Top 50 Football Players Countdown: Nos. 46-50

The Top 50 Football Players Countdown begins with Nos. 46-50. RECORD FILE PHOTO

Football season isn’t just close. It’s here.

My Top 50 Football Players Countdown, weighing the best returners in The Record’s coverage area: San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode, is set for its inaugural edition. These rankings are based on past varsity experience, as well as potential impact for 2015. These 50 players reflect the 50 days remaining until high school football season begins with Week 0 on Aug. 28.

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
If you think I’m wrong, please let me know in comments, or connect with me personally (my information is below).

Here they are, players Nos. 46-50:

No. 50 – Max Nicol (5-11, 145), WR/DB, Linden, Sr.

Nicol was the Lions’ top versatile option in a frustrating year overall, with 89 rushes for 693 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 25 catches for 407 yards and a receiving TD. He and quarterback Anthony Craven must be in-sync if Linden hopes to compete in the Mother Lode League.

No. 49 – James Gibbons (5-10, 150), QB, West, Sr.

The Wolf Pack’s offense was mostly focused on the running of junior Marcel Dancy a year ago, but having a senior quarterback return like Gibbons is paramount. For West, Gibbons threw for 666 yards, with five touchdowns and five interceptions. As he improves and gives the Wolf Pack more balance, the better off they’ll be in league. A year ago, West won its first five nonleague games before dropping five consecutive games in the Tri-City Athletic League.

No. 48 – Jonathan Wright, WR/DB, Lodi, Sr.

Wright was a dual threat for the Flames, rushing for 366 yards and three touchdowns, and hauling in 166 receiving yards and another touchdown. He posted 22 tackles and a fumble recovery on defense. Lodi needs veterans like Wright on both sides of the ball to hang tough in the TCAL.

No.  47 – Anthony Craven (6-0, 197), QB/LB, Linden, Sr.

Craven returns after throwing for over 1,000 yards with eight TDs and eight picks in 2014. He added five rushing touchdowns as well. It was a difficult season for Linden in the revamped MLL, with now includes perennial power Sonora, and longtime coach Mark Miller and company have work to do after a 2-8 season overall, and 1-5 campaign in the MLL.

No. 46 – Matt Meehleis (6-1, 195), QB/DL, Lodi, Sr.

Meehleis only threw 15 passes for last year’s edition of the Flames, as a backup quarterback, but was superb as a pass-rushing lineman, with a team-high seven sacks with 26 tackles. He’ll be key in giving the Lodi offense a jolt of energy after Chance Trammell, a second-team All-Area tailback, moves on via graduation. Lodi finished fifth out of six teams last year in the TCAL, ahead of West and behind Lincoln, Tokay, Tracy and St. Mary’s.

TOP 50 PLAYERS COUNTDOWN

Today: Players Nos. 46-50
July 16: Players Nos. 39-45
July 23: Players Nos. 32-38
July 30: Players Nos. 25-31
Aug. 6: Players Nos. 18-24
Aug. 13: Players Nos. 11-17
Aug. 19: Player No. 10
Aug. 20: Player No. 9
Aug. 21: Player No. 8
Aug. 22: Player No. 7
Aug. 23: Player No. 6
Aug. 24: Player No. 5
Aug. 25: Player No. 4
Aug. 26: Player No. 3
Aug. 27: Player No. 2
Aug. 28: Player No. 1

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

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Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: McNair football

McNair High quarterback Osai Brown threw for 3,229 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior. RECORD FILE PHOTO

Osai Brown is in the shotgun. Sean Hamilton and Derrion Grim are out wide.

And if you’re an opposing defense, you’re in trouble.

That’s just a scene setter for this year’s edition of the McNair football team, which no doubt should feature an outstanding aerial attack, as it did in 2014-15.

Last season, Brown’s varsity debut, he delivered 3,229 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, to go with 481 rushing yards and six more TDs.

