Top 50 Football Returners Countdown: Nos. 16-22

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Lincoln running back Will Jones III, left, evades the tackle of Chavez's Leo Gayles during their nonleague football game in September 2016 at Lincoln High's Spanos Stadium in Stockton. [RECORD FILE 2016

This is the time in my yearly football returner rankings where feelings get hurt (unnecessarily, this is for fun), controversy is created (I love that) and debates are sparked (I really love that).

Sounds like fun, right?

My rankings return, as football nears. Week 0, Aug. 25, is three weeks from today.

Take a look at Nos. 16-22:

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. 22– Zach Fleming, Tokay (5-11, 214), DE/FB, Tokay, senior

There’s some chatter that Tokay could be the sleeper team in this area. No, not ready to knock off a giant like St. Mary’s, but perhaps one of the most improved groups behind veterans like Ralph Martinez, Cory Glasgow, and this man, pass-rusher Zach Fleming.

The Tigers’ lineman had 52 tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery in 2016, a tough season for Tokay, and those numbers should improve, health and unforeseen circumstances notwithstanding.

Tokay could make a playoff push for the first time in coach Michael Holst’s tenure (they’re the team Lincoln coach Anthony Martinez considers a potential trap game on the Trojans’ schedule). Tokay needs to make sure it wins three if not four preseason games, and beat Lodi and West in TCAL play. Easier said than done, but a real chance this year.

No. 21 – Tim Omstead (5-10, 225), OL/DL, Stagg, senior

With the graduation of McNair’s Gabriel Jones (pass rusher), multiple veteran Bear Creek offensive linemen, and Stagg’s own Kobe Taylor, Omstead could be a premier lineman in the San Joaquin Athletic Association. Omstead, lauded by Delta Kings coach Don Norton as a leader and impact player, had 60 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions, four pass deflections and two fumble recoveries in 2016. Heck, he deserved more press coverage than we gave him! That’s a superb season, in a league that isn’t known for its defense. Not to mention, he contributes on the O-line for the two-time defending SJAA champions (outright in 2015, shared with McNair in 2016).

No. 20 – Michael Ramos (5-6, 155), RB/SS, Lathrop, senior

Welcome in the first 1,000-yard rusher from 2016 to the list! Ramos, as part of Lathrop’s resurgence under coach Joe Pirillo, delivered 1,015 rushing yards, six touchdowns, 43 tackles and three pass deflections last season. Lathrop will miss Tre Tuipuloto Willis Jr. and Idowu Olaleye, but quarterback Keonnee Linnell is back, too, as the Spartans try to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

No. 19 – Dominick Zackery, (5-10, 155), DB/WR, Edison, junior

It was expected that Hassani Zackery would be an offensive and special teams revelation for Edison last season, and he certainly was.

What we didn’t expect, was how good, and how soon, younger brother Dominick would be on defense.

Dominick Zackery led the Vikings with 96 tackles, as coach Booker Guyton returned to his alma mater, and also had three pass deflections. He’s a veteran on the defense, and it’s the final season he and his brother will (likely) ever get to play together. Something special could be in the works for the two of them and Edison, which struggled and went 2-8 last year, but will likely have more continuity.

No. 18 – Harrison Heath (6-2, 205), MLB/OLB, St. Mary’s, senior

Heath might be the most underrated player on this list, and by me, I mean. No. 18 is probably too low for what a great defensive season he’ll have. But I try to measure potential tangible impact on this list, so you’ll see more running backs and offensive players get a boost over Heath, because a linebacker can have the game of his career, but it might not impact the final score on nearly the same level as a tailback or quarterback. No Heath’s fault, just the way it is. He doesn’t touch the ball on 98 percent of the plays he’s on the field.

As for Heath, he was already beastly as a junior, racking up 99 tackles, three sacks and 1.5 interceptions. St. Mary’s needs his leadership with the graduation of linemen Jordan Stinhilver, Keller Salmon and Popo Aumavae, not to mention linebacker Brandon Sanders, safety David Ford and cornerback Keaton Hampton. Heath, the Jenkins brothers Tre and Drew, and Anthony Rosales Jr. should be veteran rocks for this defense.

No. 17 – Josh Alvarado (5-11, 175), QB, Tracy, senior

Doesn’t it feel like yesterday when Alvarado, now an incoming senior, became a varsity starting quarterback at age 14, not realizing it was against CIF rules for his program to have anyone under 15 playing? Time flies. He’s 16, a senior, and very much allowed to start every game for Tracy if he can.

Alvarado enters his third year starting for Tracy, which reached the playoffs but was routed by Carmichael-Jesuit in November. His prowess has come in running the football out of the veer offense, like last season, when the first-team All-Area baseball pick ran for a team-high 807 yards and 13 touchdowns. Alvarado passed for just 829 yards, with four touchdowns and five interceptions, while completing 42 percent of his passes. Tracy needs more efficiency from its passing game, even if its forte is running, which is part of why Alvarado isn’t ranked higher despite being a third-year starter on a playoff team. Good news: he has a year to prove the passer he is.

No. 16 – Will Jones III (5-10, 185), RB/CB, Lincoln, senior

Becoming a Lincoln High running back has one heck of a history. Think recent USC product Justin Davis, who’s on the roster for the Los Angeles Rams entering training camp as an undrafted free agent. Or those like Louis Rankin or Tyronne Gross, who played professional football. Now, Jones is the primary rusher on a team that wants to run the ball more in 2017, as quarterback Quinton Gaines and head coach Anthony Martinez iterated on Monday.

Jones is the Trojans’ leading returning producer on offense. As a junior, he had 416 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but on a team that passed a ton and saw the majority of the running come from quarterback Aaron Thomas.

This pick all the way up at No. 16 has a big dose of “potential impact” but Jones gets some benefit of the doubt on a program that’s top four ranked in the area (by me and by Black Hat Football, if you count his San Joaquin County teams only), that made the playoffs last year and appears to be improved on its lines.

This is the time in my rankings where the most controversy and banter sets in, and something tells me Nos. 16-22 will really get it going! Thanks for reading.

2017 TOP 50 FOOTBALL RETURNERS COUNTDOWN

 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. 1: 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

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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    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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