Nine of the teams in this group did not appear in the final State TOP 50 for the 2021 season. Those teams look good in part due to key transfer quarterbacks — such as at Rancho Cucamonga and Chaminade of West Hills. There also are those with big totals of returning starters such as JSerra of San Juan Capistrano and Madison of San Diego. Total of 25 more teams listed on the bubble.
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(Associate editor Harold Abend contributed to these writeups)
31. HELIX (LA MESA)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-4, No. 23.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Mira Mesa (San Diego).
There’s a big six from the CIF San Diego Section that we were intent on getting all of them written up for the preseason State TOP 50. Helix is one of those six and arguably should be higher than Lincoln since that was the team the Highlanders beat to win the SD Section D1 title last season. It was the program’s 11th section title.
New head coach Damanja Jones (promoted from an assistant’s role) takes over for Robbie Owens and had to be happy knowing there were six starting sophomores on defense with five on offense during last year’s playoff run. One of the six was a QB, too, as Ryland Jessie got better and better as the season progressed. RB Christian Washington will be missed, but the offense probably will find ways to get the ball into the hands of WR Adren Parker, who last spring became the fastest 400-meter dash runner in section history. The Highlanders also have a notable two-way threat in LB/RB Ezriel Noa (6-1, 220), the latest Noa brother to come up in the program.
Helix’s defense should unleash one of the top pass rush attacks in the section. LB Travis Ford (a junior) was the team’s leading sacker last season. Other defenders with notable stats or college offers returning include Kairo Kahananui, Jeremiah Savaiinaea and Daniel Lersina. All three of those players also are juniors.
32. RANCHO CUCAMONGA
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 6-6, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs Servite.
A combination of returning talent in the receiving positions plus the arrival of an impact transfer at quarterback has many of the folks in Cucamonga going crazy.
The QB is C.J. Tiller, who played last year at Williams Field High in Arizona. He looked so good in the spring and summer that some comparisons to the Cougars’ last C.J. at QB, the one named Stroud now ranked as a Heisman Trophy favorite at Ohio State, were made. Tiller has since committed to Boise State.
Head coach Brian Hildebrand has a receiving corps that includes all-state sophomore (now junior) Jonah Dawson. Junior Nehemiah Harrison along with seniors Jason Harris and Julian Lundy can all get open and make catches as well. All-league OL Tyler Chen (6-3, 260) is another to watch.
On defense, Rancho Cucamonga has a group led by all-state first team junior DB Christian Pierce. The heavily recruited Pierce had nine interceptions last season. Junior LB Vaka Latu and junior DB Amourey Brooks should be other prime-time performers.
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-1, No. 25.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. St. Bonaventure (Ventura).
If you just looked over the roster of all of the major contributors from last year’s team that got all that negative attention for winning a game 106-0 but didn’t get enough positive attention for beating St. Bonaventure and Huntington Beach Edison in the CIFSS D2 playoffs, you’d think it might be a good idea to forget about this season.
The Sentinels, though, are one of those programs that can bring in transfers to make up the difference. They have done that again. At QB, for example, sophomore Husan Longstreet has checked in to play a full season for Inglewood instead of being a back-up at Los Alamitos. He still has to prove he can be at the same level as graduated Justyn Martin, but does have D1 offers (some from the Pac-12).
Another newcomer via transfer is Bryce Parker from Corona Santiago. He caught 79 passes there in 2021 for 1,408 yards and 17 TDs. What he does at Inglewood could be eye-popping. Two DBs coming in with D1 commitments are Khalil Peart (San Jose State) and Jailen DeCosta (Nevada) while LB Robert Paladines also is expected to make a big difference after coming over from Chaminade.
Of the players who were there last season, the main one to watch is 6-5, 250-pound tight end/defensive end Jamari Johnson. He has committed to Louisville and had listed offers from other major D1 colleges.
34. CHAMINADE (WEST HILLS)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 5-5, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Oaks Christian (Westlake Village).
The Eagles were a step behind Mission League rivals Serra, Alemany and Bishop Amat last season. While Alemany has taken big hits from graduation and transfer, Chaminade still may have a fourth-place team in the league with Sierra Canyon’s addition. The reason for this ranking is returning starters plus the addition of several key transfers.
New head coach David Machuca has taken over for the retired Ed Croson (also a former State Coach of the Year). One of the key transfers, QB Javance Tupouata-Johnson, is from Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and has committed to San Diego State. Chaminade also has added OL Aitor Urionabarrenechea from Alemany plus playmakers Jaelon Barbarin and Kawzi Gilmer.