Hamilton, an incoming senior like Brown and Grim, was his top target throughout the season, with 68 catches for a whopping 1,119 yards and 11 TDs.

That’s why McNair, a contender in the pass-happy, offense-heavy San Joaquin Athletic Association, is my final Team to Watch in 2015-16.

Grim was one of the best midseason add-ons in the section last year, kind of like Tokay’s L.J. Reed, who’ll be playing college ball for Fresno State.

The wideout Grim, a verbal commit to West Coast power Boise State, had 35 catches for 637 yards and 10 touchdowns in just five games played. Extrapolate those numbers into at least a 10-game season, and it gets downright scary.

Although McNair needs to establish a consistent running game, it may have the man to anchor a defense that needs to improve. Seth Tennis, an incoming junior linebacker, powered the Eagles with 118 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2014.

Thanks for reading, folks, and make sure to stay tuned for my Top 50 Returning Football Players Countdown, which begins tomorrow (July 9) with Nos. 46-50.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg footballWeston Ranch boys basketballEast Union girls soccerSierra footballWeston Ranch boys soccerTracy baseball, St. Mary’s girls basketball, Manteca boys basketball, East Union softball

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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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: East Union softball

Cherish Burks was a formidable hitter. And she’ll be missed greatly by East Union softball as she competes for the University of Oregon.

But the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section aren’t off the hook yet. She’s the only Lancer who isn’t returning in 2015-16.

East Union softball set a school record with 30 wins, and won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship this May with a roster full of juniors and underclassmen.

Take Sam Owen, a Pacific commit, shortstop and incoming senior who was our All-Area Player of the Year. She hit .643 with nine homers, 13 doubles, 61 RBI and a 1.053 slugging percentage. Then there’s cleanup hitter Alexis Erich, an incoming junior and outfielder who batted .644 with a team-high 10 homers with 59 RBI in a first-team All-Area season.

And incoming senior and catcher Alejandra Rascon, a clutch player and Cal State Northridge verbal commit who hit .441 with five homers in second-team All-Area campaign.

Plus, both starting pitchers — Delaney Pamplin (1.17 ERA) and Mikayla Bongi (1.71 ERA) — are juniors.

So East Union softball, under two-time section champion coach Brian Goulart, our All-Area Coach of the Year, are a no-doubter as one of my Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16.

East Union (30-3) was miraculous in its swan song, sweeping No. 1 Woodland-Pioneer, the two-time defending Div. III champion and a squad it had lost to twice already, 12-1 and 17-3 in Sacramento. The Lancers pounded out 31 hits, and Owen was stunningly good, going 7 for 7 with a long ball, a double and six RBI.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg footballWeston Ranch boys basketballEast Union girls soccerSierra footballWeston Ranch boys soccerTracy baseball, St. Mary’s girls basketball, Manteca boys basketball

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

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Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Manteca boys basketball

Imagine a starting lineup of a returning section semifinalist high school boys basketball team with three players at 6-foot-7 or taller. A little bit intimidating, isn’t it?

Now imagine all three of them are All-Area, if not All-Section caliber players, two of whom are related and have played AAU basketball together?

For any opponents in the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section, that should be downright terrifying.

And thus, Manteca boys basketball hopes to strike fear in the hearts of its opponents this coming season, and then strike down those same opponents with authority.

The Buffaloes feature returning senior forward Anand Hundal (6-9), a second-team All-Area pick and the No. 2 shot blocker in the state a year ago. Then there’s Kenny Wooten, a 6-8 senior and transfer from Stagg, who had to sit out his junior season. He’s a double-double waiting to happen and led the Delta Kings to the section playoffs as a sophomore.

Finally, there’s 6-7 junior Tydus Verhoeven, a guard-forward-wing hybrid who should be more polished and nearly unstoppable offensively as an upperclassman. The three of them combine with Lincoln transfer Dwight Young and returners Frankie Lopez and Tyler Graves-Kelso to make an instant section championship contender.

