The Formidable Five: Linebackers

Stagg linebacker Jalend Dinwiddie, front, was the Delta Kings' top tackler and pass rusher in 2015. RECORD FILE 2015

Many of the top pass-rushing and gap-plugging defensive linemen, and best defensive backs graduated this spring.

However, the linebackers from The Record’s coverage area, from San Joaquin County up into the Mother Lode, may have a Renaissance this autumn.

My “Formidable Five” series continues, after breaking down the defensive backs on Tuesday, to take a glance at five impressive returning LBs in our area. As you’ll notice, there are several more deserving names mentioned at the bottom as well. They could’ve easily made this list.

Here we go, beginning with a tackles machine-turned-quarterback destroyer from north Stockton:

SETH TENNIS (McNair, Sr.)

Tennis, at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, has been critical to the Eagles’ defense the past two years. The incoming senior had 70 tackles and a team-high nine sacks last autumn, and paced McNair with 118 tackles as a sophomore. Tennis has been an All-Area honorable mention pick for The Record the past two seasons.

JALEND DINWIDDIE (Stagg, Sr.)

Dinwiddie was a revelation for Stagg as a junior, posting 147 tackles and 7.5 sacks, the latter of which was tied for team-high with Robert Strother. With the graduation of the Strother brothers and first-team linebacker Jonathan Phillips, Dinwiddie’s presence is as important as ever.

KRISTIEN REYES (Tracy, Jr.)

Reyes’ tackles numbers weren’t out of control, but his energy, speed and ferocity were very apparent as Tracy went through a learning curve in 2015. I expect him to be one of the defensive leaders, and a factor running the ball, too, as Tracy has a bounceback season and returns to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

FERRIN MANULELEUA (Manteca, Jr.)

Manuleleua was quiet at first as a sophomore on varsity, his then-teammate Darrion Kitson once told me, but once he started letting his inner-beast out, it only benefited the Buffs. The 6-foot, 215-pound Manuleleua tallied 62 tackles in just nine games played (Manteca played 12 overall). Expect him to improve exponentially, with fellow linebacker in senior James Thomas.

SEUSEU ALOFAITULI (Sierra, Sr.)

Alofaituli, along with his friend Nashon Tamiano, made a pivotal switch to a more natural position during the season. He moved from safety to linebacker, and Sierra was only better because of it, playing great defense in winning section Division IV, NorCal and CIF State Division IV-A championships. He totaled 96 tackles, five pass deflections and a sack.

MORE LINEBACKERS TO WATCH: Jared Zermeno (Tokay, Sr.), Nick Quinday (Calaveras, Sr.), Hunter White (Linden, Sr.), Taylor Dickson (Lincoln, Sr.), Robert Whitfield (Bear Creek, Sr.)

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The Formidable Five: Defensive Backs

Welcome to “The Formidable Five.”

In this high school football blog series, we’ll lay out five area players at each position group, who are proven talents and ones to watch for the upcoming 2016 season. Sometimes, they might have an even higher impact at another position, but they’re on this list for a reason. Again, if a player is highly-touted, but has not proven themselves at the varsity level, he or she will not be considered.

This all leads up to my Top 50 Returner Rankings, which begin July 8.

Let’s start off with the secondary:

CUTRELL HAYWOOD (Stagg, Sr.)

Haywood is quite possibly the best two-way player in San Joaquin County, and has an incredibly-high ceiling.

As a junior, Haywood dominated on both sides of the ball, tallying five interceptions for 260 return yards on defense, and grabbing 62 catches for 915 yards and 11 TDs on offense. Haywood made an enormous impact in just his second varsity game, as a midseason sophomore call-up in October 2014.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Haywood had four interceptions and three touchdown catches in a 55-20 win over McNair.

Stagg needs Haywood to replicate, and improve upon, those efforts in 2016 as they move forward with a brand-new quarterbacks, stable of running backs, and with many key new linemen and defensive players.

ISAIAH DOWNES (Lincoln, Sr.)

Downes played in a star-studded secondary, with then-senior Cameron Crump (Cal Poly football) and junior Izaiah Celestine, but shone brightest in 2015. He recorded seven interceptions, including four in one game, in a thrilling win over West. Downes had a touchdown in the season-opening win over west.

He and Celestine have their hands full this season, especially in their regular-season finale against rival St. Mary’s, which features three of the best wide receivers in the area: seniors Dewey Cotton and Keaton Hampton and junior Marcus Aponte.

DAVID FORD (St. Mary’s, Sr.)

