We’re getting into batches of the serious difference-makers. They may be unheralded, but they can play some pigskin.
My Top 50 Football Returners Countdown returns, with picks from Stagg, Escalon, Ripon, Manteca, McNair and Tracy. Dig in.
My Top 50 Football Players Countdown, weighing the best returners in The Record’s coverage area: San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode, is in its second edition. The inspiration and much of the wording describing these rankings is thanks to my good friend and former colleague T.J. Holmes of the Redding Record Searchlight. These rankings are based on past varsity experience, as well as potential impact for 2016. These 50 players reflect the 50 days remaining until high school football season begins with Week 0 on Aug. 26.
Because tangible impact is important for these rankings, there are often more skill position players. Yet, you will see plenty of capable linemen here.
Schools included for these rankings:
- San Joaquin County: Lincoln, St. Mary’s, McNair, Bear Creek, Chavez, Stagg, Tokay, Lodi, Franklin, Edison, West, Tracy, Kimball, Weston Ranch, Lathrop, East Union, Manteca, Sierra, Escalon, Ripon, Ripon Christian, Brookside Christian, Elliot Christian, Millennium
- Mother Lode: Linden and Calaveras
Here they are, players Nos. 33-38:
No. 38 – Stephon Favela (5-7), Stagg, QB, Jr.
Favela did an admirable job stepping in occasionally for first-team All-Area selection Lavante Bushnell last year. Usually, that was to mix up the offense and give Bushnell a spell at wide receiver. But in an opening-round, Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff game at St. Mary’s, it happened when Bushnell was injured. Favela threw for 777 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions overall as a sophomore. In the St. Mary’s game, Favela went 39 of 60 for 406 yards with three TDs and a pick. Had Favela played a full season, or started games, he’d be much higher on this list, but as this countdown gives more credit to those with more and more experience, he may be one of the underrated listings.
No. 37 – C.J. Gumbs (5-10, 155), Escalon, RB/DB, Sr.
Running backs have marked success in the Wing-T system, on Mark Loureiro’s traditional small-school powerhouse football team, and Gumbs figures to continue that tradition. Hunter Calton was the starter last year, but now it’s likely in Gumbs’ hands. As a junior, Gumbs tallied 522 rushing yards for seven touchdowns, averaging 11 yards per carry. Gumbs had seven receptions for 75 yards and another TD, and 34 tackles and two interceptions on defense.
No. 36 – Aaron Paschini (5-8, 145), Ripon, WR/DB, Sr.
Paschini had plenty of help on offense last year, led by seniors in quarterback Nick Price and wide receiver Jacob Duxbury. But when he got his touches, man, did he deliver. Paschini had 54 catches for 781 yards and two touchdowns, averaging a whopping 15 yards per catch. Translation: when this dude gets a quick pass with a sliver of space, he makes you pay. Paschini also had an interception on defense.
No. 35 – James Thomas (6-1, 190), Manteca, LB/FB, Sr.
Thomas was a welcome surprise to the 2015 Buffs, one of the men on defense who coach Eric Reis loved, saying that they played angry and had “bad intentions.” Thomas’ statistics don’t speak to his impact. He had 34 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, along with four rushing touchdowns. Expect him and junior Ferrin Manuleleua to be the heart and soul of Manteca’s defense.
No. 34 – Austin Sith (5-6, 160), McNair, RB, Sr.
Sith has two years of being a varsity starting running back under his belt, which sets him apart from the vast majority of tailbacks in this area. As a junior, on a team that passed the ball an average of 30 times per game, Sith still managed 74 carries for 573 yards and five touchdowns. As a sophomore, Sith had 622 yards and seven more touchdowns. He’s slippery in the open field and has underrated speed once he gets away. Don’t be surprised if he posts his first 1,000-yard season and thus surpasses 2,000 career yards.
No. 33 – Kristien Reyes (5-10, 185), Tracy, LB/RB, Jr.
Reyes, much like Thomas, cannot be valued by his stats alone. He flies around the field, as a linebacker, defensive back, receiver and rusher, and with his long, curly hair, reminds you of a high school Troy Polamalu at work. Reyes had 37 tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries, with 207 rushing yards and 41 receiving yards as a sophomore.
TOP 50 PLAYERS COUNTDOWN
July 7: Players Nos. 45-50
July 14: Players Nos. 39-44
Today: Players Nos. 33-38
July 28: Players Nos. 27-32
Aug. 4: Players Nos. 21-26
Aug. 11: Players Nos. 15-20
Aug. 14: Players Nos. 11-14
Aug. 17: Player No. 10
Aug. 18: Player No. 9
Aug. 19: Player No. 8
Aug. 20: Player No. 7
Aug. 21: Player No. 6
Aug. 22: Player No. 5
Aug. 23: Player No. 4
Aug. 24: Player No. 3
Aug. 25: Player No. 2
Aug. 26: Player No. 1
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