For the record, it would be Manteca’s first since 1987. And second year coach Brett Lewis, an East Union grad, hopes to be playing at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento this March.

Manteca boys basketball is without a doubt one of my Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16.

Last season, the Buffaloes earned the No. 5 seed in the Division III playoffs, and advanced to the semifinals before being smacked by VOL and intradistrict foe No. 9 Weston Ranch by 20 points.

In that game, Manteca’s energy was lacking at time, and its size advantage morphed into a speed advantage for Weston Ranch. But this will be a much better team, and hopefully for Lewis, an angrier team after that loss. Plus, Manteca lost two close league games to four-time defending VOL champion, last year’s Div. III section champion and NorCal semifinalist Sierra, the arch rival.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCHStagg footballWeston Ranch boys basketballEast Union girls soccerSierra footballWeston Ranch boys soccerTracy baseball, St. Mary’s girls basketball

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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Who’s Replacing Ed?: Top Choices from the Area

In case you haven’t heard, Pacific announced Tuesday that baseball coach Ed Sprague has resigned after 12 seasons guiding the Tigers.

And, director of athletics Ted Leland said a nationwide search will be conducted. Still, we know from two of the more recent mainstream sports changes — Ron Verlin (men’s basketball) and Bradley Davis (women’s basketball) — that Pacific doesn’t mind choosing a new head coach from its own pantry.

With that in mind, here’s a look at a few of the most qualified, or potentially fitting coaches from the area.

NOTE: This blog is merely speculative. I have not been given a list of interview candidates or anything of that nature. I have also not heard anything about official interest from these coaches, or vice versa from the university for that matter. This is just for fun. Please keep that in mind.

REED PETERS (Delta College)

All Peters has done with the Mustangs is win. In his first year, in 2008, Delta qualified for its first playoff appearance in 20 years. After that, it was a state runner-up (2009), a state champion (2011), a California Elite 8 finalist (2013) and a state runner-up again in 2014 and last spring.

He’s also got NCAA Division I experience as a head coach, after guiding Air Force Academy from 1999-2003. In fact, he was the Mountain West Conference’s Coach of the Year in 2002. His son Cade Peters, a recent St. Mary’s graduate, will be play for Air Force, too.

So Peters has won in Stockton, and he’s won at the Division I level. He obviously knows how to recruit (though recruiting to a low-priced institution like a community college hardly compares to the annual fees at a West Coast Conference private school).

He’s worth a look from the Tigers if nothing else.

MIKE McCORMICK (Pacific)

McCormick, who was last a head coach with Gavilan College in Gilroy in 2002 and 2003, also served as a Chico State assistant and recruiting coordinator before coming to Pacific in 2009.

If the Tigers should go in-house for their new hire, as they did with Davis last school year, McCormick would make the most sense. As Sprague told me Tuesday he feels McCormick deserves his shot in Division I. (Sprague also pointed out assistant Joey Centanni as a great young coach).

He took over the recruiting responsibilities this year, and that experience and his eye for pitching could help Pacific in the long run.

QUINCEY NOBLE (McNair)

This would be an odd choice given how long the two have been apart, but you never know.

Noble coached Pacific from 1989-2002 — Sprague took over in 2004 — and has been McNair’s varsity coach the past decade.

He seems to take a lot of pride in establishing the Eagles, as they won their first league championship this year, but if the Tigers were interested it would make sense to at least take the call.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

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Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: St. Mary’s girls basketball

St. Mary's girls basketball celebrates its CIF State Open Division championship March 28 in Berkeley. CRAIG SANDERS/FOR THE RECORD

The scary part for the rest of California about watching the St. Mary’s girls basketball team win the CIF State Open Division championship? Only two of them would be lost to graduation.

Carlissa Shipp (Cal State Stanislaus women’s basketball) and Kendle Norgaard have moved on, but the vast majority of St. Mary’s, which went 34-1 and ended the season on a 29-game winning streak, returns.