Ford isn’t going to be the two-way star like Haywood, and probably, won’t rack up the interception total of Downes. But Ford is a blue-collar, hard-hitting safety, which apparently runs in the family: his brother Lazarus Ford was an All-Area defensive back, too.

David Ford recorded 111 tackles, a sack, an interception and two forced fumbles. The Rams will have new starting cornerbacks after Ontario Johnson and Brandon Sanders graduated, so Ford’s leadership is vital as ever.

Manteca sophomore quarterback Gino Campiotti, right, gives a handoff to Marcus Rivas during a section playoff game against Ceres-Central Valley. RECORD FILE 2015

GINO CAMPIOTTI (Manteca, Jr.)

Campiotti was an underrated safety, Buffaloes coach Eric Reis told me last year, and filled in for a defense that graduated a lot of leaders from 2014. And he’s on this list, in part, because the “Top 5″ quarterback list has several players who do not make an impact on defense. In the interest of giving more talented players the recognition they deserve, Campiotti has made this slot, though his greater impact on Manteca may be through being a quarterback.

NASHON TAMIANO (Sierra, Sr.)

Tamiano started off the CIF State-championship season for the Timberwolves at linebacker, but found a home as a safety. He recorded 93 tackles, switching places with friend Seuseu Alofaituli, who moved from safety to linebacker. Tamiano also had two sacks, an interception and two fumble recoveries.

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Five Prep Volleyball Players to Watch

For the majority of the All-Area Player of the Year awards The Record gives out, the athlete happens to be a senior. It’s a coupling of talent, and the full high school experience that culminates in the premier season.

But Amilya Thompson is one of those rare cases who’s too good to deny.

Thompson, then a Lincoln High junior, was The Record’s All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year, guiding the Trojans to an outright Tri-City Athletic League title with her stoic-but-powerful play.

She’s back, and headlines my list of Five Volleyball Players to Watch for 2016.

AMILYA THOMPSON (Lincoln OH, Sr.)

Thompson, 16, had 387 kills, 324 digs and 66 aces. Translation: she was the top attacker and receiver, and  a major force behind the serving stripe.

She and now-junior outside hitter Kennedy Greenwood make Lincoln an inherent favorite to repeat in the TCAL, and try to advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals. The Trojans do have a new coach in Jolana Fowler, who replaces Garren Allala and Gabe Leal.

LILI ITA (Chavez MB, Sr.)

Ita, an All-Area first-team middle blocker, improved dramatically for Titans coach Dodd Pinkham as a junior. She was a threat to deliver a kill or a block, and tallied 330 kills and 141 blocks. Chavez shared the San Joaquin Athletic Association title with Bear Creek.

CHELSEY EDDY-BERRY (Tracy L, Sr.)

The libero is one of the most underrated positions in sports, a defensive-minded, selfless leader for volleyball teams that rarely get recognized. Chelsey Eddy-Berry, a first-team All-Area libero, followed in the footsteps of older sister Casey Eddy-Berry, who was a first-team libero the year before.

HANNAH PRESLEY (Tracy OH/MB/S, Sr.)

Presley was not just a first team selection, but was a candidate to be All-Area Player of the Year. While the Bulldogs knew what they had in outside hitter Grace Murphy (Sonoma State), and expected Eddy-Berry to keep up the family tradition, Presley’s prowess as a hitter, blocker and setter was incredible. And she’s back for a high school finale.

SYDNEY MARKS (St. Mary’s OH, Sr.)

Rams coach Jayne McHugh felt that outside hitter, and formerly middle blocker, Ngozi Nwabuzoh was the heart and soul of last year’s team. But the former Pacific national champion and Olympian was vastly impressed with Marks’ all-around ability, and what it meant to the Rams. Expect Marks to once again be there for timely kills and assists in St. Mary’s 2016 campaign.

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Brusa signs with Giants, heads to Salem

What a week it’s been for Gio Brusa.

In the past seven days, the Lodi native, St. Mary’s High alumnus and former Pacific baseball outfielder has agreed to a signing bonus, inked with the San Francisco Giants and learned his first assignment as a professional.

Brusa was the Giants’ sixth-round pick, 185th overall, and signed for his pick’s full value of a $262,700 bonus. He’s heading to San Francisco’s short-season “A” ball team: the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Salem, Oregon. Brusa isn’t the only area product in the Giants farm system.

Cameron Leeper, the former Delta College left-handed pitcher, has recovered from an injury but is currently rehabbing and not one of the Giants’ affiliates’ rosters.

Brusa hit a career-high 14 home runs in his senior season with Pacific. Who knows, next year, he could be playing with the high-A San Jose Giants, and returning to Stockton to face the Ports at Stockton Ballpark.

