Here is the best of the best on defense for the 44th annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Football Teams. Go inside this post for writeups of the 11 players on defense plus a punter and three of six multi-purpose players who have been selected First Team Overall. We also have LB of the Year, but the same player already had been named Defensive Player of the Year. These players are being honored regardless of school size or year in school. The lineup that we went with this year has three defensive linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs.
For this year’s First Team Offense plus three more multi-purpose players,
For this year’s Second & Third Team (Gold Club post), CLICK HERE.
MORE OF OUR 44TH ANNUAL ALL-STATE FOOTBALL TEAMS:
Medium Schools | Small Schools | Juniors (Gold Club) | Sophomores (Gold Club) | Players of Year by positions (QB, RB, End, Line, LB, DB | FINAL All-State Nominations for CIFSS plus LA, SD & Central plus NorCal
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FOR ARCHIVE OF ALL-TIME ALL-STATE TEAMS BACK TO THE 1970s, CLICK HERE.
To order a commemorative, official All-State Football patch for those who’ve been named to one of our all-state teams for the 2022 season, go to this link from our friends at Billy Tees, which has been the official merchandiser of the CIF for many years.
FIRST TEAM ALL-STATE DEFENSE (ELITE)
(Thanks to correspondents Chuck Nan & Daniel Poulter for providing most of the writeups)
DL Grant Buckey (Liberty, Bakersfield) 6-5, 275, Sr.
While the Tri-River Athletic Conference of the greater Fresno area receives most of the buzz in the Central Valley, it was Liberty (Bakersfield) that for the second straight season was the top team from the CIF Central Section. One of the key pieces in helping the Patriots’ defense secure back-to-back D1 section titles was the defensive line play of Buckey. The three-star prospect who flipped from USC to UCLA had a team high eight sacks during his senior campaign and 24 quarterback hurries. He was especially impressive putting pressure on Pittsburg QB Jaden Rashada in the CIF D1 state final. Buckey follows his brother Zach into the Pac-12, with his brother about to be a junior at Stanford. His dad, Jeff, also played at Stanford and in the NFL. Liberty played for a state title in each of the past two years, with the Patriots upending the Bay Area’s Pittsburg 48-20 in the CIF Division 1-A State Bowl Game.
DL Jaeden Moore (Central Valley Christian, Visalia) 6-4, 230, Sr.
Here is a rare talent for Central Valley Christian, as the senior defensive lineman was one of the top players to come out of the greater Hanford/Visalia area in the past few years. The three-star prospect was seen as one of the top havoc makers at the next level that saw Moore sign with the University of Oregon. Central Valley Christian was 12-1 this season and completed a perfect regular season in which Moore finished with a team high nine sacks and also had 17 tackles for loss on the year. Moore, who also played tight end, already has been awarded the Tulare County Bob Mathias Award as the county’s most outstanding high school football player.
DL Matayo Uiagalelei (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) 6-5, 255, Sr.
Based on the Mater Dei games alone, Matayo definitely could have been multi-purpose with the catches he made as a tight end in those outings (including one for a TD in the CIFSS D1 final at the Rose Bowl). He just fit better for this team as a defensive end, which is where his career is going to develop. Matayo has been a focal point for the Braves for the last three seasons and he was State Sophomore of the Year for the 2021 Spring COVID season. On defense for the 2022 season, the five star recruit ended with 47 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, a forced fumble and three pass deflections. Matayo’s recruitment got complicated toward the end after older brother, D.J., our 2019 Mr. Football State Player of the Year, went into the transfer portal from Clemson. The two ended up both going to the state of Oregon, but while Matayo decided on Oregon, D.J. decided on Oregon State. Will the one brother look to sack the other one? We may find out as early as next fall.
LB Deven Bryant (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) 6-2, 215, Sr.
