes sense given the players that the 2021 CIF D2-AA state champs have returning. We just like to see teams earn such a ranking and not hand it to them, especially when a team like Mater Dei Catholic is playing the defending champion in its first game.

QB Dominic Nankil is among the returnees on offense. He passed for 3,427 yards and 38 TDs last season and had just four interceptions. Leading receiver Jeremiah McClure also returns as does leading rusher Nico Mosely. WR Surahz Buncom is another dangerous playmaker.

On defense, the Crusaders have one of the best returning LBs in California in three-year standout Tre Edwards. He has committed to UCLA. Cornerback Isaiah Buxton also is getting similar attention. Chris “Boom” Snyder is yet another athlete like the others. He can play receiver on offense or on the outside on defense.

If head coach John Joyner and staff can come up with offensive lines or defensive lines that can hang with the type of lines that Cathedral Catholic has most of the time, it could be a great start for the Crusaders.

Rod Sherman took Orange Lutheran to great heights in his first season as football head coach, but he also knows what it feels like to win state titles in another state and as an athletic director when OLu won a California state title in 2008. Photo:

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-5, No. 12
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Serra (Gardena).

In his first season as head football coach after coming back to the school where he was once athletic director, Rod Sherman and his squad went on an unbelievable run in the 2021 CIFSS D2 playoffs. Sherman, who had been coaching in Colorado, and the Lancers could have been in D1 but fell in a 35-28 loss to Santa Margarita in the Trinity League. In D2, OLu knocked off higher ranked teams like Sierra Canyon and Alemany to win the title and then only lost 71-62 to Cathedral Catholic in the highest scoring CIF regional playoff game ever.

Much has been lost from that team, including QB Logan Gonzalez, WR Jaylen Lynch and RB Desmin Jackson. All signs point toward OLu building the type of program, however, that’s going to battle Santa Margarita close once again for third-place in the Trinity League and perhaps start to get closer to the two monsters up at the top.

LB Gabe Morin, an all-Orange County and all-CIFSS pick, is the leader of this year’s team. OL/LS Trent Middleton (D1 offers), WR/DB Noah Rodriguez and DB Manaia Ala are other returnees looking to make an impact. OLu also has several young players already generating a ton of D1 college interest. That list includes QB T.J. Lateef (sophomore), OL Nehemiah Johnson (6-4, 320, soph) & LB Talanoa Ili (freshman).

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-2, No. 41
First Game: Aug. 19 at Edison (Stockton).

Another aspect of our longtime rankings system is to attempt to get top teams from as many CIF sections into the top 20 or top 25 to start each season. The Grizzlies get our nod as No. 1 to begin in the CIF Central Section and therefore also nabbed a top 20 position for the state.

Head coach Kyle Biggs directed Central to a 15-0 season and the CIF D1-AA state title just three seasons ago and knows how to get a team going for the playoffs. It didn’t happen last year, but there are 15 returning starters this season so the odds are better for a long, deep playoff run.

QB Dayton Tafoya passed for 2,627 yards and 24 TDs as a junior last season and can run the ball effectively if he has to. Two top-notch WRs also are back with Ladanian Streets and Braylon Hall. Streets caught 42 balls last season for 578 yards and nine TDs. Hall had 33 grabs for 377 yards.

Central also has one of the fastest DBs in the state in Imari Conley. He ran on the school’s CIF state championship track team and has committed to Fresno State. Kaleb Tennison, a hard-hitting safety type, is another defender to watch.

The biggest question may be up front. The team doesn’t have the power in that way of section rival Liberty (Bakersfield) but the Grizzlies and Patriots are playing each other on Sept. 16 so most questions will be answered early in the season.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-1, No. 17
First Game: Aug. 26 vs. Mater Dei Catholic (Chula Vista).

Just five starters are back for the Lancers, but many in the San Diego Section consider them to be a contender for the CIF SD Open title. The main reason for that is that junior QB Julian Sayin is just that good. Regarded as perhaps the top junior QB nationally, Sayin has been something else both in showcase events and in actual high school games.