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Lions All-Star Football: Four Predictions

It’s finally here.

Our first dose of high school football in six months, since Sierra won the CIF State Division IV-A championship in Chowchilla, and our last for the next three months.

The North stars face the South in the 43rd annual District 4-A1 Lions All-Star Game at 7 p.m. today at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium.

The South has won two of the past three years, and tied in 2014, so it hasn’t lost since 2012. Last season, the South’s 51-38 win was the highest combined scoring game in its history.

I’ll have updates, scores, photos and videos live from Twitter @RecordPreps.

Here are five predictions for tonight’s madness:

Expectation of tricker-ation

Don Norton, the North coach and Stagg’s coach the past 11 years, doesn’t mind having an inventive, wide-open offense. And I’d expect that not just from Norton and the North, but from Patterson coach Rob Cozart and the South. Yes, this game means a ton to these players, but it’s also a chance to have some fun and try to freeze your opponent. Expect some trickery from both sides.

Four North passers

We’ve already detailed this week how the North has three quarterbacks in Calaveras’ Dylan Byrd (Claremont McKenna College football), Stagg’s Lavante Bushnell (Minot State) and McNair’s Osai Brown (Contra Costa College). Yes, Bushnell and Brown will mostly play wide receiver, but I believe they’ll both pass it, too. And, with the potential for trickery, I wouldn’t be shocked if a fourth North player has a pass attempt. Don’t blink!

Two North interceptions

The secondary is perhaps the most formidable unit for the North, along with its menacing offensive line, and I’d expect two interceptions tonight. The South has solid quarterbacks, that’s not the problem, the North’s secondary is just that good.

North 46, South 35

I do believe this game will be competitive into the fourth quarter, and hopefully, we avoid the “10 points rule”, but I predict that the North will win 46-35.

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Lions All-Star Football: North Offense

McNair quarterback Osai Brown could be a force for the North in the 43rd annual District 4-A1 Lions All-Star Football Game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tracy High's Wayne Schneider Stadium. RECORD FILE 2015

Pick your poison.

That’s what the South team’s defense is facing this week, as it prepares for an unpredictable and potentially dynamic North offense, in the 43rd annual District 4-A1 Lions All-Star Football Game.

Gates open at 5 p.m., pregame festivities begin at 6 p.m. and kickoff is at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium.

Part of the reason the North’s offense is so dynamic, is because it has three viable options at quarterback, all with different skill sets. McNair’s Osai Brown has been the area’s most prolific passer the past two seasons, and is a two-time All-Area selection. He’s got an absolute cannon and can turn broken plays into touchdowns. And, Brown can play receiver, and play it well, which he may do in college ball. The same can be said for his friend in Stagg’s Lavante Bushnell, a dual-threat passer and rusher who will play receiver at NCAA Division II Minot State in North Dakota.

Finally, there’s the underrated kid from Calaveras — Dylan Byrd. Byrd has an excellent arm, but was hidden at times in an offense that focused more on running the ball. He’ll have a familiar face in Calaveras tight end Shane Torre, plus potentially, Bushnell, Brown, McNair’s Sean Hamilton (Sacramento State) and more.

Here’s a look at how I’d align the starting 11 (there are more than 11, these are just some of the names I’d focus on) for the North’s offense. Remember, this is just for fun:

NORTH OFFENSE, 2016

QUARTERBACK

Osai Brown, McNair

Though Brown can be used in a variety of ways, he’s just too dynamic to keep away from that quarterback spot. That said, I would definitely mix in Byrd and Bushnell throughout the game. Throwing in Bushnell in a shotgun, without a huddle, and using a designed run could leave a defense reeling.

RUNNING BACKS

Brandon Zaunbrecher, St. Mary’s

Zaunbrecher, a 1,000-yard rusher and first-team All-Area tailback, has a style all his own, avoiding tacklers with a zig-zagging way of running that’s proven to be effective for him. He peaked late in the season, breaking off a 35-yard touchdown run against Folsom in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals despite playing with an injury.

Terrance Ritzow, Chavez

Ritzow quietly compiled a 1,000-yard season at Chavez, as a second-team All-Area pick, and the shotgun offense that Norton runs will be similar to what he used with John Ward and the Titans.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Sean Hamilton, McNair

Hamilton, a two-time first-team All-Area wide receiver, is vastly underrated and a great get for Sacramento State. His route running is sublime, he’s got great hands and is difficult to bring down.

