Mid-Season Breakdowns & State Player of the Year Updates

NorCal Player of Year candidate Austin Mack (left) looks to complete a pass for Folsom in game vs. Pittsburg. At right is Mater Dei (Santa Ana) QB Elijah Brown standing with head coach Bruce Rollinson. Photos: Willie Eashman & Mark Tennis.

For teams playing in 10 regular season games with no playoffs, the middle part of the current CIF state high school football season was two weeks ago. But a more natural place to check out what we’ve learned so far, which teams have been the biggest surprises and who looks like the frontrunner to be Mr. Football State Player of the Year would clearly be after the first of the likely two Mater Dei-St. John Bosco clashes that was held last Friday.

Note: Look for a brand new State Top 50 set of football rankings that won’t simply be a list on Monday night. We’ll have insights and breakdowns based on 44 years of going to Friday night games with an overview of the state’s top teams and what’s coming up that just can’t be matched. It’s usually more than 8,000 words of jam-packed info. Each new set of rankings will be for Gold Club members only. The late Friday/Weekend Scoreboards will continue to be free posts and will provide snippets of info, comments and more.

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In this era of dominance by Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. John Bosco of Bellflower in California football, which began in 2016 and has seen either the Monarchs (2017, 2018, 2021 spring, 2021 fall) or Braves (2016, 2019) sit at the top of the state for each season, the capability of the losing team from the first game in the rivalry coming back to win in a rematch has always been what anyone has to watch for.

Mater Dei’s DeAndre Carter, still just a junior, could be on his way to becoming one of the most highly regarded offensive linemen in state history. Photo: Mark Tennis.

So what will it take for Bosco to turn the tables if there is a rematch from this week’s 17-7 win by the Monarchs in the CIF Southern Section Division I championship on Nov. 25 at the Rose Bowl?

First, most obviously, the Braves have to get there. They’ll likely have to get past state No. 3 Corona Centennial in the semifinals. This also assumes that No. 1 QB Pierce Clarkson doesn’t have anything more serious health-wise than just a concussion that put him out of the second half of the Mater Dei game.

Second, it’s also obvious that Bosco’s offensive and defensive lines have to play more equally or better in their matchups with the Monarchs. Mater Dei’s offensive line, with senior Brandon Baker at one tackle spot and junior DeAndre Carter at the other, created consistent running lanes for sophomore Jordon Davison and others and only allowed one sack (which came on a blitz). Mater Dei’s defensive line, including 6-6, 295-pound junior Aydin Breland, helped push for three sacks in the first half plus a big one in the fourth quarter.

We generally hate to point out any player in a negative context, but if Bosco’s Matayo Uiagalelei is going to live up to a lot of the recruiting rankings that has him among the best players in the nation he needs to make more disruptive plays in a big game like the one just played. He’s no longer being used on offense (at least he wasn’t this week) so he should be more charged up to lead the Braves like the dominant defensive end he’s projected to become.

Even if Clarkson is back for a full game in a probable rematch, if he’s scrambling around too much under pressure it’s not going make that much of a difference in a second game against Mater Dei.


1. Elijah Brown (Mater Dei)

Is it sacrilegious to compare the junior QB of the Monarchs to 2021 Heisman Trophy winner and MD alum Bryce Young? No, it is not. As a junior at the same stage of their careers, Brown is without question at the same stage as Young (who didn’t play at MD in his first two varsity seasons unlike Elijah who has started since he was a freshman). Keep in mind, though, that Bryce improved his skills and got better in all aspects of his game between his junior and senior seasons. It was a noticeable jump. The other difference is that in Bryce’s junior season (2018) Mater Dei had a senior (Bru McCoy) who was locally and by many others viewed to be the team’s No. 1 player (he had both offense and defense accomplishments). That’s why he was Mr. Football that season and not Young. That doesn’t seem to be the case for 2022. If MD does finish off a second straight 14-0 season with Brown at QB with a personal 33-game win streak he’s the No. 1 guy from the team and also would be a rather easy choice to be Mr. Football.

Roderick Robinson already has had several statement performances at running back. Photo: Twitter.com.

2. Roderick Robinson (Lincoln, San Diego)

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back has committed to UCLA, but still is being actively recruited by SEC heavyweights. He’s also so far had a historically great and could do even more for the Hornets. In the team’s three biggest wins so far, Robinson has thundered for 307 yards rushing and three TDs vs. St. Bonaventure of Ventura, 476 yards and eight TDs vs. Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista and 217 yards and three TDs vs. Cathedral Catholic of San Diego. Stats from this week’s game weren’t reported yet as this column was being done, but Roderick already had more than 1,500 yards on the season. We’ll see what happens in a possible run by Lincoln in the CIF San Diego Section Open Division and then perhaps a CIF state title, but it’s all possible and he’d likely be having huge outings all along the way. For power, speed, size and everything, it’s all come together this season.

3. Rodrick Pleasant (Serra, Gardena)

In Serra’s win this week against Bishop Amat, Pleasant scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and on a 9-yard run. It’s that kind of explosiveness on offense and special teams (using his 10.14 state record 100-meter dash sprinting speed) that helps make him a player of the year candidate (especially since being a standout on both sides of the ball can be important. By the way, on defense, Pleasant has been making big plays for Serra as well and has lived up to comparisons to former Mr. Football Adore’e Jackson as a cover corner.

4. Pierce Clarkson & Matayo Uiagalelei (St. John Bosco)

It’s still incredibly difficult to single out player of the year candidates for the Braves since they are so incredibly balanced on both sides of the ball. Clarkson missed the second half of the Mater Dei game, but has been scoring on runs and throwing TD passes in all of the team’s games leading up to it. One also would just assume that the Louisville commit would be a big reason why Bosco does come back and win in a rematch and then go all the way to the CIF Open Division state title. Matayo also remains the team’s highest ranked Class of 2023 recruit and has all the ability to have big games down the stretch after a relatively quiet outing this week vs the Monarchs.