In a defensive grouping for the national champions, it’s hard to pick out one dominant leader or impact performer out of the bunch. But most would agree that it was Bryant. He’s already been named State Defensive Player of the Year and also now officially adds State LB of the Year. The Braves easily boast 11 players (and beyond) who could have garnered all-league selections and more. But Bryant was the heart of that defense and there are few honors or awards that escaped this talent. He led his team in tackles with 114 (7 1/2 for loss) and had 2 1/2 sacks. How is this for a resume: All-American from MaxPreps.com, Long Beach Press-Telegram Dream Team Player of the Year, Los Angeles Times Linebacker of the Year. Bryant will bring his intensive style next to Seattle and play for the Washington Huskies.
LB Tre Edwards (Mater Dei Catholic, Chula Vista) 6-1, 220, Sr.
There were a couple of games missed by Edwards in 2022 due to injury, but for the second straight year he was lights out in the CIF D2-AA state championship. In 2021, he shined in a win vs Modesto Central Catholic. In 2022, Tre led the Crusaders with 10 tackles (several for loss) in a win vs McClymonds of Oakland. For the 2022 season, he had 77 tackles in all with 12 for losses. The four-year starter (he had more than 100 tackles as freshman) will play next for UCLA.
LB Jerry Mixon Jr. (Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco) 6-3, 220, Sr.
This multi-sport athlete is currently active on the basketball court getting double-doubles for the Irish in one of the best leagues in the state. In football, the cousin of Cincinnati Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon was active in all sorts of ways and is especially good at going sideline-to-sideline making tackles. Mixon had 79 tackles in 10 games last season with four sacks, but did a lot more than that for the 6-5 team. He threw for a pair of TDs, ran back a kickoff for a 99-yard TD, blocked a field goal, rushed for five touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 323 yards and one score. Mixon will play next for Oregon.
LB Leviticus Su’a (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 6-3, 225, Sr.
During his four-year stint with the Monarchs, Su’a exhibited himself as a superior leader and extremely talented player. This past season, he was the Orange County “Defensive Player of the Year,” Trinity League Most Valuable Player and All-CIF SS Division 1. Su’a led the team in tackles with 63, 10 1/2 coming for loss. He also returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown and registered two sacks. Opponents were on point to describe Su’a as a fierce competitor at linebacker. Scouts love his north-south play and ability to be a disruptive force in the backfield, especially in pass rushing situations. His leadership also led him to being selected as a three-year captain at Mater Dei. He recently chose Arizona as his next destination.
DB Daylen Austin (Long Beach Poly) 6-1, 180, Sr.
It has to be known that any players from Long Beach Poly will have stat lines impacted by the team’s lack of competition in its league games. Those games are over quickly. That’s why one has to look at Poly’s games against more elite competition and that’s where Austin was at his best. Considered a top 10 cornerback nationally by most services, Daylen had 12 tackles and four pass deflections when Poly topped Mission Viejo on its way to a 10-0 regular season. He also had five tackles in the only loss (which was to Los Alamitos) plus six tackles and a pick six in a win over Leuzinger of Lawndale. Austin played in the Under Armour All-American Game and he was MVP of the Moore League. And now here’s another honor that can be added to Daylen’s resume: State DB of the Year. Poly has had a few of them, beginning with Gene Washington for 1964. The most recent was Iman Marshall for 2014. Austin will play next for Oregon, one of several major recruits in the state who signed with the Ducks. Austin had originally committed to LSU.
DB Christian Pierce (Rancho Cucamonga) 6-2, 180, Sr.
After having nine interceptions as a junior, Pierce was an all-state junior and came back with a more detailed, more multi-position role as a senior, described by head coach Brian Hildebrand as “the queen of the chessboard” to the Riverside Press-Enterprise when he was named Inland Empire Defensive Player of the Year. Pierce ended the season with 65 tackles with 4.5 for loss and 3.0 sacks. He also had three interceptions and one fumble recovery. The Rancho Cucamonga defense only allowed 8.7 points per game in a 9-3 season that ended with a loss to Inglewood in the CIFSS D2 playoffs. Christian already is enrolled as USC and was offered by many other D1 programs.
DB Rodrick Pleasant (Serra, Gardena) 5-11, 180, Sr.
