Back in Action: Top TCAL Football Returners

Tracy High senior tailback Nate Jones (right) could be one of Northern California's top rushers in 2014. (MICHAEL MCCOLLUM/THE RECORD)

Today, I met Lodi High football coach Robert Sperling. And I asked him what he thought about the re-assembled football gauntlet: the Tri-Cities Athletic League.

“It’s like the SEC,” he told me. “It’s loaded.”

He couldn’t be more right.

The TCAL includes two schools each from Stockton, Tracy and Lodi this year, with defending champion Tracy, Stockton’s St. Mary’s and Lincoln and Lodi’s Tokay as the four that should battle for the top spot.

Tracy’s got one of the best tailbacks in the section in Nate Jones, Tokay will get UCLA-bound WR L.J. Reed (Cosumnes Oaks transfer) likely halfway through the year, St. Mary’s is loaded as always and Lincoln has a ton of returning talent, and looks big, strong and mean.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the top returning players in the TCAL, with at least one – but not limited to one – entry from each team.

Here’s a look at my top SJAA returners from Monday.

RB – NATE JONES (Tracy, Sr.)

Jones, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound force, has been listed as a tailback to watch in the state of California, by Cal-Hi Sports. Now that’s saying something.

As a junior, Jones was instrumental in guiding the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record overall and a 5-0 mark to win the TCAL. Tracy routed Edison to open the section playoffs before taking a beating of its own against Jesuit.

Jones had 113 carries for 1,174 yards – that’s an average of 10.39 yards per carry, folks – with 19 TDs.

LB – JOEY PATINO (Tokay, Sr.)

Patino was a beast for the Tigers, with 69 tackles and a crucial 6.5 sacks. He’s one of several talented defensive returners and seems like he can stop the run and rush the passer effectively.

Look for Patino to team up with Jose Villanueva and Bradley Kazmierczak to lead the Tokay defense.

LB – KHALIL HODGE (St. Mary’s, Sr.)

Hodge is one of several D-I prospects in this league, and has already received an offer from D-I FCS Sacramento State, he said. He stands at about 6-1, 225 pounds, according to last year’s MaxPreps roster, and had 102 tackles, second-best on the team, with two interceptions and 1.5 sacks.

St. Mary’s looked massive when I saw them practice, and Hodge should be a menace on the TCAL this season.


Four-year varsity football players are special, and Trammell certainly can and should be for the Flames this year.

As a junior, Trammell had 84 carries for 558 yards and three touchdowns, through the eight games reported on MaxPreps.

He’ll need to lead Lodi at linebacker too.

WR – MARK RUSSELL (Lincoln, Sr.)

From everything I’m hearing, the Trojans senior wideout will be a great target for quarterback Colby Dickson. Lincoln coach Brian Gray is excited about the returning talent on this team, which includes most of last year’s major contributors.

Russell and the Trojans have only a couple games worth of stats reported on MaxPreps for 2013.

WR – ALLEN WARD (Tokay, Sr.)

Ward was instrumental in the Tigers’ 8-3 run in 2013, hauling in 26 catches for 548 yards – a team-high – and eight touchdowns.

Once he’s teamed up with Reed in midseason, the Tigers’ offense could be scary. That’s a nice situation for quarterback Grayson Dillon to say the least.


Ferguson is another D-I prospect like Hodge, Rams coach Tony Franks told me, and had 30 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.

Look for him and quarterback Noah Righetti to develop a great chemistry as the season moves along.


The Wolfpack’s stats were incomplete on MaxPreps, so it was difficult to place who would be their best returners.

However, in the four games registered for Wilson, he had 37 carries for 163 yards – averaging four-and-a-half yards per carry. He’ll need to be a beast for West to rebound and stay tough in the TCAL.

The Trojans’ four-man front should be one of the team’s major strongpoints, led by the veteran McMiller.







NOTE: Tokay’s Reed is not included on this list because he is not a Tokay returner, he’s just a returner to the varsity level.


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    Thomas Lawrence

    Lawrence became a prep and general assignment sports reporter for The Record in August 2014. He has covered high school, college and professional sports and more in his career. From November of 2011 through summer 2014, he covered college and prep ... Read Full
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