Lavante Bushnell, Stagg

Bushnell has experience as a slot receiver in the Delta Kings’ offense, and is incredibly difficult to tackle in space. Expect him to be a game MVP candidate if all goes to plan.

Erron Duncan, Weston Ranch

Duncan’s greatest impact on the North may come at safety, but he can be utilized as an “H” back or take the ball on a sweep play to devastate a defense.

Ronaldo Tijero, Manteca

Tijero, the only player the past two years to be first-team All-Area football and baseball for The Record, isn’t the fastest receiver, but has exceptional hands, a knack for the position and great experience playing for Manteca.

LINEMEN

Frederick Elkins, Edison

Joseph Townsell, Lincoln

Tony Harper, St. Mary’s

Daniel Gonzales, Escalon

Francisco Jimenez, West

All you need to know, is that three of these potential five starting linemen (which could also include Calaveras’ Torre as a blocking tight end or Lincoln’s Keegan Wallen at center), are first-team All-Area selections (Elkins, Townsell, Harper) and Jimenez is second team.

2016 LIONS NORTH ROSTER

Nick Arnaiz, Tokay, DB/LB

Osai Brown, McNair, QB

Alex Buenrostro, Stagg, DL

Lavante Bushnell, Stagg, QB/WR

Dylan Byrd, Calaveras, QB

Erron Duncan, Weston Ranch, RB/DB

Frederick Elkins, Edison, OL

Wyatt Faughan, Sonora, DB/LB

Daniel Gonzales, Escalon, OL

Andrew Guevara, Sierra, DL

Sean Hamilton, McNair, WR

Tony Harper, St. Mary’s, OL

Garrett Heffington, Calaveras, OL

Francisco Jimenez, West, OL

Conner Johnson, Tracy, LB

Kevin Johnson, Stagg, WR/DB

Rodney Jones, Lincoln, DL

Austin Miller, East Union, WR/DB

Jonathan Phillips, Stagg, LB

Kade Piazza, Lodi, DL/RB

Terrance Ritzow, Chavez, RB

Marcus Rivas, Manteca, LB/RB

Brandon Sanders, St. Mary’s, CB

Ronaldo Tijero, Manteca, DB/WR

Shane Torres, Calaveras, TE

Joseph Townsell, Lincoln, OL

Keegan Wallen, Lincoln, OL

Nate Turner, Tracy, LB

Deon White, Chavez, DB/WR

Brandon Zaunbrecher, St. Mary’s, RB

Head coach: Don Norton (Stagg)

 

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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Cover 2: Lions All-Star Football 2016

High school football season is here. For a week at least. The 2015 season, long over officially, is capped ceremoniously by the 43rd annual District 4-A1 Lions All-Star Game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium. The South team has won two of the past three meetings, and the two teams tied in 2014.

Last year was the highest-scoring game in this Lions game’s history, 89 points combined as the South won 51-38. And speaking of the South, the go-to source for everything South Lions All-Stars is The Modesto Bee’s James Burns.

James and I broke down the game in our “Cover 2″ blog — yes it’s a rip-off of an ESPN NFL online coverage. We’ll refer to James’ segments as (JB) and mine (Thomas Lawrence) as TL:

TL: James, taking a look at your Lions coverage this week, one of the most compelling storylines at the forefront is former Valley Oak League foes and section finalists Oakdale and Modesto-Central Catholic putting their rivalry aside for the sake of the South.

What did you find out talking to the Mustangs and Raiders involved, and what kind of edge and pedigree do they give the South?

JB: They’ve been dubbed the X-factors by Patterson coach Rob Cozart, who spent most of the fall staring up in The Bee’s large-school rankings at Central Catholic and Oakdale. He loves their big-game experience and knows they won’t be blinded by the bright lights on Saturday.

It helps, Thomas, to have each of them strategically placed on the field, too. Adam Olsen will likely make his final appearance under center, while middle linebacker Kekupa’a Freehauf will anchor the defense.

Here’s how much faith Cozart has in Freehauf, who I’ve christened “the Hawaiian Hammer”: he’s starting just two linebackers, and tasking them to stop the North’s ground game.

Of course, we all expect the North to hunt its points through the air, what with Osai Brown, Dylan Byrd and Lavante Bushnell on the roster. That would be a 180-degree change from last June, when Nate Jones ran wild in the first half. Offensively, who has surprised you in camp, and who do you expect to have a big night?

TL: Indeed, the North is deeper in its aerial game than it was a year ago. And here’s the tricky part for the South, besides the usual “we have one week to prepare for a team full of collegiate-level players.”

