In three of the last four Super Bowls, California has only had seven, five and six players from its high schools in the big game. They are among the lowest totals since we’ve been doing these state-by-state counts since the 1990s and based on our research back to the first Super Bowl in 1967. The Kansas City Chiefs this year also are the third team ever to have just one player on its roster from California, but they also only had one four years ago. The San Francisco 49ers are clearly more of a California team with six on the roster from their home state.
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For the second straight year, California’s decline in producing top-notch NFL football players over the last decade or so was shown again in looking at where each player on the rosters of the two teams playing in the Super Bowl went to high school.
While the state did have 14 players in the game two years ago involving the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals and while there are certain teams (like the Bengals) that happen to have a lot of players from the state and certain positions (like quarterbacks) that still have a lot of alums, the overall totals both in terms of the Super Bowl and NFL Draft have gone down in recent years.
This year’s team roster for the Kansas City Chiefs, in fact, is just the third one we’ve researched for the Super Bowl in its history since the first game that only has one player from California. The Chiefs’ lone representative from the state is highly regarded cornerback Trent McDuffie, who is from national powerhouse St. John Bosco of Bellflower. The state can still count future first ballot Hall of Fame head coach Andy Reid, however, since he is from Marshall High of Los Angeles.
The Chiefs, led by the incredible Patrick Mahomes of Texas as the quarterback, have never seemed to have very many California players. When they won the Super Bowl last year over the Philadelphia Eagles, McDuffie was joined on the roster by receiver Juju Smith-Schuster of Long Beach Poly as the only two from the state. And when they played in the Super Bowl prior to that three years ago vs the Tampa Bay Bucs, defensive back Daniel Sorenson of Colton was their only California player.
The only three teams in Super Bowl history with just one California player are the Chiefs twice and the Pittsburgh Steelers of 2011.
The San Francisco 49ers have tended to have lots of former California players on the roster, going back to those like Ronnie Lott (Rialto Eisenhower), Randy Cross (Encino Crespi) and Dan Bunz (Roseville Oakmont). That remains true for this year’s group as among the team’s six from California are All-Pro LB Fred Warner (San Marcos Mission Hills) and the team’s four-time NFL Man of the Year nominee Arik Armstead (Elk Grove Pleasant Grove).
Does the drop in Super Bowl alums indicate football talent is no longer coming from California like it once was? In some ways, yes, but there are still many elite skill players coming from the state, especially when you look at projected top picks for the 2024 NFL Draft, led by Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels from Cajon of San Bernardino and three-time All-American tight end Brock Bowers from Napa.
We should note that these totals are all based on active rosters prior to the game and do not count practice squads. A late injury also could change the numbers. It really would be awesome if DL Matt Dickerson of the Chiefs was on the active roster and not practice squad. He’s from Serra High of San Mateo, which is the home of QB legend Tom Brady plus another Super Bowl MVP in Lynn Swann.
CALIFORNIA HIGH SCHOOL
SUPER BOWL ALUMS (2024)
Arik Armstead (Pleasant Grove, Elk Grove) DL 49ers
We were lucky enough to see Aric play his last high school game at Pleasant Grove, which was when the Eagles won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 championship in 2011 with a 35-6 win over Elk Grove Unified School District rival Monterey Trail. He was all-state first team that year as an offensive lineman, but played both ways and developed as a defensive lineman at Oregon. Aric had some injury issues early in his NFL career, but has become one of the top interior linemen on defense in the NFL. He also is well known for his work helping the Bay Area and Sacramento/Elk Grove communities through his educational foundation.
Aaron Banks (El Cerrito) OL 49ers
Both Banks and Armstead were grid-hoopers in high school and Banks in fact was someone we heard about as a freshman for basketball. Banks went on to play for the Gauchos in 2013 when they won their first CIF North Coast Section title and was a top recruit. He eventually signed with Notre Dame and came out for the 2021 NFL Draft where the 49ers made him a second round selection.