Sayin obviously needs good receivers to work with, and a huge plus on that front has been the addition of transfer TE Zach Marshall. Coming over from Santa Fe Christian, Marshall has generated numerous D1 college offers. WR Justin Johnson also is sure-handed and has collected seven D1 offers (mostly Ivy League). In fact, it seemed like every Carlsbad player we searched had a 3.5 GPA or higher.

When the Lancers are playing defense, head coach Thadd MacNeal has several key returnees he can count on. DE Fin O’Gorman (6-2. 240) has offers from Michigan, Utah and others. DT Cassius Murphy, LB Thomas Weirich and DE Jacob Sisson also all may be all-league level players or better.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-1, No. 33
First Game: Aug. 12 at Kamehameha (Hawaii).

We got a unique look at the Bears through looking up and compiling all of their scores in their history (dates back to the 1950s) via a request from head coach Kevin Pearson. Any school can ask, but it does take a lot of time and a small fee is required.

In short, all the pieces are there for Pearson and his team to have the best team and season in school history. Keep in mind that the Bears beat Serra (Gardena) last season, 14-0, and Serra went on to win the CIF D1-A state title. The problem was getting upset by Corona del Mar in the CIFSS D2 playoffs. This group should be eager to get back to that point again and go much further.

Having QB Nico Iamaleava once again is the obvious main reason for all of the optimism. Nico had been at Long Beach Poly on a transfer, but ended up coming back to Warren. He threw for 2,244 yards and 33 TDs last season (with just one interception) and has committed to Tennessee.

But there’s more back than just Nico. Returning league MVP LB E.J. Smith also has an offer from at least one SEC team, DE/LB J.T. Houston has an offer from Fresno State and DB Scooter Jackson has committed to Tennessee State.

Pearson also says that Pacifica of Garden Grove transfer WR Jordan Ross is “one of the best receivers I’ve coached.” He’s been offered by Notre Dame, Utah, Washington and others. Jordan’s QB from Pacifica, Darius Cowens, could be the best athlete on the team and will be used in ultra-creative ways on offense when Nico is playing and at QB when Nico is not playing.

St. Francis head coach Greg Calcagno answers questions from the media after team defeated Serra of San Mateo in the regular season in 2021. Photo: Mark Tennis.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-1, No. 7
First Game: Aug. 26 vs. Central Catholic (Modesto).

After ending the 318-game, 30-year winning streak of De La Salle (Concord) against teams north of Fresno with a 31-28 home victory, and then convincingly beating West Catholic Athletic League arch-rival Serra (San Mateo) 44-21 to close out league with a 9-0 record, head coach Greg Calcagno and his Lancers had the inside track to receiving the CIF Northern Regional Open Division berth. It came down to a CIF Central Coast Section Open Division title-game rematch with Serra. The Lancers led 12-10 with just over seven minutes to play, but lost 16-12 when Serra scored on a 72-yard 11-play drive on its final drive.

Now, like Serra, the Lancers are faced with a rebuilding process after graduating 16 starters and not returning a single player to make All West Catholic Athletic League including honorable mention. The good news for Lancers is the quarterback that orchestrated the De La Salle victory, 6-foot-5 senior Matthew Dougherty, Jr., is back after going down with an injury after the De La Salle win. His primary target will be 5-foot-11, 190-pound Andrew Atkinson, who WCAL sources tell us they feel is underrated, even though he led the team with 18 receptions for 416 yards and four touchdowns.

The top returning running back would appear to be Kamau Julien. In seven games he rushed for 257 yards and four scores. St. Francis lost just about its entire offensive line with the top returner 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior tackle Oliver Bari, who will play defensive line as well. The good news is sources tell us the JV offensive line was the best in the WCAL last season.

The only player to start every game for the Lancers last year was 6-foot, 180-pound senior free safety Keala Keanaaina. He had 48 tackles and an interception last season and reportedly will see a lot more time at running back this season. A new face to look for is 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore Jackson Cahoon, who sources tell us was the top freshman in the WCAL according to some sources..

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-4, No. 19.
First Game: Aug. 12 at Kamehameha (Hawaii).

Head coach Steve Hagerty’s teams are hardly ever picked to be the favorite in the Mission League, but for most seasons the Lancers end up right there in the middle of the league title race. One of their wins last season, for example, came against eventual CIF D1-A state champ Serra of Gardena with two losses to Alemany and the other two to Servite and St. John Bosco.

It will be more difficult for Amat with Sierra Canyon now in the league, but there is a lot to like about this year’s team. The best two-way returnee is QB/DB Richie Munoz. He was an all-league and All-CIFSS D2 pick on defense as a sophomore, but is in the mix to play a starter’s role on offense. Hunter Watson, who also came in when now-graduated Tobin O’Dell was injured, is the other QB who may start.

As for the rest of the Lancers’ offense, RB Aidan Ramos returns after leading the 2021 squad with nearly 800 yards rushing and 12 TDs. Another standout on offense should be WR Delano Franklin, who led the team in receptions and can get open deep.

Amat’s third leading tackler from last season, DB Dylan Rodriguez, also is among those back. The one getting the most recruiting attention has been DL Tiumalu Afalava. The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder recently committed to Cal.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-3, No. 27
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Spanish Springs (Sparks, Nev.)

Two of the biggest standouts from Liberty’s 2021 CIF Central Section D1 title team were WR/DB Jason Oliver and QB Carson Woods. They are both graduated, but if head coach Bryan Nixon can come up with similar replacements then the Patriots certainly have all of the other ingredients to go that far again.

Odds are that both WR/DB Kresean Kizzy and QB Xander Chisolm are going to fill those roles perfectly. Kizzy can be a game-breaker on offense and a lock-down corner on defense. Chisolm is a grid-hooper who got in some games as a junior and will be one of the most impressive athletes on the field in any of Liberty’s games this season.

The major strength of the squad is on the interior. USC commit Grant Buckey plays some offense, but is primarily a 275-pound defensive tackle. Cade Gretlein (6-4, 270) is also getting D1 offers and also goes both ways at times.

With those guys blocking, returning RB Jalen Hankins should have plenty of room to run. He had just over 1,000 yards as a junior. Jackson Provensal (one of the top tacklers) and PK Grant Meadors (one of the top combo kickers/punters in the nation) also return.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-3, No. 2.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Rancho Cucamonga.

Yes, we know just about every top player from last year’s team has either graduated or transferred out to places like Santa Margarita and St. John Bosco.

Regardless, this is still a team that was in the top 10 for the nation, got a win over St. John Bosco in the CIFSS D1 playoffs and is the only team in the state over the past seven years that at least for one year showed it could play at the same level as Mater Dei and the Braves. We’re just not going to completely throw them out of the rankings until other teams beat them in actual games.

Mr. Football State Player of the Year Tetairoa McMillan and three-year starting QB Noah Fifita are currently getting ready for the freshman seasons at Arizona. Head coach Troy Thomas is the one who showed the Friar faithful what is possible and is still around to keep plugging away with the players who are still around.

There are still a couple of promising linemen on the squad in Matthew Toilolo (6-4, 330) and Josiah Laban (6-1, 285). Ethan Scaffidi, a WR/DB, is another to watch. There’s also a promising sophomore QB getting some attention – Leo Hannan (6-3, 190). Servite’s first game at Rancho Cucamonga will tell us a lot.

These three Rocklin High seniors — Elias Brown, Derek Houston and Kyle Hall — have been playing on the same football teams since they were seven years old. Photo:

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 12-1, No. 11
First Game: Aug. 19 at Turlock.

While Folsom is an easy choice to be No. 1 to start in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, it’s not as easy for the next positions. Rocklin was a team that knocked off the Bulldogs in the Sierra Foothill League last season before losing in a rematch in the D1 section final. And while the Thunder lose most of that team (including the entire offensive line) they still have enough pieces around to deserve getting that No. 2 slot for the section.