Stagg’s Bushnell, a first-team All-Area utility player for The Record, could very well play quarterback, but he’ll probably used mostly as a receiver. That’s where he’s going to play for NCAA Division II Minot State next year and beyond.

McNair’s Brown was The Record’s first-team All-Area quarterback, and has an amazing rapport with North wide receiver Sean Hamilton (McNair), a Sacramento State Hornet to-be. Byrd is a sleeper MVP candidate, and has a cannon for an arm, but was in an old-school, pounding offense in San Andreas. Hamilton is a two-time first-team All-Area pick, and was underrated in my opinion, probably because of playing alongside now-Nebraska Cornhusker Derrion Grim.

Keep an eye out for St. Mary’s running back Brandon Zaunbrecher (1,000-yard rusher, first-team All-Area), Calaveras tight end Shane Torre (Humboldt State commit), and Chavez running back Terrance Ritzow (1,000-yard rusher, second-team All-Area).

Looking at the South’s offense, we know Patterson’s Cozart’s teams can fly around the field. And, we certainly saw that last year from the South, from Modesto-Downey’s Jeremy Plaa. What do you expect from their offensive attack?

JB: Ironically, much of the same. Under Plaa, the South utilized a mobile quarterback (P.J. Wilson and later Nate Phillips, the game’s MVP) to keep the defense in constant flux. Will he run? Or will he throw? Under Cozart, with his hybrid Spread/option tempo offense, the South will feature similar triggermen  – Olsen and Los Banos’ Adam Herrera, yet another Humboldt State commit.

JB: Neither one looks comfortable throwing the ball just yet, but the South isn’t necessarily looking for the home-run ball. Cozart and offensive coordinator Steve Cardoso want to get the ball out quick, which means we can expect a lot of short routes by the receivers and leak-outs by the running backs. The saving grace for the South is the caliber of athlete at the skill positions. Wide relievers AJ Stewart and David Walker are big targets, while slot Michael Lawson might be the most versatile athlete in this game. If he touches the ball 10 times on Saturday, at least three of those plays will finish in the end zone. Take that to the bank!

Lawson’s advantage, beyond his supreme athleticism, is his familiarity with the offense, the terminology, and the hand signals. When a play breaks down and everyone is in the wrong place, as will happen, the South QBs will have Lawson as their bail-out, their go-to.

Olsen and Herrera are capable runners and will be looked upon to tuck the ball from time to time, but I believe the back to watch is Beyer High’s Jay Green, who gashed Central Catholic for 200 yards as a junior and earned the Modesto Metro Conference MVP. Green isn’t very big or the fastest, but he is workhorse back that relishes the challenge.

Defensively, what can the North do to slow the South?

TL: It’s a good thing the South is not looking for that constant home-run ball, because the North’s secondary is one of its greatest strengths.

Chavez cornerback Deon White, for example, allowed only two receptions when he was in one-on-one coverage with a receiver last year. That receiver was Grim, who’s becoming incredibly popular in Lincoln, Nebraska, just through his spring ball exploits.

St. Mary’s cornerback Brandon Sanders, Tokay safety Nick Arnaiz and Weston Ranch all-around standout Erron Duncan make that unit a beast to handle. And there’s enough speed to counter the South’s weapons, and eliminate some of that space they’ll be striving to find.

North coach Don Norton plans on stifling the South’s interior running game, anchored by 6-foot-3, 420-pound Edison lineman Frederick Elkins (soon-to-be Delta Mustang). And with that, he hopes the South will attack the edges, where he trusts his tacklers’ speed to make the stop.

The North is also strong up front besides Elkins, where Norton plans to use a four-man front. Sierra’s Andrew Guevara and Lodi’s Kade Piazza are first-team All-Area linemen, and Lincoln’s Rodney Jones is an underrated force — a 6-foot-5, pass swatting machine who’s headed to UNLV.

Alright, I know it’s early in the week, and ridiculous to try to pick these games, but it’s still fun. Any thoughts on who will win the 43rd annual Lions game?

JB: The South will rise up and win for a third time in the last four years, but the real question is: Will the nine-point rule come into play again? Let’s hope not.

Author’s note: This year, the rule of a team losing by over nine points receiving the kickoff after scoring is second-half only, and limited. This can be opted for twice, but not consecutively. Also, teams can only onside kick twice, not consecutively, and only during the second half. This rule alteration was sent to The Record by former longtime coach Wayne Schneider, the game’s organizer, in April.

It has to be said: The only reason the South won last June was because, by rule, it kept possession of the ball for most of the second half. Even after touchdowns. That didn’t sit well with the family of the North players, many of whom voiced their frustration during and after the game.

