De La Salle is looking to make ammends, Grant is looking to repeat and a pair of newcomers are looking to make their first trip to the California state bowl games this year.
According to the Freeman Ratings, which are one barometer used by the CIF to help choose teams for the five bowl games after the final section championship games have been played, De La Salle looms as the favorite to earn a berth from Division I in Northern California while Grant is No. 2 in the rankings.
One of the top two teams will likely be chosen for the open division. Last year, it was Grant that got the nod, and the Pacers won the state championship with a win over Long Beach Poly. De La Salle, meanwhile, lost to Centennial of Corona in the Division I championship game.
Neither Centennial or Poly is favored to reach the bowl games this year from Southern California. Instead, the preseason honors go to Lakewood and Tesoro, two teams that did not qualify for the bowl games last year because they did not win a section championship.
Following is a closer look at the top 10 Division I candidates from the North and from the South. Tomorrow, MaxPreps will look at the top 10 teams from the North and South in Division II.
Division I - Southern California
1. Lakewood 6-7
The Lancers had to forfeit four wins last year due to an ineligible player. Lakewood has an excellent group of talent, led by USC commit Jesse Scroggins at quarterback. He threw for 2,462 yards and 23 touchdowns last year.
He’ll get help from RB Alley Long, who will take over the carries targeted for Jerry Stone, last year’s leading rusher. Stone was dismissed from the team last week and is currently charged in a gang-related shooting. The Lancer defense should be a force with Justin Utupo (70 tackles) on the defensive line and Dion Bailey and Brennan Kelley in the defensive backfield.
2. Tesoro (Rancho Santa Margarita)
The Titans came close to capturing its first Pac-5 Division championship, falling to Long Beach Poly 20-17 to finish 13-1. Tesoro has won the South Coast League the past two seasons, but it will have to replace league MVPs Preston King, Scott Graves and Robbie Picazo, as well as a stellar group of offensive linemen.
Second-team all-league running back Zach Mitchell is the top returning offensive threat for the Titans, while Sil Ajawara is one of the few returning starters on the line. Seth Davis, a junior linebacker, and Trevor Weis, a senior defensive back, are the top defenders.
3. La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad), 11-2
The Mavericks captured the Division I championship in the San Diego Section and appear primed to repeat as champions. Coach Darrin Brown returns eight starters on offense, including one of the nation’s best receivers in Kenny Stills.
La Costa Canyon also has five starters back on defense, including junior defensive end Ian Seau, nephew of former NFL star Junior Seau. Corey Lamb leads the offensive line after earning second-team all-league honors last year.
4. Chaparral (Temecula), 12-2
The Pumas are loaded with every skill player returning and 15 total starters returning from last year’s 12-2 team. Chaparral is experienced in the backfield with both Johnny Diaz (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) and junior Darius Guillory (5-7, 190) returning. Jonathan Johnson, a 6-1, 220-pound defensive end, returns to lead the defense.
5. Edison (Huntington Beach), 7-3
Quarterback Matt Viles is one of seven starters back on offense for the Chargers. Viles threw for 2,009 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior.
He’ll get plenty of protection from the likes of Roman Sapolu (6-2, 240) while Jordan Zumwalt (6-4, 220) figures to be Viles’ favorite target at receiver. The Chargers picked up big wins last year, defeating Mater Dei and Newport Harbor. Edison finished in a five-way tie for first place in the Sunset League last year, however, and failed to make the playoffs.
6. Poly (Long Beach), 14-1
After reaching the state finals last year in the Open Division and falling to Grant, the Jackrabbits have a lot of work to do in 2009 to get another shot at a title. Coach Raul Lara returns only four starters on offense and none on defense from a team that went 14-1 overall.
Poly is still one of the most prestigious programs in the country, however, and figures to reload without much difficulty. Cory Westbrook figures to be the big playmaker at running back, while Kaelin Clay will be a gamebreaker at receiver. Wilson Edwards (6-0, 245) is the top offensive line candidate.
7. Oceanside, 12-0-1
The Pirates return seven starters on both offense and defense and should be a shoe-in to win a sixth straight Division II San Diego Section crown. Quarterback Jordan Wynn, the league’s offensive player of the year, will be missed, but the Pirates return junior standout Demario Coleman and Jerry Whittaker at receiver, along with Rene Siluano at running back, Thomas Molesi on the line and Jake Fely at linebacker.
8. Mission Viejo, 10-2
The Diablos lose league MVP Allan Bridgeford at quarterback and have only five starters returning on offense. However, Joey Branker (5-9, 175) is back at receiver and Michael Christe (6-5, 295) should be one of the league’s top linemen. Junior Trey Madden (6-1, 215) is one of six returning starters on defense. Coach Bob Johnson also has a 10-0 JV team moving up to provide depth.
9. Rancho Cucamonga, 13-0-1
The Cougars figure to be the favorites in the Central Division of the Southern Section thanks to the return of league MVP Greg Watson at quarterback. Watson has one of the best tight ends on the West Coast at his disposal in Randall Telfer (6-5, 225) while Gary Berwick ranks as one of the top linemen in the Baseline League. The defense will need to fill some holes, but Sione Kauvaka is a returning all-league player at defensive lineman.
10. Centennial (Corona)
The Huskies return just four starters on offense and defense, and they lose two of the state’s top performers from last year’s state championship team in QB Taylor Martinez and LB Vontaze Burfict. Brandon Brown (6-2, 245) takes over from Burfict as the stopper on defense at linebacker while Chris Simpson is one of the few returning starters in the receiving corps. The Huskies do have one of the top kickers in the country in Trevor Romaine.