Of the players coming back, the best strength is on the defensive side of the ball. LB Isaiah Chisom led last year’s team in tackles with 111 and has offers from many Pac-12 colleges. DB Marquis Gallegos has similar offers while just a junior and already has seven career interceptions. The offensive line is loaded since Urionabarrenechea is joining a group with returnees Adam Sotelo and junior David Abajian.
35. ST. BONAVENTURE (VENTURA)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-1, No. 36.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Inglewood.
This is another team we’ll find out how strong it is right away with the season-opening trip to play Inglewood. That team lost a lot of players from last year’s team that ended the season for the Seraphs in the first round of the CIFSS D2 playoffs, but has other transfers stepping in. It still would be a big win for St. Bonaventure.
Head coach Joe Goyenche has the most returning strength and a great situation for his offense. Returning RB Delon Thompson had nearly 1,200 yards as a junior and should be even stronger as a senior. The QB from last season, Manny Rosales, also was an underclassman but coming in is Alemany transfer Anthony Wolter, a junior who already has one D1 offer. Rosales will simply shift to other positions and figures to make plays all over the field. Another speedy receiver to watch is Joaquin “Juice” Johnson.
The St. Bonaventure defense is linebacker heavy, and will have to see younger players come through especially against those teams with some outside speed. Jared Barlow is a returning standout (second on the team in tackles). Anthony Albanez will line up close by and adds much leadership, poise and toughness.
36. JSERRA (SJ CAPISTRANO)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 3-8, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth).
The Lions are a tough team to rank. They will play a rough schedule not just against their Trinity League foes but also Sierra Canyon to start and will face Centennial (Corona) plus Rancho Cucamonga. They do have a whopping total of 19 returning starters, although it’s 19 back from a team that won just three times. It’s clearly possible JSerra won’t be in the cellar of the Trinity League this time, but it’s also possible the team could be much better but still not win a game, too. It will just be wait-and-see every week.
QB Zander Singh impressed in the last game of last season (a CIFSS D2 playoff loss to Sierra Canyon) by passing for 305 yards and five TDs. Head coach Scott McKnight also has several impressive linemen. OL David Tuliau (6-2, 280) is a returning all-leaguer. Kainoa Davis is a 6-foot-4, 280-pound junior who can move well, and there’s sophomore Jake Flores (6-6, 260). He already has several D1 college offers, including those from Oregon, Florida State and Louisville.
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-3, No. 15.
First Game: Aug. 26 at Santa Margarita (Rancho SM).
Head coach Chuck Chastain’s squad shows good strength with six returning starters on offense with seven on defense, but the players that have graduated were a special group. Included was San Diego State QB Kyle Crum, Cal RB Jadyn Ott and several standout linemen.
Among the players that are back, the leader is WR Grant Gray. Also a leadoff hitter in baseball, Gray was recently named the Riverside Press-Enterprise Athlete of the Year for 2021-22 (seniors included). Gray has committed to UCLA. Junior QB Tyler Dudden is expected to take over for Crum and if the drop isn’t much the team could be back in the hunt for second-place in the new Big West League Upper Division. That new alignment still has Corona Centennial from the old Big VIII League, but also adds Murrieta Valley and Vista Murrieta from the previous Southwestern League.
On defense, Norco’s best should include LB Chase Miller (2nd leading tackler from 2021), DB Clayton Zentner and DE/LB Caden Robinson.
38. LOS GATOS
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-1, No. 37.
First Game: Aug. 26 vs Corona del Mar (Newport Beach).
If there’s one team in these rankings wanting to get back out on the field this year, then it’s this one. The last time the Wildcats played they lost 34-27 to Bellarmine of San Jose in the CIF Central Coast Section D1 playoffs on a 94-yard interception return with 43 seconds left. They thought they were going in for the winning points, but disaster struck.
Los Gatos was almost an all-underclass team in the skill positions last season and therefore looks like it will again be one of the top teams in the CCS. Head coach Mark Krail told writer Emanuel Lee of the Los Gatan that this is the first time in his 10 years that he’s had a returning quarterback and that QB will be senior Jake Boyd. He passed for 1,887 yards and 22 TDs last season and also was able to run the ball.
Krail has six starters back on both sides of the ball. The list includes leading rushing Emiliano Mejia (909 yds, 12 TDs), a TE/LB Luchi Casale (6-2, 220) who is getting D1 offers and one of the top junior WR/DBs in the CCS in Jaylen Thomas. DB Landon Heard (three interceptions and a 4.3 GPA) and LB Nicolas Ramos (40 tackles, five sacks) also are returning.
