Top 50 Football Returners Countdown: Nos. 23-29

We are officially more than halfway done.

My Top 50 Football Returners Countdown continues, with seven more entries from six programs: Tokay, St. Mary’s, Manteca, Tracy, Calaveras and McNair.

Here, we have players from both sides of the ball, but once again, we have at least one quarterback included.

Take a look at Nos. 23-29:

My Top 50 Football Returners Countdown, weighing the best returners in The Record’s coverage area: San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode, is in its third 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 2017. These 50 players reflect the 50 days remaining until high school football season begins with Week 0 on Aug. 25.

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 and Mountain House
  • Mother Lode: Amador, Argonaut, Bret Harte, Linden and Calaveras

No. 29 – Andrew Hem (5-7, 134), WR, McNair, junior

Hem was a revelation for the Eagles last season, even in a campaign where coach Terry Hampton decided to run the ball more. The shifty and electric receiver Hem managed 46 catches for 677 yards and six touchdowns as Gabriel Lopez and Rafael Lara split time at quarterback. Lara should be the full-time starter this year, and Hem and the Eagles will have an artificial turf field to fly on, as opposed to the obstacle course it’s been before.

No. 28 – Anthony Rosales Jr., St. Mary’s (5-11, 230), DT/C, St. Mary’s, senior

Rosales had a quietly fruitful season for the Rams. Most of the defensive line attention was paid to mega-prospect Popo Aumavae and pass rusher Jordan Stinhilver. Rosales, though, along with Keller Salmon, was an opportunistic player and tough to block off the edge. He had 30 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries, and that output should blossom this season as he takes on a leadership role. Since he plays center, perhaps he’ll contribute on both lines with the graduation of three-year starting center Jarett Carl.

No. 27 – Ralph Martinez (5-10, 156), QB/FS, Tokay, senior

Martinez is the ultimate example of players we love on this list: impacting both sides of the ball in unique ways. In his time at quarterback last season, Martinez occasionally struggled with accuracy, but managed 530 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. His top contribution came on defense, where he tallied 48 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble. If he grows as a quarterback and keeps contributing in the secondary, he’ll be a very valuable player for Tokay.

No. 26 – John Kelley, Calaveras (5-10, 190), C/DT, Calaveras, senior

Congratulations to Mr. Kelley and Calaveras: he received by far the most support on social media to be part of this life. Plus, when coach Jason Weatherby preaches a player’s name specifically, you listen.

He is a four-year varsity player and starter for one of the Mother Lode League’s most consistent teams, and a program which has reached eight Sac-Joaquin Section championship games.

Kelley and returning quarterback Kyle Byrd are both instrumental to Calaveras, which will look to avenge its early playoff exit from 2016.

No. 25 – Drew Jenkins (5-10, 175), CB/WR, St. Mary’s, senior

Jenkins is the kind of player whose personality you want as a coach. He and twin brother Tre Jenkins III both play in the secondary, and while Tre might’ve received a few more headlines last year, Drew never let that derail his play or his progress. He showed just how good of a cornerback he can be in the postseason, especially in the NorCal bowl game against Oakley-Freedom, when he delivered the game-clinching tackle that sealed the Rams’ trip to state. Look for Jenkins to be one of the Tri-City Athletic League’s, if not one of the county’s top cornerbacks.

No. 24 – Kristien Reyes (5-10, 185), LB/RB, Tracy, senior

Reyes is another valuable two-way player for the Bulldogs, and is in his third year on varsity. He had 51 tackles, four sacks, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble, along with 189 rushing yards and three scores in 2016. He and first-team All-Area selection Bolaji Akinyemi will anchor Tracy’s defense.

No. 23 – Kyle Reis (6-3, 280), OL/DL, Manteca senior

Reis is a returning first-team, All-Area offensive lineman, who was once the Buffaloes’ water boy (as pictured above in 2009 at Weston Ranch High in Stockton). He’s head coach Eric Reis’ son, and has been building toward his senior year with this program for over a decade. Reis is teaming with fellow seniors like Justin Kakala and Mateo Fernandez on what could be the Valley Oak League’s best line.


 July 7: Players Nos. 44-50

July 14: Players Nos. 37-43

July 21: Players Nos. 30-36

July 28: Players Nos. 23-29

Aug. 4: Players Nos. 16-22

Aug. 11: Players Nos. 11-15

Aug. 16: Player No. 10

Aug. 17: Player No. 9

Aug. 18: Player No. 8

Aug. 19: Player No. 7

Aug. 20: Player No. 6

Aug. 21: Player No. 5

Aug. 22: Player No. 4

Aug. 23: Player No. 3

Aug. 24: Player No. 2

Aug. 25: Player No. 1


Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence


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