I’m not a fan of the rule and hope to see it go away one day soon. I understand why it was put in place — to keep the competitive and close — but it felt like North was being penalized for being so good in the first half. It gave momentum to the South, who never looked back.

As far individual awards go, I’ll wager on: Patterson’s Michael Lawson as game MVP; Downey’s Tyran Daniels as defensive MVP; and McNair’s Sean Hamilton as offense MVP. If he and Osai Brown have that strong of a rapport, it should show.

Care to venture a few predictions of your own?

TL: Well-said on all accounts, James, and I whole-heartedly agree with your thoughts on the “competitive equity” rule. These dudes sell out, work hard, condition and hit in the summer heat (though the heat was more stifling last summer) to become Lions champions.

This game does not feel like an exhibition, and having that kind of strange rule downplays the pride behind this game, and in the preparation, in my opinion. Certainly, that rule was a shock to many last year, including myself, and the North’s coaches and players. (And probably the South’s coaches and players, for that matter).

Norton said today that he absolutely does not like the rule, either, but that the North isn’t going to address it this week. He feels if that problem should arise, the defense needs to handle its business.

I predict that the North will add onto its all-time series lead, earning its 25th victory in the game’s 43rd edition, because it has the best depth between the two teams. That, and its three-headed monster of capable quarterbacks could present matchup nightmares. Especially if Bushnell makes a catch on one possession, and lines up in shotgun and goes off on a designed run on the next play. Same for McNair’s Brown.

The game’s MVP will be Weston Ranch’s Erron Duncan, who will score a touchdown on offense and be involved in a turnover on defense. The offensive MVP will be Patterson’s Michael Lawson and the defensive MVP will be Sierra’s Andrew Guevara — thanks in large part to Edison’s Elkins freeing up pass-rushing space.

James, thanks for joining us, and great work with the coverage this week. Join James and I by using the #Lions2016 hashtag on Twitter, for any photos, videos, predictions, commentary or updates on the game. Enjoy!

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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Lions All-Star Football: North Defense

Sierra defensive lineman Andrew Guevara chases down a Chowchilla player during the CIF State Division IV-A championship game. RECORD FILE 2015

A shutdown cornerback who rarely let a pass get caught against him. A linebacker-turned-safety who functioned as a tackles machine. A modestly-sized, but relentless pass rusher who put up Michael Strahan-esque sack numbers.

Yes, players like former Chavez corner Deon White, Tokay safety Nick Arnaiz and Sierra defensive lineman Andrew Guevara highlight the North All-Stars defense — entering the 43rd annual District 4-A1 game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium — but that’s just the beginning.

The North, on both sides of the ball, is deep, deep, deep. Here’s a look at how I’d construct a starting 11 for the North’s defense (coach Don Norton, of Stagg, knows much more about football than me, so it’s a good thing he’s making the final call, sure). But hey, we can dream and scheme.

NORTH DEFENSE

3-4 SCHEME

LINEMEN

Andrew Guevara, Sierra

Guevara, a 5-foot-9 defensive end, compiled 26.5 sacks in two varsity seasons, including a whopping 19.5 in last year’s CIF State Division IV-A championship run.

Rodney Jones, Lincoln

The 6-5 Jones can rush the passer, but most impressively, really knows how to use his length. He makes life miserable for quarterbacks trying to peer and pass over the line of scrimmage where he’s operating. That’s why he’s heading to NCAA Division I UNLV to play some high-level football for the Runnin’ Rebels. An excellent complement to Guevara, and the third lineman I’d use.

Kade Piazza, Lodi

Piazza is a late addition to the North’s roster, but a great one. The dude is deceptively strong, and just a tank. His 5-11, 215-pound roster listing is deceiving. He played for a section-semifinalist Elliot Christian team as a junior, and fit in perfectly with the Flames as a senior. That’s why he was an All-Area first-team defensive lineman.

LINEBACKERS

Jonathan Phillips, Stagg

Phillips was the team tackles leader for the Delta Kings as a junior and senior. He’s modestly-sized, like Guevara, but has massive heart and takes an impressive academic run onto the field as a smart defensive player.

Conner Johnson, Tracy

Johnson, Tracy’s team MVP winner — the sought-after Peter B. Kyne award — brings the grit of the Bulldogs’ heralded program to the roster. He knows what it takes to win. Though Tracy missed the playoffs this year, he and North teammate Nate Turner (another great choice for one of these spots) were around for 2014′s surreal trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals as a No. 7 seed.