We’ve got Rodrick with no “e” and Roderick with the “e” on this year’s team and they are two of the most exciting Class of 2023 players in the nation. For Pleasant, he’s not Mr. Football like San Diego’s Roderick Robinson, but he’s the State Junior Athlete of the Year for 2021-22. That’s due to his blazing state-record track speed (10.14 in the 100 meters). Rodrick flashed that speed for seven combined touchdowns for the Cavs last season and he had four interceptions despite many teams not throwing in his direction. He’s not just a track guy playing football, either. Said head coach Scott Altenberg at Pleasant’s recent live signing on ESPN with Oregon and reported by Damian Calhoun of the South Bay Daily Breeze: “He was our guy this year, he came back and performed, he carried the banner like the best player on the Serra team does when it’s his time.”
DB Brandon Ramirez (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno) 6-2, 205, Sr.
As primarily a DB recruit who is headed to Fresno State, Ramirez was placed on defense for this team, but is in reality another multi-purpose player. He was the consensus player of the year for the CIF Central Section and we’d agree. Brandon helped SJM reach its first-ever D1 section final by rushing for 1,967 yards and 31 TDs. He had 30 carries for 326 yards and three TDs in one big playoff win against Central of Fresno. On defense, Ramirez was stellar as well with 83 tackles and one interception.
P Aidan Flintoff (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village) 6-2, 190, Sr.
An all-state selection as the kicker last season, FLintoff makes a return engagement, but this time as the punter. He was clearly one of the state’s leading kickers and punters, but this season he didn’t make nearly as many field goals. Punting just made the most sense and it’s what he was listed first for on Stanford’s first media guide bio about him. Flintoff already is at the prestigious school. Aidan still averaged 39.0 yards on punts after 40.1 last season. He also made 6 of 6 field goals with a longest of 64 yards.
ALL-STATE MULTI-PURPOSE (ELITE)
RB/LB Troy Leigber (Laguna Hills) 6-0, 200, Sr.
Already named as the State Medium Schools Player of the Year and the Orange County Register Offensive Player of the Year, Leigber simply played his way up to first team overall. He led Laguna Hills to the CIF D3-A state title with a win over Bellarmine of San Jose and did it on both sides of the ball. All of the offensive accolades were because Troy led the state in scoring with 52 touchdowns and 312 points. He also rushed for 2,695 yards. On defense and special teams, Leigber had four interceptions, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, caught 24 passes for 436 yards and five TDs and he had three kickoff return touchdowns. For his college plans, Leigber has decided to be a preferred walk on at UCLA.
WR/DB Makai Lemon
(Los Alamitos) 6-0, 180, Sr.
As a wide receiver, cornerback or return man, it didn’t matter where Lemon positioned himself on the football field. His dynamic skills and exceptional talent made him a threat to score from anywhere on the gridiron. Along with QB Malachi Nelson, both USC commits, they led Los Alamitos to one of the school’s best seasons in its history. The Griffins captured the Sunset Surf League title for the third year straight. Lemon snared 66 passes for 1,048 yards (15.9 average) and 12 touchdowns. He also collected an interception and returned a kick for a score. If Lemon was not the best athlete to take the field last fall in California, then he had to be in the top five. Among his many accolades were being named our State Junior Player of the Year for 2021, The Los Angeles Times’ All-Star Team, an Under Armour Next All-American and All-CIF SS for Division 1.
RB/LB Blake Nichelson (Manteca) 6-3, 205, Sr.
There may have not been a better two-way player in the state than Blake Nichelson. The star running back and linebacker for the Buffaloes of the Sac-Joaquin Section has been rated as the ninth overall prospect in California for the 2023 class and was rated as the 10th best linebacker in the nation. While splitting time in the backfield for Manteca, Nichelson still managed 1,719 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns while catching 29 passes for 703 yards and 14 touchdowns. The four-star prospect will be a linebacker in college at Florida State University and had 44 tackles and 4.5 sacks during his senior campaign. The versatile player helped Manteca win a SJS Division 2 title with a 51-48 victory over Granite Bay before falling to Pittsburg in the NorCal Bowl Game. Blake’s offense surpassed his defense over the last two years, but at the All-American Bowl he was just on defense and he was in on four tackles. Think of an NFL LB like Leighton Vander Esch or Mike Milano. That could be Nichelson some day.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports