1. De La Salle (Concord) 12-0
Who was the last preseason No. 1 in the state before the Spartans? It was Los Alamitos for 1995, which lost to Esperanza of Anaheim in its first league game that year. De La Salle took over the No. 1 ranking at the time, soon afterward set the state win streak record and has stayed No. 1 ever since. The analysis of this year's De La Salle team isn't too complicated. If senior quarterback Britt Cecil can step in and be effective in the absence of graduated quarterback Matt Gutierrez (now at Michigan), then all the rest of the pieces are in place for the Spartans to be as great as they've ever been. Cecil doesn't have to throw it like Gutierrez did, but he does have to complete a few passes in the showdown games against St. Louis of Honolulu on Sept. 21 and against Long Beach Poly on Oct. 12. If he doesn't or can't, then the defenses at St. Louis and Poly can mostly focus on stopping De La Salle's ground game. This year's featured players for coach Bob Ladouceur's squad will be running back Maurice Drew, defensive back Damon Jenkins, lineman Erik Sandie and lineman John Chan, all seniors. A very strong junior class includes defensive back Willie Glasper, running back Jackie Bates, fullback/ linebacker Terrence Kelly and wideout Cameron Colvin.
2. Poly (Long Beach) 12-1
The Jackrabbits are still smarting from their 29-15 loss to De La Salle last October that wound up costing them at least a share of the mythical national title. The big five of running back Hershel Dennis, defensive end/tight end Marcedes Lewis, safety Darnell Bing, defensive tackle Manuel Wright and offensive tackle Winston Justice will be greatly missed, especially Dennis, who is probably the toughest running back that De La Salle's defense has ever had to face. But while Poly may not be as strong running the ball this year, the passing game should be better. Leon Jackson backed up Brandon Brooks last season even though he was a superior thrower and has a fleet of speedy wideouts to work with, including state track meet sprint medalist Derrick Jones and Alex Watson. Kevin Brown is the best of a line corps that also includes Junior Lemauu, Hercules Satele and Josh Tauanuu. Senor Mark Washington and junior Marlin Simmons are going to be two top linebackers and Freddie Parish will be a top cornerback.
3. Los Alamitos 10-2-1
We thought it might surprise some to put the Griffins in at No. 28 in the Student Sports FAB 50 preseason rankings. Then USA Today went and stuck them in at No. 10. The high rankings are because coach John Barnes is one of the best in the state and 12 starters are back, led by quarterback Jeff Kline and wideout Brandon Tripp. Several key transfers also will make an impact -- Rasheed Prescott at WR/CB, Randy Estes at DB and Cameron Filkins on the defensive line. Another good reason to go with the Griffins so high at the start is because they're going to be tested right away with an opening matchup on Sept. 13 against Hart of Newhall, which has won three straight CIF-SS divisional titles.
4. Helix (La Mesa) 12-1
Watching last year's CIF San Diego Section Div. II final between the Highlanders and Oceanside was revealing on two fronts. First, Helix was going to be loaded in 2002. Second, Oceanside would provide a great first game test. Coach Gordon Wood's team is led by All-American running back Reggie Bush. He might not come close to the 2,000-yard mark this year, but that's only because several talented teammates will get their carries, too, and many games will be over by halftime. Other top players are WR/DB Charles Smith, RB Darrell Hutsona, OL Ryan Simone, DE Ricky Thomas and RB Rajive Otah.
5. Loyola (Los Angeles) 7-3-1
Once they've gone through the Serra League part of their schedule, the Cubs should be battle-tested enough and will have the horses to perhaps mount the most serious challenge to Long Beach Poly's reign in the CIF Southern Section. Last year's team lost by just 21-13 to the Jackrabbits in the playoffs and 14 starters are back, including seven who were either first-team or second-team all-league. WR Quintin Daniels, QB Adam Gondalez and RB Bo Renaud will lead the offense. DE Mike Horgan and LB Scott Willard will lead the defense.
6. Chino 13-1
The Cowboys might not move much higher than fifth or sixth all season as their schedule is a bit suspect. But based on what they did last year and the fact that so many top players are back from a squad that lost its only game by 18-9 to Mission Viejo in the CIFSS Div. II final they definitely belong in the preseason top 10. QB Kevin Glabb and two 1,000-yard rushers -- Kes Olomu and Jacob Flowe -- are back to lead the offense. On defense, Chino has an All-American candidate in big, bad Cedric Ellis. Linebacker Ken Williams is getting serious looks from major colleges, too.
7. Oceanside 11-2
Part of the reason we've ranked the Pirates so high at the start -- Vista seems to be No. 2 by most around San Diego -- is that their first game is against Helix. They have more than enough returning talent to knock off the Highlanders and if they do it would only make sense that they would be the ones to move up to No. 1 for the section, not Vista. Oceanside's roster of returnees is led by WR Jose Perez, RB Tyler Lavea, OL/DL Bobby Byrd and RB/LB Mautia Poumele.
8. Hart (Newhall) 13-0
The Indians have a lot of spots to replace from last year's lineup, but they've done it before, they have the tradition (three straight CIFSS titles) and they're playing a schedule in which a few early wins will jump them right back into the state top five. The opener against No. 3 Los Al is the most attractive week one game in the state and the later matchup vs. St. Bonaventure might be even more significant. Hart's quarterback should be junior Sean Norton. He will throw to a top-notch combo of Todd Wilson and Kevin Ciccone. Linebacker Cody Kase is one to watch from the team's defense. Hart will be moving up to Div. II in the CIFSS this year, which will be the same as Mission Viejo and Chino.
9. Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 8-2-2
All-state underclass RB-DB Ashton White is back but he's reportedly been injured and might miss several early-season games. The Eagles also have seven other returning players, besides White, who were all-leaguers last year. Three other top individuals should be WR Bobby Whithorne and OL-DLs Brandt "Bubba" Jesperson and Matt Rupp. If senior QB Case Colaw does the job and the team gets through a brutal schedule with no more key injuries, it could be a very memorable season.
10. Mission Viejo 14-0
If you believe games are won and lost in the trenches, then this is the team for you. Backed by Marty Spalding, one of the best line coaches in the nation, the Diablos might be able to get past the loss of such standouts from last year like RB Robbie Dubois, FB Ryan Powdrell and QB Jordan Palmer by blowing open gaping holes on offense and plugging them up on defense. All-American candidate Drew Radovich is the headliner of the MV linemen, but other top returnees such as Chris Cole, Nate Wimber, Brady Beach, Chris Coates and Andrew Wietstock can all play, too. The team's defense also features one of SoCal's top corners in Marques Dailley.
11. San Leandro 12-1
Dennis Dixon is one of the top 15 QBs in the nation and he gets to operate once again with WR Sam Cheatham. That duo alone gives the Pirates a lot of optimism. They also can be ranked higher this year in the preseason than in the past for setting up a much better regular season schedule. They face James Logan later in the season when both have league byes and they also will play Serra of San Mateo.
12. Vista 11-2
It won't take much for the Panthers to be a candidate for the national rankings. If Helix beats Oceanside in week one and then Vista beats Helix a few weeks later it will be Vista as the clear-cut No. 1 in San Diego. The Panthers have one of the top cornerbacks in the nation in Leon Hall. Other key returnees include QB Mike Altieri, RB/LB Isaiah Crawford, jr. TE/DL Russell Allen and RB/LB Salo Faraimo.
13. Edison (Huntington Beach) 11-1-1
Tommy Grady, the lanky sling-thrower who led the Chargers to the 2001 CIFSS Div. I title game, told us at the Elite 11 QB Camp that he thought this year's squad could be better than last year. Transfers will help -- the most impactful might be RB Andy Avila -- and so will a tough schedule. Edison's first game is against No. 19 San Clemente, so if it wins there then No. 13 might be just about right.
14. Grant (Sacramento) 9-2-1
The Pacers are almost as red-hot in Sac as the Kings. Dante Stallworth became a first round NFL draft choice last April, Onterrio Smith just made the cover of ESPN The Magazine as a Heisman Trophy candidate at Oregon and this year's team has to be the favorite out of the gates in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. QB Tommy Hall needs some maturation for that favorite label to turn into an actual title, but he'll have everything else he needs surrounding him. FB/LB Leo Fotofili, WR/DB LaKendrick Edwards, junior RB Gerwin Williams and soph RB Syd'Quan Thompson are all standout players now and for the future.
15. St. Bonaventure (Ventura) 13-0
The suspense surrounding just how good the Seraphs are will finally be dissipated this season. They play No. 8 Hart in the preseason and are now moving into the Channel League. WR Whitney Lewis is thought by many to be the state's top college prospect this year, regardless of position, plus others like LB Lee Martin, DE Warren Anderson and junior RB/DB Terrell Lambert are all back, too. Replacing All-American running back Lorenzo Booker is the biggest hurdle. The Seraphs will take a 42-game win streak into the season and need just four more to tie the all-time CIFSS record of 46 set in 1973 by Temple City.
16. Taft (Woodland Hills) 10-3
Ian Bell's recent transfer pushed the Toreadors into being even more of a favorite for the L.A. City Section title than before. Bell was an all-state sophomore running back last year at Muir of Pasadena and will join a roster that was already loaded. WR Steve Smith is one of the best in the nation at his position and should threaten some state career records. WR Noah Smith is another speedster and Cary Dove proved last year he was a QB who could get everybody the ball. On defense, Taft has another stud in LB Lance Broadus.
17. Elk Grove 14-0
Running back Tyrice Daniels will be the primary weapon for the Thundering Herd after rushing for 1,700 yards as a junior. Not much else is coming back and there will be a new coach with Bob Lee taking over for Dave Hoskins and Mike Clemens. Lee, though, is a veteran of the staff and should keep things the way they've been going. Other than De La Salle, no program in Northern California has been as successful over the last five years as Elk Grove with three Sac-Joaquin Section Div. I titles and one runner-up finish.