Nick Arnaiz, Tokay

Arnaiz can protect the pass, be a roving tackler, and has the athleticism to do a bit of everything. That kind of versatility is key for an All-Star Game, where making defensive stops can be immensely difficult.

Marcus Rivas, Manteca

Every year, one Buffaloes senior captain is placed at the highest honor of the team, where they wield the “shepherd’s stick.” Rivas did so with pride, and it was obvious why, watching him play maniacally as a linebacker. He’ll bring the controlled venom and absolute love for football that these all-star teams need in tiny time for preparation.

SECONDARY

Deon White, Chavez

White was the premier lockdown cornerback in the San Joaquin Athletic Association last season. According to his coaches, the only two receptions he allowed on a receiver he was covering last year both belonged to McNair’s Derrion Grim. You know, The Record’s All-Area Player of the Year and an incoming Nebraska freshman who’s already been winning over Cornhuskers fans with his precocious skill. So, White is an excellent get for this team.

Brandon Sanders, St. Mary’s

Speaking of lockdown cornerbacks, that’s exactly what Sanders developed into for St. Mary’s. And he played his best football when it mattered, in October and November, including batting down a potential touchdown pass for Lincoln in the Rams’ TCAL-championship clinching win at Spanos Stadium.

Erron Duncan, Weston Ranch

Duncan can be plugged in anywhere, from the secondary, to the running back position, to an “H” back to special teams. Yet defensive back may be where he’s most formidable, as that’s where he’ll play for UC Davis starting this fall.

Ronaldo Tijero, Manteca

Tijero carries the special distinction of being the only area athlete the past two seasons to be named first-team All-Area football and baseball for The Record. He has a knack for disrupting the big play in the secondary, and has the hands of a wide receiver, so he’s an interception waiting to happen.

2016 LIONS NORTH ROSTER

Nick Arnaiz, Tokay, DB/LB

Osai Brown, McNair, QB

Alex Buenrostro, Stagg, DL

Lavante Bushnell, Stagg, QB/WR

Dylan Byrd, Calaveras, QB

Erron Duncan, Weston Ranch, RB/DB

Frederick Elkins, Edison, OL

Wyatt Faughan, Sonora, DB/LB

Daniel Gonzales, Escalon, OL

Andrew Guevara, Sierra, DL

Sean Hamilton, McNair, WR

Tony Harper, St. Mary’s, OL

Garrett Heffington, Calaveras, OL

Francisco Jimenez, West, OL

Conner Johnson, Tracy, LB

Kevin Johnson, Stagg, WR/DB

Rodney Jones, Lincoln, DL

Austin Miller, East Union, WR/DB

Jonathan Phillips, Stagg, LB

Kade Piazza, Lodi, DL/RB

Terrance Ritzow, Chavez, RB

Marcus Rivas, Manteca, LB/RB

Brandon Sanders, St. Mary’s, CB

Ronaldo Tijero, Manteca, DB/WR

Shane Torres, Calaveras, TE

Joseph Townsell, Lincoln, OL

Keegan Wallen, Lincoln, OL

Nate Turner, Tracy, LB

Deon White, Chavez, DB/WR

Brandon Zaunbrecher, St. Mary’s, RB

Head coach: Don Norton (Stagg)

 

LIONS COVERAGE VIA STOCKTONPREPS.COM

Bushnell’s path leads back to Stagg

Lions All-Star Notebook: “By the Numbers” and NFL alumni

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

 

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Final Prep Baseball, Softball Power Rankings

Lincoln senior Keegan Wallen delivers a pitch against Lodi during a Tri-City Athletic League baseball game in April at Zupo Field. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD

Here they are, my final edition of high school baseball and softball power rankings for The Record’s coverage area in spring 2016. Playoffs are here, and in other sports, as well, so that’s where my focus rests.

These are nearly mirror images of last week’s rankings. The only change comes in large-school baseball. Manteca falls down a spot after losing its season-ending series to rival East Union, though the Buffaloes did clinch an outright Valley Oak League championship. Tri-City Athletic League runner-up Lincoln, the No. 4 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I south playoffs, moves up to second.