QB Joey Roberts took over as the starter after an injury to senior Kenny Lueth last season and finished with 1,264 yards and 11 TDs. He’ll be back and will be looking to newcomers in the other skill positions.

Rocklin’s defense doesn’t lose as much as the offense and should keep the team close in every game. Leading tackler Derek Houston (6-1, 220) returns and just got an offer from Sacramento State. He could also see time catching passes on offense. LB Kale Larson also is back and has D1 offers. The secondary will feature Austin Adams, who led last year’s team in interceptions with five. DL Tom Sackinsky (6-3, 225) is another to watch and he also could be one of those counted on for the rebuilt offensive line.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-3, No. 26
First Game: Aug. 19 at Capital Christian (Sacramento).

Twelve returning starters are back for the Hornets, who clearly are in the hunt to land one of the four CIF San Diego Section Open Division slots and since they are in the same league as Cathedral Catholic could make a big jump up there with a win over the Dons. The two teams didn’t play last year (Lincoln took a forfeit) due to issues from the 2021 spring game.

Lincoln’s main graduation losses are in the secondary and skill positions and Jahlil Flowers and Jalil Tucker were players who could do anything. Overall, however, head coach David Dunn’s squad has D1 prospects all over the place.

UCLA commit Rodrick Robinson rushed for 1,273 yards and 17 TDs last season and displayed the size, power and speed that makes him generally ranked as the No. 1 running back for the state. QB K.J. Chatham also looks more than ready to step into a starring role after playing behind Jalen Daniels last season.

Lincoln’s defense could really be a problem for its opponents. LB David Peevy has been as heavily recruited as Robinson. LB Chris Fewell has committed to San Diego State and combined with Peevy makes trying to turn the corner almost impossible. DB Hunter Wiggins also returns in the secondary (numerous D1 offers), DB Chris White can make plays and DB Adrien Chargualaf (transfer from Steele Canyon) just got an offer from Colorado.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 13-2, No. 34
First Game: Aug. 19 at Merced.

Common wisdom would be to not think much of the Raiders since their two very productive running backs from last season, Aidan Taylor and Julian Lopez, have both graduated. But in covering all of the years that head coach Roger Canepa has been at the school you can be sure that Central Catholic is going to be able to ground and pound the football.

The big news at Central is that the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Board of Managers recently voted to move up the football program from D2 to D1. The Raiders were the D2 champions last year and went to the CIF D2-AA state final where they fell to Mater Dei Catholic (34-25). It wasn’t like Canepa’s crew was dominating in D2 (last year was its first title in that division), but D1 it will be and that means Folsom’s division. To get ready for that move up, the Raiders also have bulked up their schedule. They’ve played De La Salle several times, but this year’s it’s a murderer’s row with St. Francis (Mountain View), Serra (San Mateo) and gulp St. John Bosco. All of those games are on the road, too.

If the team doesn’t get beat up with injuries in that schedule (Central Catholic is still a small school enrollment wise), it still looks good in the Valley Oak League and the Raiders could still make a run in the D1 section playoffs. Key returnees include junior QB Tyler Wentworth (who may be throwing it a lot more this season), junior WR/DB Brooklyn Cheek, RB/DB Roland Brown, LB/RB Tyler Jacklich, TE/LB Mario Savala and 390-pound nose guard Roman Foumai.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 7-4, No. 44
First Game: Aug. 26 vs. Great Oak (Temecula).

It’s also a tough call about which team should be No. 2 to start out the season in the CIF Southern Section’s Inland Empire region, which is the domain of Corona Centennial and should be once again. The Nighthawks get that nod with eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense. They haven’t had to play Centennial that much over the years since the two were in different leagues, but that changes this year as both will be in the new Upper Division of the Big West League. Murrieta Valley’s rivals from Vista Murrieta and Temecula Chaparral also will be in that league along with Norco and Roosevelt (Eastvale).

A realistic outcome for the Nighthawks is not going to the CIFSS D1 playoffs but going to D2 and then making a run at all of the titles they can win from that position without having to wonder about playing any of those top eight squads.