Sam Darnold (San Clemente) QB 49ers
The No. 3 selection in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2018 (same one in which Josh Allen and Josh Rosen also went in the first 12 picks) is now the back-up to the last selection of the 2021 draft (Brock Purdy). But being a back-up in the NFL no matter the draft position is not easy. There have been others chosen higher than Darnold (Ryan Leaf & JaMarcus Russell) who did not even get steady NFL employment. Darnold previously started for both the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers. He was an All-American at USC and we always love to use him as an inspiration for players who suffer a devastating injury in high school. For Darnold, it was a broken leg he had as a sophomore at San Clemente. He came back from that to have a memorable senior season.
Deommodore Lenoir (Salesian, Los Angeles) DB 49ers
When he was playing at Salesian in 2016, Deommodore was a perfect example of someone selected for an all-state honor as a defensive back but that was just the right place to put him. He could have been all-state multi-purpose. Lenoir was first team defense medium schools that season (Salesian has been both small and medium in recent seasons). He only had 52 tackles and one interception as a DB, but he was recruited to Oregon primarily to be a DB. His other totals for Salesian that year included 1,172 yards rushing and 17 TDs, 663 yards receiving and seven TDs, plus nearly 600 yards passing and six scores. Lenoir was a fifth round pick by the 49ers in 2021 and has taken advantage of injuries at the cornerback position to become a key member of their secondary.
(St. John Bosco, Bellflower) DB Chiefs
Every time the Chiefs are on NFL Red Zone, we’re looking to see if McDuffie is going to score on a pick six. He’s definitely good enough to get one and when he does it will be the first-ever TD scored by a Bosco alum in the NFL. He became the first former Brave to be on a Super Bowl winning team last season and followed up this season with the type of play that had him receive All-Pro consideration. McDuffie’s lock-down skills were noticed by many in high school (he was a senior on the 2018 Bosco team that lost to Mater Dei in the CIF Southern Section D1 championship after beating the Monarchs in the regular season) and he went on to star in the secondary at the University of Washington.
Matt Pryor (Lakewood) 49ers OL
He comes from a high school more known for its World Series alums. Pryor also could be described as a late bloomer but he didn’t go to a JC first and then to a four-year college like most late bloomers. For him, he took the one offer he did get, which was from TCU, and he took it. In Texas, Pryor eventually became a starter by his sophomore season (after one redshirt season) and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was with the Eagles for three seasons (10 starts in 2020) and also played with the Indianapolis Colts before signing with the 49ers this last off-season.
(Mission Hills, San Marcos) 49ers LB
He’s on his way to becoming one of the best NFL players ever from the CIF San Diego Section. Fred was first team all-state in 2013 on defense and was the SD Section Defensive Player of the Year. We put him on as a DB for all-state, but it was known at the time that his future may be at LB. It sure has been. He became a dominant LB at BYU and was picked by the 49ers in the third round of the 2018 draft. This season, Warner has been named All-Pro for the third time.
More Fun Facts:
While California is on the low side this year for total Super Bowl alums, this could be one of the best ever for Michigan, which has the same number of players as California with seven. The Michigan totals of six on the 49ers and one on the Chiefs also is the same. It’s a tie this year for the state with the most Super Bowl alums as we counted Texas and Florida with nine each. We do not count players who have gone to IMG Academy in Florida earlier in their career before graduating from somewhere else. Georgia was right behind Texas and Florida this year with eight. Mississippi followed up last year’s all-time high of eight with five, while Ohio also has five.
Running back Christian McCaffrey of the 49ers is from Valor Christian of Colorado, which had a player in the game last year as well with Christian Elliss of the Eagles. When McCaffrey was at Valor, the athletic director and one of the coaches of the football team was Rod Sherman, the current head coach at Orange Lutheran.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan played at Saratoga High in the Bay Area early in his high school career, but finished up at Cherry Creek of Englewood, Colo., after his dad, Mike, became head coach of the Denver Broncos. Kyle still works with former Saratoga head coach and current Valley Christian of San Jose head coach Mike Machado on Machado’s camps for challenged youths.
Tight end Ross Dwelley from Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) was on the roster when the 49ers last played in the Super Bowl five years ago. Dwelley is currently on injured reserve along with Corona Centennial grad Drake Jackson (defensive line). Those on the 49ers’ practice squad include OL Corey Luciano from Monte Vista of Danville, LB Curtis Robinson from Mater Dei of Santa Ana, DB Terrance Mitchell from Burbank of Sacramento and TE Jake Tonges of Los Gatos.