Power Rankings

BASEBALL

Large schools

1. St. Mary’s (1) 16-11, 13-2 TCAL

2. Lincoln (3) 14-13, 10-5 TCAL

3. Manteca (2) 19-7, 11-3 VOL

4. Tracy (4) 20-7, 10-5 TCAL

5. Bear Creek (5) 20-6-1, 14-1 SJAA

On the Bubble: East Union, McNair

Small schools

1. Ripon (1) 22-3, 12-0 TVL

2. Argonaut (2) 17-8, 15-3 MLL

3. Linden (3) 19-7, 14-4 MLL

4. Escalon (4) 14-11, 9-3 TVL

5. Ripon Christian (5) 20-5, 13-1 SL

SOFTBALL

Large schools

1. East Union (1) 21-1, 13-1 VOL

2. Sierra (2) 13-4, 10-4 VOL

3. Tracy (3) 18-5, 12-3 TCAL

4. St. Mary’s (4) 14-8, 12-3 TCAL

T5. West (5) 14-9, 8-7 TCAL

T5. Lodi (5) 11-9, 8-7 TCAL

On the Bubble: Bear Creek, Manteca, Tokay

Small schools

1. Ripon (1) 18-3, 10-0 TVL

2. Calaveras (2) 20-3, 17-1 MLL

3. Linden (3) 20-5, 15-3 MLL

4. Escalon (4) 20-6, 8-2 MLL

5. Millennium (5) 24-1, 12-0 CCAA

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Prep Softball Power Rankings: Vol. VI

While East Union, the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion, has been the obvious top dog in my large-school Prep Softball Power Rankings, the bottom three teams in the top five have shuffled early and often.

St. Mary’s and Tracy have flip-flopped, for sure, and it’s happened again. Tracy has finished its Tri-City Athletic league slate at 12-3, and has the head-to-head tiebreaker over St. Mary’s (11-3 TCAL), which West beat 7-1 at Arnaiz Softball Complex last week.

Here’s a look at the power rankings entering the final week of the regular season for large schools (SJAA, TCAL, VOL) and small schools (MLL, TVL, SL, CCAA) in The Record’s coverage area:

POWER RANKINGS

Large schools

1. East Union (1) 20-0, 12-0 VOL

The explanation: The Lancers’ toughest test, and their most-likely regular-season loss (emphasis on most likely, I’m not saying likely) comes tomorrow. Oakdale hosts East Union at 4 p.m., in a chance to split the Valley Oak League title. Odds are, the Mustangs are stewing over losing 5-4 on a walk-off, three-run home run from Lancers catcher Alejandra Rascon (see below) last time around. Castro update: East Union senior Michelle Castro is batting .614 with eight home runs, 20 extra-base hits overall, 25 RBI out of the leadoff spot and 15 stolen bases.

2. Sierra (2) 13-4, 10-4 VOL

The explanation: Sierra, the reigning section Division IV champion, is in great shape at another title run, and has a good shot whether it’s in Div. III or IV. Both of its match-ups with rival East Union have been incredibly tight and hard-fought. Timberwolves sophomore pitcher Lindsey Walljasper is 10-3 with a 0.58 ERA, and is batting .467.

3. Tracy (4) 18-5, 12-3 TCAL

The explanation: Tracy has made it through the brutal TCAL gauntlet, where even fifth-place Tokay is dangerous and has multiple NCAA Division I players, and owns the top playoff seed from the league. Sophomore shortstop Rachel Cid, a reigning first-team All-Area infielder for The Record, is batting .492 with 18 extra-base hits and 31 RBI. She’s an Oregon verbal commit, the same program where East Union graduate Cherish Burks, a first-team All-Area outfielder last year, is playing.

4. St. Mary’s (3) 13-8, 11-3 TCAL

The explanation: St. Mary’s can salvage a technical share of a league title by beating Tokay at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Arnaiz Stadium. The won’t be easy, as Tokay just beat a solid team in Lodi twice. Seniors Taylor Mamola and Hannah Russell have quietly produced outstanding power-hitting seasons for the Rams. Mamola is batting .400 with 13 extra-base hits and 24 RBI, and Russell, a Santa Clara commit, is batting .400 with 11 extra-base hits and a team-high 29 RBI.

T5. West (5) 14-9, 8-7 TCAL

T5. Lodi (NR) 11-9, 8-7 TCAL

The explanation: Both of these squads have quality wins, as West has beaten St. Mary’s, Tracy and Lodi. Lodi took two of three against West, but West finished its league slate in stronger fashion, so the two can share this spot. Lodi owns the third and final playoff spot from the TCAL since it has the head-to-head over West.

On the Bubble: Bear Creek, Manteca, Tokay

Small schools

1. Ripon (1) 15-3, 7-0 TVL

2. Calaveras (2) 19-3, 16-1 MLL

3. Linden (3) 19-5, 14-3 MLL

4. Escalon (4) 19-6, 7-2 TVL

5. Millennium (5) 22-1, 10-0 CCAA

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

 

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