That includes incoming sophomore forward Aquira DeCosta, the No. 2-rated prospect in her class and a recent member of the USA Basketball U16 team; senior guard Kat Tudor, who’s got around 30 NCAA Division I offers hanging around, and is one of the best 3-point shooters in the state; senior guard Mi’Cole Cayton, a Nebraska verbal commit who scored a team-high 21 points in the state title game against Mater Dei; junior point guard Sierra Smith, only 14 years of age, who went to the USA U16 tryouts and will play for a power conference team in college if she wishes.

St. Mary's Mi'Cole Cayton drives during her team's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals win over Sacramento-McClatchy. (RECORD FILE PHOTO)

Plus, senior forwards Angel Johnson (D-I offers) and Sydney Fadal (Pacific verbal commit), junior guard Naje Murray (D-I offers, one of the best offensive players in the area if not the section), sophomore forwards Neenah Young and Ariel Johnson and more are in-tow. And who knows what freshmen they’ll include.

That’s why, as obvious as any other in the group, St. Mary’s girls basketball is one of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16.

St.  Mary’s state championship was the eighth in school history, and a record seventh for coach Tom Gonsalves alone. Only Brea Olinda (nine) is ahead of the Rams for state championships. I imagine, unless Brea Olinda wins another, that’ll be a tie next spring in Berkeley.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg football, Weston Ranch boys basketball, East Union girls soccer, Sierra football, Weston Ranch boys soccer, Tracy baseball

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Tracy baseball

The Tracy baseball team made program history by advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South finals. Yet, the season finished painfully for the Bulldogs.

In a decisive winner-take-all game, Tracy fell 3-2 to Tri-City Athletic League rival St. Mary’s. Thing is, seven of the Rams’ usual position players and their top two starting pitchers have graduated. Tracy brings back all four of its potential starting pitchers, including incoming junior and first-team All-Area selection Cody Bolton.

Plus, seven of Tracy’s usual starting nine in the batting order are coming back, including second-team All-Area picks Lee Brewer and Cameron Hoff, and honorable mention selection Garrett Cichella.

That’s why Tracy is one of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16. They split a TCAL title with St. Mary’s and Lincoln, but those teams were super- , mega-senior heavy. Not Tracy.

Throw in Nate George (designated hitter, No. 2 spot), Kevin Saenz (catcher), Bolton, Noah Denoyer (starting pitcher), Brett Mansell (infielder, starting pitcher), Lee Brewer (third baseman, home run hitter), Cameron Hoff (right fielder, cleanup hitter), Garrett Cichella (third baseman, No. 3 hitter), Christian Rosette (left fielder) and Chandlyr Metal (first baseman) and they are frighteningly experienced in the starting lineup.

Plus, coach Vic Alkire, 71, has been coaching this team since the early ’90s. Tracy’s never won a section championship, and although it’ll be difficult to come out of the South bracket, much less win the whole thing, it may its best shot.’

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg football, Weston Ranch boys basketball, East Union girls soccer, Sierra football, Weston Ranch boys soccer

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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BREAKING: Pacific baseball coach Sprague resigns

STOCKTON — Pacific director of athletics Ted Leland announced today that Ed Sprague has resigned as head baseball coach after 12 seasons.

Sprague, a St. Mary’s High graduate, went 250-406 — a .381 winning percentage — in his time guiding the Tigers. This spring brought high expectations for a veteran team, but Pacific finished with 14 wins and in second-to-last place in the West Coast Conference.

“We are thankful for everything coach Sprague has done for the program and the institution,” Leland said, according to a statement. “He has done a great job building the infrastructure of the program and we wish him well.”

Twenty-one players were selected in the Major League Baseball draft in Sprague’s tenure, including outfielders Gio Brusa and Tyler Sullivan and infielder Brett Sullivan from this year’s club.