5. Julian Sayin (Carlsbad)

If there’s a player that can knock off Roderick Robinson at the top of the San Diego Section honors, it would likely be Sayin. The junior QB for the Lancers also is generally higher in national Class of 2024 quarterback rankings than even Mater Dei’s Elijah Brown. He’s being offered by all of the heavyweights. Sayin and the Lancers had a loss to Inglewood, but that was before Michigan-committed tight end Zack Marshall was eligible. Sayin entered this weekend’s games with 1,330 yards passing plus 14 TDs and just two interceptions.

6. Blake Nichelson (Manteca)

The race for NorCal player of the year also is wide open, but for someone who is currently leading an unbeaten team and who literally can play just about any position then Nichelson is a huge contender. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder was the reported state leader among juniors from large or medium schools last season with more than 2,200 yards, but has been recruited as a linebacker. He recently committed to Florida State. Entering games this week, Blake had 622 yards rushing (11 TDs), 13 catches for 309 yards receiving (7 TDs), 3.5 quarterback sacks, one interception, one caused fumble, a pass completion of 48 yards and a 60-yard punt return TD. If Manteca goes on a run in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs (D2) and Nichelson can lead the Buffs to a high state finish then a lot of big honors would likely be coming his way.

7. Leviticus Su’a (Mater Dei)

By the time the season is over, if the Monarchs are able to match everything from last year (14-0 and No. 1 in the nation), their defense will be just as much of a reason for them doing that as the offense. Su’a is the senior leader of that unit and has been having a great season. He had 28 tackles after the first six games with a 66-yard pick six and 3.0 tackles for loss.

7. Austin Mack (Folsom)
Of the teams currently toward the top of the state rankings from Northern California, there’s Serra (San Mateo), Folsom and now St. Mary’s (Stockton). Serra has been a team with numerous major contributors and still could have a prime player of the year candidate emerge, but for now the best of the group is Mack. The QB for the Bulldogs has grown to 6-foot-6 and has been spreading the ball around nicely to a strong group of skill players led by Notre Dame commit Rico Flores. In his first seven games, he has 1,725 yards passing with 22 TDs and just one interception.

Marshel Sanders of Clovis West also will be one of the top junior basketball players in the CIF Central Section. He is on track to be a four-year standout in football. Photo: Twitter.com.


1. Chaminade (West Hills)
The Eagles were supposed to be good after a 5-5 season in 2021, but with a new head coach it could have been tricky. New head coach David Machuca, however, hasn’t missed a beat taking over for longtime program leader Ed Croson. Chaminade still has Bishop Amat, Sierra Canyon and Serra of Gardena to play in the Mission League, but wins so far against Oaks Christian, JSerra and Alemany plus a 7-0 record has the club solidly inside the top 10 of our state rankings.

2. St. Mary’s (Stockton)
One of the more shocking scores in Northern California even before last Friday was the Rams beating Central Catholic of Modesto, 47-7. Those two parochial rivals just don’t play one-sided affair like that. Then last Friday St. Mary’s posted a 45-35 win at home against De La Salle of Concord, its first-ever win over the Spartans. That pushed the Rams’ record to 7-0, which comes after they lost Jadyn Marshall to graduation (one of the most dynamic players from Stockton ever). The updated question about St. Mary’s is now about possibly playing and beating Folsom in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 playoffs. Regardless of any nit-picking over comparative scores, it will almost for sure require Serra of San Mateo losing for any debate about the NorCal Open Division. Nobody should actually really want that anyway.

3. Clovis West (Fresno)
Coming off of a 4-6 season, the Golden Eagles did have some intriguing players coming back, led by junior WR Marshal Sanders (numerous D1 offers). To us, they were a top 50 bubble team and they have certainly overcome that with their recent win over Buchanan of Clovis and with Buchanan having a win over defending Central Section D1 champ Liberty (Bakersfield) they are now No. 1 in the section and inside the top 25 for the state. We will give a shoutout here to local radio host Nick Papagni of the PAGMETER site who had Clovis West at No. 2 in the section to start the season.

4. JSerra (San Juan Capistrano)
The Lions were the cellar-dwelling team in the Trinity League last season, and were expected to be better, but getting wins over Rancho Cucamonga and Sierra Canyon with a one-point loss to Santa Margarita and just a 21-13 loss to Mater Dei is definitely better than expected. Sure, the team could still be last in the last in the league if it doesn’t beat Servite in two weeks (Bosco will be this week). With a lot of young players doing well, too, it’s a program back on the rise for sure.

5. Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton)
Who would have thought when the season began, especially after Menlo-Atherton of Atherton was able to add five-star receiver Jurron Dickey to its lineup through transfer, that the small school Gators would be the highest ranked team in Atherton? Those two will play on Oct. 29, but as of this week after Sacred Heart Prep beat Half Moon Bay on Saturday and Half Moon Bay edged Menlo-Atherton two weeks ago the rankings will show SHP higher. The Gators also have a quality win over Los Gatos. Being this strong regardless of enrollment is not new to SHP, either. When it had future NFL LB Ben Burr-Kirven in 2014, the Gators won the Open Division title in the CIF Central Coast Section but that was the last year in which not every section title winner went to a CIF NorCal bowl game. SHP (13-0) couldn’t get into a NorCal game with De La Salle, Folsom and Grant (Sacramento) all with unbeaten records as well.

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

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