The Wildcats also have players coming up from a 10-0 JV squad.
39. CORONA DEL MAR (NEWPORT BEACH)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-3, No. 32.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Downey.
We love preseason inter-sectional games and one of the more interesting ones this year will be on Aug. 26 when the Sea Kings head north to face Los Gatos. While it will be CdM’s second game, it will be the season opener for the host Wildcats. And since the two are playing each other and since we had them both preliminarily pegged at around the same position in our preseason rankings, we just put them right next to each other.
Corona del Mar looks similar to Los Gatos in many other ways. The Sea Kings also have a top-notch returning QB in David Rasor. He threw for 2,365 yards and 34 TDs last season and will head back up north for college since he has committed to UC Davis. They also have their leading running back returning as Evan Sanders rushed for 607 yards and caught 27 passes.
Head coach Dan O’Shea’s other top returning players include WR Cooper Hoch (29 catches, 448 yards, seven TDs); junior RB Colin Pene and LB Mason Kubichek. CdM even has a very good JV team coming up (same as Los Gatos), which in its case went 9-1.
40. CLAYTON VALLEY (CONCORD)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-4, No. 33.
First Game: Aug. 26 vs Salinas.
With the NCS adopting a new Open/Division I split bracket format last season, Clayton Valley received the No. 3 seed in the combined bracket and that meant it was the top seed in the D1 portion of the bracket. The Ugly Eagles opened with a 42-21 victory over Antioch and then avenged an East Bay Athletic League – Mountain Division 19-18 loss to California (San Ramon) with a 24-21 victory in the semifinals. The California win set up a D1 title game with a No. 2 seed Pittsburg where the season ended for head coach Tim Murphy and his Uglies in a 28-14 loss.
Murphy, who at times over the past couple of years has contemplated stepping aside, comes into the season as the No. 5 active winningest coach in the NCS with 214 wins according to the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book. “I’m taking it year by year at this time,” Murphy said. “Right now co-head coach Nick Tisa has been amazing and helping me so much.”
As for this season Murphy loses 10 players that were all East Bay Athletic League, six first team, two second team, two honorable mention selections, and returns no one that made all league. This isn’t the first time Murphy has had to re-tool and he’s adapting with a new spread offense that may shock some prep football fans who know of Murphy and his offense as being a smash-mouth, run-first type of coach.
The quarterback position is still undecided but there are two solid signal-callers vying for the position. Mason Lovett, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior who was last season’s back-up is in competition with 6-foot-1, 170-pound Christian Aguilar, a transfer from Pittsburg that backed up Jaden Rashada but saw enough time to pass for 617 yards and six TDs with two interceptions. The leading returning wide receiver is Cody DeMartini, but the player Murphy is really excited about is 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior Daven Amos, who he feels could be the first D1 receiver he’s had since coming to Clayton Valley in 2012 from Clovis East.
The top returning running back is Nicholas Khashabi, a 5-foot-8, 190-pound senior who ran for 455 yards and six TDs last season. As usual the line is solid. Richard Mckay, a 6-foot-7, 289-pound offensive right tackle and defensive tackle, returns. He has five offers including Arizona.
41. MADISON (SAN DIEGO)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-3, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Otay Ranch (Chula Vista).
This team has nine returning starters on offense plus 10 on defense. The Warhawks could be higher to start with numbers like that, but the margin of defeat in their CIF San Diego Section D1 playoff loss to Lincoln was just a bit much.
Head coach Rick Jackson has been reported with 153 career wins to start the season and he has a couple of CIF state titles to his credit.
QB Reggie Johnson returns to lead the offense. He passed for 1,469 yards and 16 TDs in 2021. Madison’s offense also will feature one of the state’s elite overall athletes in WR Jake Jackson. He averaged more than 20 ppg in basketball, but his best sport may be baseball where he was a first team all-state junior outfielder. Up front, Jonah Rodriguez (6-4, 280) is in the running to be the best OL in San Diego. He has offers from Arizona State, Colorado and more.
James Tivao, a junior who also plays RB/FB, is going to be one of the Warhawks’ defensive standouts. The LB already has Pac-12 offers. LB Berret Rankin and DBs Sean Webb and Tyson Bryant are others to watch.
42. MONTEREY TRAIL (ELK GROVE)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-6, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Folsom.
It’s a common preseason ranking choice to put in a projected good team that is playing another highly ranked team in the first game. For Monterey Trail, that first game will be against preseason state No. 6 Folsom. There’s much more to like about the Mustangs, though, than just their schedule (which also will include games against De La Salle and St. Francis of Mountain View in the first three weeks).
