MR. FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

One of these players will be chosen at the end of next week as the CalHiSports.com Mr. Football State Player of the Year. We've narrowed it down to only those who would seem to have the strongest cases to eventually win. We're going to ask for votes from certain state media members and welcome all input from our readers and web site users.

The finalists are:

Lorenzo Booker
(St. Bonaventure, Ventura) RB
Booker's immense talent -- college coaches at Florida State, Texas, Washington and elsewhere have him as the No. 1 prospect at his position in the nation -- and his incredible numbers -- he rushed for a No. 2 in the state 2,869 yards and scored a state-best 50 touchdowns -- might make him the obvious choice. But there's a sizable number of Southern California media members and other fans who wince at the thought of honoring someone from the CIFSS Div. XI ranks. "Who has he played?" questioned one scribe in a press box last week. "All of those stats are meaningless against that competition." Booker also has led the Seraphs to a 42-game winning streak and finished with all-time state records for career rushing yards (8,495) and career touchdowns (137).

Hershel Dennis
(Poly, Long Beach) RB
Hershel's scintillating 34-yard run in which he spun away from tacklers and sped down the sidelines in the final minutes of the CIFSS Div. I title game against Edison got the debate going. "Would Lorenzo Booker have been able to do that?" said one reporter. "Yes he could," said another. "I don't know," said another. "Hershel is as good as Booker and anybody who thinks he's afraid of competing against him in college (both are considering USC) is nuts." Dennis ended that game with 189 yards in 29 carries. He also drew praise for his 20-carry, 158-yard performance against Concord De La Salle. Dennis ended the year with 1,740 yards and 24 touchdowns despite sharing the team's rushing load with Div. I college recruit Rory Carrington.

Robbie Dubois
(Mission Viejo) RB
The Diablos' 14-0 season was due in large part to Dubois' strong play at the running back position. In the CIFSS Div. II finals against Chino, Dubois scored on a 94-yard run and finished with 199 yards on 30 carries. For the season, Dubois totaled 2,728 yards and scored 34 touchdowns. He had nearly 1,000 more yards than Hershel Dennis and was only 141 yards behind Lorenzo Booker while playing against stronger competition.

Trent Edwards
(Los Gatos) QB
While working out last summer at the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp, a former NFL head coach watched Edwards throw several passes and asked, "Who's that guy?" His touch is that good. Edwards led Los Gatos to back-to-back 13-0 seasons and finished his career with 5,015 yards, 58 TD passes and just seven interceptions. He set a state single season completion percentage record as a junior with a mark of 78 percent.

Kenny James
(Dos Palos) RB
No running back in America scored as many touchdowns as Kenny James during the last two seasons. He had 54 as a junior and 49 more as a senior for a whopping two-year total of 103. Lorenzo Booker's total over the last two years is 99. James' last two games of 283 yards against Garces and 212 yards against San Joaquin Memorial also put his final total at 2,900 for the season. He wound up as the state leader for rushing yards and was No. 2 for touchdowns even though he played one less game than Booker or Dubois. James was picked as the top candidate for Mr. Football out of the Central Section in a close call over Clovis quarterback Jordan Christensen.

Derek Landri
(De La Salle, Concord) OL-DL
It's rare to consider a lineman, but Landri's efforts in all of De La Salle's biggest games were extraordinary. The 6-4, 285-pounder headed to Notre Dame won over a bundle of fans the way in which he battled the behemoths from Long Beach Poly in the showdown game last October. "His green pants were black because of all the sweat," said one SoCal writer. "If you didn't pick (Lorenzo) Booker or (Hershel) Dennis and went with him, I'd have no problem with Derek at all," said another. "He might be the best lineman I've ever seen." Coach Bob Ladouceur said before the season that Landri was the best he's seen and that college coaches really didn't know if he was better on offense or defense. Landri cleared the holes for De La Salle running backs Maurice Drew, Alijah Bradley and Nate Kenion and provided protection for quarterback Matt Gutierrez. You could make a case that Gutierrez should be considered a Mr. Football honoree, too, as he quarterbacked the Spartans to 37 straight victories and had a quarterback rating this year of more than 200, but Landri's play on both sides of the ball make him an even stronger candidate. On defense, Landri was the dominant force for a first-string that gave up only six touchdowns the entire season.

Matt Moore
(Hart, Newhall) QB
The latest in a long line of tremendous Hart quarterbacks, Moore really came on in the team's last two games. Against unbeaten Mira Costa, he completed 26 of 37 passes for 339 yards and one TD and rushed for 65 yards and another TD. Against Valencia in the CIFSS Div. III finals, Moore hit on 14 of 18 passes for 274 yards and four TDs and ran for 99 yards and a TD, which came from 49 yards out. Moore ended the season with 3,336 yards passing and 33 TDs and led Hart to its fourth straight CIFSS title.

Steve Smith
(Taft, Woodland Hills) WR-DB
We're giving away who will be picked as the State Junior Player of the Year, but that's one of the easiest picks of all. Smith missed a playoff game with a shoulder injury, but still finished with 89 catches for 1,451 yards and 12 TDs. On defense, he was equally spectacular and had 12 interceptions, the highest reported total in Southern California. Only a miraculous last-second blocked punt recovered in the end zone for a touchdown prevented Taft from winning the CIF L.A. City Section title.


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