Division I - Northern California
1. De La Salle (Concord), 12-2
The Spartans return four starters on offense and six on defense from a team that won the North Coast Section championship for the 17th straight season. The loss of league MVP Blake Wayne at quarterback will be significant since no backup quarterback saw more than a couple of plays during the season.
Fortunately, a strong group of running backs, led by returning senior Terron Williams-Ward, will take some of the pressure off of the new QB. Experience on the offensive and defensive lines will be a key for the Spartans, who fell to Centennial in the Division I state championship last year. Senior Thomas Hickel (6-3, 225) anchors the offensive line while junior defensive end Dylan Winn is the playmaker on defense. The Spartans have two big games against out-of-state teams this year as they travel to play at Don Bosco Prep on Sept. 12 and host Lakeland of Florida on Sept. 25.
2. Grant (Sacramento), 14-0
The Pacers answered many questions last year about the talent level in Sacramento. Grant received the berth in the Open Division of the state bowl games, which came as a surprise to some who might have expected De La Salle to receive the bid.
Grant proved the naysayers wrong by defeating Long Beach Poly 25-20 in the state final. Returning to the state championships won’t be as easy due to the loss of six starters on offense and nine on defense. The return of 2,000-yard rusher Devontae Butler will help. He’ll get company in the backfield from Shaq Thompson, a 6-1, 180-pound sophomore. On defense, Villiami Moala emerged last year as a defensive force at nose guard. The 6-3, 330-pound junior could be one of the top recruits in the class of 2011.
3. Serra (San Mateo), 8-4
The Padres will find out where they stand right away as they take on De La Salle in their season opener this week. While Serra lost a talented quarterback in Cody Jackson, who led the Padres to an 8-4 record, coach Patrick Walsh expects junior quarterback Andy McAlindon to step in and run the Padres’ new offensive system.
McAlindon certainly has the build, as he stands 6-5 and weighs 205. Adonis Smith (5-11, 185) and Donandre Clark (5-9, 160) join McAlindon in the backfield. Both saw playing time last year. Experience on the offensive and defensive lines will be the key for the Padres.
4. Bellarmine Prep (San Jose), 12-1
The Bells’ dynamic trio of Usua Amanam, Michael Clay and Austyn Carta-Samuels have all graduated, leaving a large void at the skill positions at Bellarmine Prep. The absence of Kevin Danser on the offensive line will also have to be addressed for coach Mike Landa’s team to stay on top of the West Catholic Athletic League.
Kyle Olugbode (5-11, 180) will take over the role of playmaker at running back while Tyler Robitaille (5-10, 160) will play receiver. Both will man one of the linebacking spots to make that position one of the team’s strengths. Rudy Iniguez, a 5-10, 245-pound junior, takes over as the anchor on the offensive line at center.
5. Monte Vista (Danville), 8-3
While Joe Southwick of San Ramon Valley got most of the headlines across town, Monte Vista’s Brett Nottingham made a good argument for being the best quarterback in the East Bay last year. At 6-4, 215 pounds, Nottingham threw for 2,797 yards and 34 touchdowns with just nine interceptions.
He’s already committed to play at UCLA next year. His top receiver should be Dane Turner, a 6-1, 180-pound junior. Linebacker Dave Wilkerson, meanwhile, ranks as one of the top linebackers on the West Coast.
6. Foothill (Pleasanton), 9-3
The Falcons routinely have one of the top programs in the East Bay, and that won’t change this year. Although just four starters return, including only one on defense, Foothill has a good group of juniors up from an 8-2 JV team, along with an experienced quarterback in Sean Mannion (6-5, 205). The team’s top lineman from last year, center Zach Buen (6-1, 210), is back, along with senior middle linebacking standout Nick Quan (6-1, 210).
7. Pittsburg, 11-2
The Pirates came within a game of reaching the section finals, losing to De La Salle in the North Coast Section playoffs. Only five starters return from that team, but one of them is Erick Dargan, a defensive back who ranks as one of the top defenders on the West Coast.
Dargan will get help in the secondary from Tracy Clark, giving the Pirates one of the best tandems of defensive backs in the state. Jeremy Wiles also returns at linebacker to make Pittsburg’s defense one of the team’s strengths. The rest of the team is young, however, and coach Victor Galli has some holes to fill on the line.
8. Granite Bay, 9-2
The Grizzlies were on their way to an outstanding season; however, a 35-34 loss in league play to Roseville and a 22-19 first-round loss to Grant brought an early end to the season for coach Ernie Cooper’s squad. Few starters return from last year’s team; however, Cooper has guided the Grizzlies to a 56-16-1 record over the past six seasons, making Granite Bay one of the more consistent programs in the Sierra Foothill League.
The Grizzlies will get a good gauge of their talents in their season opener when they take on Pittsburg.
9. California, 7-5
The Fightin’ Grizzlies not only lost most of their skill players from last year, but they lost their coach as well. Head coach Tony Sanchez left California, the high school and the state, to take over the program at Bishop Gorman in Nevada.
Eric Bellici takes over a team that returns five starters on offense and defense, but must replace, among others, talented running back Leroy Green. Quinn Kaehler (6-2, 185) will step in as quarterback while Reggie Davis (6-1, 190) will move in at running back. Trevor Morrison (5-11, 200) will team with Davis to form a solid secondary.
10. Nevada Union, 10-2
Coach Dave Humphers returns 13 starters from a team that tied for first place in the Delta Valley League last year. He also has a talented JV team that went 9-1 last year moving up to the varsity level. Broughan Jantz is the key returning player for the Miners after starting last year at quarterback. Meanwhile Zach Vallejo returns to lead the defense. The Miners should have one of the Sacramento area’s top kicking games with Conor Maloney doing the honors.
Editor's Note: Rankings have changed since Sept. 1 due to a change in the CIF Playoff Divisions.