Monterey Trail’s program under head coach T.J. Ewing has gotten to the point of it being clearly in the discussion as one of the best in Northern California. Last year’s team did make it to a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section title game for the third straight (non-COVID) season.
Ewing has several standout returnees as well. RB Ali Collier piled up 1,549 yards and scored 28 TDs as a junior. Daelin Ellis showed what he could do on two long TD runs in the D2 section title game loss to Central Catholic and could be a breakout star. Others to watch include TE/LB Fatafehi Puloka, junior WR/DB Arik Phillips and junior TE/DL Marcus Perkins.
43. EDISON (HUNTINGTON BEACH)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-4, No. 29.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Venice.
The race for second place in the Sunset League behind Los Alamitos came down to the Chargers and Corona del Mar last year with Edison coming out on top. We’re starting the Sea Kings a few spots higher this season due to returning players, but it could easily come out the other way, too.
CdM’s advantage is in the skill positions, but Edison has superior strength in the trenches. Nathan Gates (6-4, 280) is one of the top OLs in Orange County and has offers from Fresno State, San Jose State and more. OL/DL Makai Sagiao (6-2, 300) is a junior coming in from Newport Harbor who is another impact player.
Another plus for the Chargers is the return of QB Parker Awad. He hit on 67 percent of his passes as a junior. WR Tucker Tripp could be his favorite target. Defensively, the leader may be LB Logan Gregory.
44. OAKS CHRISTIAN (WESTLAKE VILLAGE)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 7-7, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Chaminade (West Hills).
This is a team in recent years that has started out ranked high due to its number of D1 college type recruits plus the tough schedule that it plays. That hasn’t always equated to many wins in those games and we’re doing the same thing for the Lions this year – just not as high as in the past.
Head coach Charles Collins announced at the first-ever Marmonte League media day last week that Oxnard transfer Devin Tate had won the QB1 spot in a battle with Village Christian transfer Nate Bennett. That QB spot was one of the only question marks surrounding this Oaks Christian squad.
Big-time recruit Johnny Thompson is among those at RB, super-fast junior Chase Farrell is among those at WR, Stanford commit Luke Baklenko is among those at OL, tackle leader Matt Erhart is among those at LB, sticky corner Jalen Lewis is among those at DB and the Lions also have the No. 1 ranked combo kicker-punter in the state with Aidan Flintoft.
45. ALEMANY (MISSION HILLS)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-4, No. 13.
First Game: Aug. 19 Lone Peak (Utah).
As the spring was unfolding and reports kept coming out about players transferring out of the Warriors’ program, it didn’t look like they would even be considered for the top 50 for this season. A spectacular senior class, with players like RB Floyd Chalk, WR Kevin Green Jr., and LB Niuafae Tuihalamaka, also moved on.
Since then, head coach Casey Clausen has been able to add some transfers of his own and combined with what the program did last season (won Mission League title) definitely can and does start out in the top 50.
The two top transfers may be QB C.J. Ceron, a junior from La Serna of Whittier expected to start, and RB Jeremiah Claiborne, who has been highly productive at his previous school (Citrus Valley of Redlands). Siaosi “Rhino” Tapaatoutai and Siale Uluave are two big, strong linemen who are returning. Issac Medel, a transfer from Garfield (L.A.), is another lineman to watch.
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 8-1, No. 50.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Clayton Valley (Concord).
Another fun, intriguing opening game for Northern California is going to be the Cowboys traveling to play Clayton Valley. Head coach Steve Zenk’s squad impressed last year especially in a 42-14 win over Aptos and only lost 35-31 to Menlo-Atherton in the CIF Central Coast Section D1 playoffs.
Salinas is starting out No. 5 among teams from the CCS this season and has all of its star players coming back. We don’t know the history of the Monterey Herald awards, but we don’t recall a year when the Herald’s Offensive Player of the Year – QB Adam Shaffer – and its Defensive Player of the Year – LB Aidan Flynn – were both juniors from the same school. And neither of those two is the team’s top returnee. That would be explosive WR Nyziah Hunter, who recently committed to Cal.
Isaac Mancera also returns as one of the state’s top-ranked kickers while returning TE/DE Emmerson Menjivar is now beginning to get some D1 college offers.
47. MCCLYMONDS (OAKLAND)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 12-1, No. 47.
First Game: Sept. 2 vs. Bellarmine (San Jose)
One of these last spots in our preseason top 50 came down to McClymonds, Marin Catholic and Vanden, all three of which won CIF state titles last season in divisions 3-AA, 3-A and 4-AA. Mack had a solid win over Marin Catholic, didn’t play Vanden but easily could have been put in the higher division (the Warriors won in their state final 54-6) and is opening up against Bellarmine. The Warriors also moved into a tie for third on the all-time state list with four CIF state titles in their history and they will be looking to win their 13th straight league title.