Sprague is the only baseball player in history to have won a World Series, an NCAA title and an Olympic gold medal. His son, Jed Sprague, was a true freshman on the 2015 Tigers.

“I’d like to thank the entire community, alumni, current players and coaches for all of their support and commitment to Pacific baseball these last 12 years,” said Sprague, the 16th coach in program history, according to the statement. “Although I’m looking forward to exciting new opportunities in my life, I am confident in the future success of this program and I’m proud to leave Pacific a better place.”

Check back with recordnet.com later today and Wednesday’s Record for the full story.

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Weston Ranch boys soccer

Even for great teams, a championship campaign can be a glimmer; a shooting star in an otherwise smoggy sky full of mediocre seasons. Yet, that’s not the case for the Weston Ranch boys soccer team.

The confident, electric, undersized but overwhelmingly talented Cougars made school history last fall, winning a Sac-Joaquin Section championship. It wasn’t just their first section banner as a program, but the first for Weston Ranch in any sport.

And, some of its best players are coming back.

That includes incoming senior Joseph Mayorca, who overpowered the Valley Oak League and the rest of the Cougars’ opponents with a team-high 32 goals a year ago, to go with seven assists. Kevin Medina, another incoming senior, posted 10 goals and nine assists.

Weston Ranch is a great choice to repeat as a section champion, behind coach Francisco Cisneros, and that’s why the Cougars are the next installment of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16.

The Cougars went 24-2-3 a year ago,  losing only to Galt and Atwater, and drawing with Oakdale, Grace Davis and Modesto. Opposing attackers went oh-for-the-playoffs against Weston Ranch, as the Cougars outscored their opponents 9-0 in the Div. IV bracket.

MORE TEAMS TO WATCH: Stagg football, Weston Ranch boys basketball, East Union girls soccer, Sierra football

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

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Ten Teams to Watch in 2015-16: Sierra football

Sierra tailback Mark Paule Jr., right, is ready to have another phenomenal season. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

Sierra High football's Mark Paule Jr. (right) and his Timberwolves are going to be a force once again. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

The Sac-Joaquin Section should not sleep on Sierra football again.

Certainly, they weren’t supposed to be a top seed a year ago, and ran through the regular season 9-1, splitting a Valley Oak League championship with eventual Division III champion Oakdale, and earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

It could be easy to underestimate this Sierra team, too, because it loses prominent players to graduation: quarterback Devin Nunez, wide receiver Hunter Johnson, defensive lineman Labron “LJ” Alofaituli, linebacker Trevon McCray and offensive linemen Connor Melton and L.J. Valencia to name a few.

Yet, some vital pieces remain, and the Timberwolves should compete in the VOL, if not Div. III.

Sierra brings back incoming senior tailback Mark Paule Jr., who took to varsity football incredibly, posting 2,024 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns, with a receiving touchdown and a passing TD. On the other side of the ball, senior defensive lineman Joshua Fala reportedly has an offer from Colorado State. Seuseu Alofaituli (Jr.) and Daniel Wyatt (Sr.) are vital defensive backs, and Wyatt should be a prolific wide receiver for the offense as well. Senior defensive lineman Andrew Guevara is a constant threat for a sack.

Marcos Castillo, an incoming junior, can punt, pass, run and play defensive back for the Timberwolves.

And that’s why Sierra, likely to be underrated again, is one of my Ten Teams to Watch for 2015-16.

  • Revenge for Harbison’s crew: Despite Sierra’s success a year ago, being upset by No. 10 Rio Linda in the quarterfinals didn’t sit well. So expect Paule Jr. to run angry, and for the defense to remember that in vital games against Oakdale, Manteca and Central Catholic.
  • Quarterback question: Will Castillo, a dual threat guy, get the nod at quarterback or will somebody new emerge? I’m looking forward to finding out.
  • Notable matchups: Sierra travels to Central Catholic and Oakdale this year, two home upset wins in 2014, but brings Manteca to its house.

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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