While one of those who graduated was QB Brandon Rose (now at Utah), such a loss shouldn’t be a problem for head coach George Wilson and staff. This is because sophomore QB Bear Bachmeier is more than ready to step up and yes it will be Bear throwing to his older brother Tiger Bachmeier. Tiger has committed to Stanford and returns as one of the state’s top wideouts with 80 catches from 2021 for 1,426 yards and 16 TDs.

Among others who are returning are OL Jason Steele (Boise State commit), leading rushing Travis Karg, leading tackler Gabe Serna and leading sacker Kameron Davenport.

Jim Benkert answers a question about the Simi Valley team during first-ever Marmonte League media day. Photo: @simi_football.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank:
10-1, No. 48
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Ventura.

We didn’t have all of the other preseason rankings before doing these, but thought the Pioneers could be in front of St. Bonaventure, Chaminade, Bishop Amat and others in the Southern Section. We didn’t do that because the others are playing tougher early games. Leaving room for SImi Valley to move up if it wins its early games as expected sometimes makes the most sense.

Simi Valley’s only loss last year came to Orange Lutheran in the first round of the CIFSS D2 playoffs. There are only four starters back on each side of the ball, but several of those who are back were quite impressive. Head coach Jim Benkert also has shown over the years that he knows how to build a championship team at the highest levels.

RB Caleb Alvary leads the way among the Pioneers’ returning players. He broke loose for 1,302 yards and 17 TDs rushing last season. He also caught 22 passes for nearly 200 more yards. The team’s QB, Steele Pizzella, is just a sophomore, but he played big snaps as a freshman due to injuries to others and already is getting D1 attention. Defensive end Carson Mott (committed to Colorado) and DB Sean Brown (led team with four interceptions and has committed to Arizona) are the two top returnees on defense. TE/DE Robert Dixon is another player to watch.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-2, No. 31.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Bakersfield.

After we check out the winningest ever program from Southern California in its first game on Thursday, Aug. 18 with Long Beach Poly playing at Clovis, we will stick around for the next night to see the winningest ever in the state, Bakersfield, open up at Buchanan.

The Bears and Drillers should be two of the top CIF Central Section teams this season, but Bakersfield is coming off of a 6-6 season so it will need to win to get up into the State TOP 50. Buchanan is firmly in place with a Fresno State-committed QB plus some other key returnees (six starters on both sides of the ball).

New head coach Ross Wood takes over for former NFL player Matt Giordano and has already worked a lot with returning QB Jayden Mandal. He combines top-level all-around athleticism with his ability to lead a team up and down a field.

There will be some intriguing athletes with a track-and-field background that Mandal can utilize on offense. RB Michael Runnels has sprinter speed while WR Hilton Green cleared 16-5 in the pole vault (2nd at the CIF state finals). The defense has a headline returnee as well in junior LB Logan Studt (getting D1 offers). DB/WR Mekhi Johnson and OL/DL Roman Fries (6-2, 280) are two other players to watch.

2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-4, No. 30.
First Game: Aug. 27 at Menlo-Atherton (Atherton).

The Bells weren’t very close to either Serra of San Mateo or St. Francis of Mountain View last year and will look to close the gap this season. Since those other two were in the top 10 of the state, that was understandable. A lot of other teams around No. 30 would have done the same.

In looking over the top West Catholic Athletic League squads for 2022, Serra continues to have too many elite players to likely fall down too much. St. Francis, though, loses a lot of players from its 2021 squad so Bellarmine getting closer to its No. 1 rival may be more doable.

Head coach Jalal Beauchman will need to replace QB Wade Smith, but has a lot back elsewhere. One of the team’s top DBs from last year, Nate Escalada, could be the new QB, but has reportedly been in a battle for the starter’s role in early practices. The Bells do return their No. 1 running back, Ben Pfaff, and two of their leading linebackers – Brandon Broch and Jake Hansen. Two linemen to keep an eye on are Jae’Von Reels (6-1, 280) and Dean Lally (6-4, 280).


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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