Four-year starting QB Dreyan Paul has graduated, but head coach Michael Peters should still have an explosive offense. He’ll have D1 recruit Jaivian Thomas back at RB, who ran a leg on the team’s record-breaking 4×100 relay team on the track. Mack also has several other regulars back in key positions, including OL Malik Richardson (6-2, 275), DE Joshua Shanklin, junior FB/LB Amir Gobar and all-league DE Rickari Campbell.
48. SAN JOAQUIN MEMORIAL (FRESNO)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 9-1, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 vs. Clovis North (Fresno).
The Panthers were in the Central Section D1 semifinals last season so it would make sense that they’d be at least in the top four for that section once again. It’s not like they don’t have some leading players coming back from that squad, either.
Head coach Anthony Goston will be handing the top QB job to senior Carson Dean, who played behind the athletic Mikey Bell (more of a baseball player) last season. Senior RB/DB Brandon Ramirez is the top returnee. He has D1 offers (more for defense) and comes back with 89 tackles and one interception. Ramirez also rushed for just more than 1,000 yards. The offense also should feature sure-handed WR Joe Dalena and two-year all-league OL Brayden Hall.
SJM’s defense has a force of nature up front in 6-foot-2, 255-pound pass rusher Marquise Jones. He has offers from Nevada and Utah State with more possibly to come. Six other starters on defense also are back with eight total starters back on offense.
49. ST. FRANCIS (LA CANADA)
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 10-3, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 at West Ranch (Valencia).
Among the three teams that were 2-1 in the Angelus League last season, the one that we are putting into the top 50 to start is the Golden Knights. While both Loyola (Los Angeles) and St. Paul (Santa Fe Springs) also return significant players, the difference could be the addition at St. Francis of RB Devyn Turner. He comes to the state from the heralded program at Allen (Texas) and he scored 18 TDs for the Eagles last season. He should be among the top RBs in Southern California.
Head coach Dean Herrington already had his QB from last season, Jack Jacobs, coming back. The 6-foot-6 field general passed for 1,927 yards as a junior and has more than 3,000 for his career. St. Francis also has an outstanding group of offensive linemen, led by all-state sophomore Phillip Ocon. Senior Racin Delgatty also is highly regarded up front. WR/DBs Jett McCullough and DruShun Phillips should be fun to watch as well.
50. APPLE VALLEY
2021 Record & Final TOP 50 Rank: 11-4, NR.
First Game: Aug. 19 at Eastlake (Chula Vista).
It should be some good old-fashioned power football for the Sun Devils, who do need to replace some skill players after their 2021 team went to the CIFSS D4 championship (loss to Serra of Gardena).
The power part of it comes up front where all-state OL Raymond Pulido (6-6, 320) leads the way. Pulido, who had been at St. John Bosco but wound up coming back home for his senior season, may have committed to one of several high-profile colleges by the time some are reading this preview. Another mammoth up front for head coach Kyle Godfrey is 6-2, 300-pound Jirah Leaupepetele.
From a player of the year standpoint, however, Apple Valley’s best last year, LB/FB Dustin Reynolds, also may be the best this season. Reynolds had 125 tackles as a defender but was the team’s leading running back on offense later in the season due to injuries.
Two other Sun Devils looking poised to have big years are QB/DB Isaiah Zuniga (6-5, 190), who also has a 4.0 GPA, and WR/DB Isaiah Ujeda.
NEXT 25 TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
(Alpha order with last year’s record)
Aquinas (San Bernardino) 10-6
Cajon (San Bernardino) 10-1
Campolindo (Moraga) 10-4
Citrus Valley (Redlands) 8-3
Edison (Stockton) 9-2
Elk Grove 8-4
Granite Bay 8-3
Jesuit (Carmichael) 10-2
Loyola (Los Angeles) 8-4
Marin Catholic (Kentfield) 14-1
Mission Hills (San Marcos) 8-3
Oak Hills (Hesperia) 9-2
Sacred Heart Cathedral (SF) 8-7
San Clemente 7-4
Scripps Ranch (San Diego) 13-1
Sheldon (Sacramento) 8-4
St. Mary’s (Stockton) 10-3
Vanden (Fairfield) 13-2
Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 9-3
West Ranch (Valencia) 8-3
Wilcox (Santa Clara) 10-5
Yorba Linda 10-1