18. Bakersfield 13-0
CIF Central Section historian Bob Barnett is the guy we talk to about teams in Fresno and Bakersfield and he agreed with our first inclination for the 2002 preseason and that was to rank the Drillers first from his section until they lose. It's not as if BHS has a bunch of returning starters coming off an unbeaten season. In fact, in addition to mostly new starters, the Drillers also will be directed by a new coaching staff. This is just one of those seasons in the Central Section which none of the teams that were highly-ranked last year has very much back. If the Drillers get through the preseason -- including matchups vs. Antelope Valley and Pasadena Muir -- don't be surprised if a 10-0 regular season unfolds and a 23-game win streak is taken into the playoffs.
19. San Clemente 8-5
Some think Beau Budde is the second best QB in Orange County behind Tommy Grady of Edison. The two will meet in week one as Budde will lead the Tritons against the Chargers. Twelve starters in all are back for San Clemente, which will be a threat to Mission Viejo in the South Coast League.
20. Palma (Salinas) 12-1
Our first inclination was to put Mitty at No. 1 in the CIF Central Coast Section with more well-known returning standouts. But Palma really does deserve to be No. 1 in the section until it takes a loss. The Chieftains have won Div. I crowns for two straight seasons and they not only beat Mitty in last year's final they whupped ‘em. Most of the top players this year will probably be juniors, a group that gets to play De La Salle in 2003.
21. Monte Vista (Danville) 10-2
The major speculation surrounding the Mustangs is whether their enrollment will make them Class 4A or Class 3A for the CIF North Coast Section playoffs. If it's 4A, then it's the challenge of being in the same division as De La Salle and San Leandro. If it's 3A, then it's more of an easy path to a second straight section crown. QB Kyle Wright was recently featured in Sports Illustrated (thanks to being at our own Elite 11 QB Camp) and he'll be throwing once again to skilled WR Sam DeSa. The only questionmark for coach Craig Bergman is developing a running game to go with Wright's passing.
22. Valencia 12-2
The Vikings are another of those teams with the quarterback being the key. In their case, it will be little-used Stephen Wright taking over the reigns. If Wright comes through, watch out Hart in the Foothill League. If he doesn't, the Vikings will again be going to the playoffs with a tough path in front of them. Charles Burnley is the team's top returnee. The senior running back had 1,900 yards a year ago.
23. Mitty (San Jose) 12-1
Robert Perry rambled for more than 1,600 yards last year as a junior and will be joined by WR Danny Dressman in a potentially great offense. Also back is top-notch TE-DE Andrew Butcher and a solid nucleus. The Monarchs looked great in last year's CCS Div. I semifinal vs. Oak Grove, but laid an egg in the final vs. Palma, which was their only loss. This year's opener will be against De La Salle.
24. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 8-5
Many think the Monarchs get too much of a benefit in the rankings from playing a tough schedule and don't get punished enough for losses. But when your losses are to Mission Viejo, De La Salle, Edison (twice) and Santa Margarita and you beat Bishop Amat (unbeaten at the time) and Redlands (also unbeaten at the time) we just don't see how we can leave Mater Dei off. And with the league they're in, it won't take much for Mater Dei to move back up among the state's truly elite in the rankings. RB Rafael Rice and LB Dominic Rickard should be the team's top players.
25. J.W. North (Riverside) 10-4
Coach Mark Paredes left for Riverside Community College, but almost everything else from last season's CIFSS Div. V championship team is back. WRDB Damon Morton was the CalHiSports.com State Sophomore of the Year and QB Dion Morton returns as well. One of the team's tough early-season tests will be against Mater Dei.
26. Arroyo Grande 11-1
The Eagles were the top-seeded team last year in the CIFSS Div. IV playoffs and should still be mad about losing in the second-round to Dos Pueblos. They've got the big boys up front, the usual stable of running backs, a standout DB (Chad Simonson) and a top-notch kicker (Billy Vinnedge) to enjoy another outstanding season. But this might be one of the last seasons you'll hear about Arroyo Grande in football for awhile. Brand new Nipomo High has just opened will soon start to siphon off top players.
27. Clovis 10-3
With Jordan Christensen now at Fresno State, the Cougars' no-huddle offense needs a new trigger man and they may have a good one in Tyler Clutts, who was more known last year as a linebacker. A strong corps of wideouts also should make the offense high-scoring, led by Aris Borjas. Clovis has two CIF Central Section titles and two runnerup finishes in the last six years.
28. Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach) 12-1
With three-time defending champ Hart moving from Div. III to Div. II in the CIF Southern Section this year, the Mustangs could be the ones to fill the gap in Div. III. They also are generally considered the preseason No. 1 team for the South Bay area of L.A. All-state underclass RB-LB Michael Okwo is the primary force behind Mira Costa, but other top honors candidates are returning as well, chief among them QB Peter Dobush and WR Nick Haley.
29. Redlands 11-1
It appears most coaches and followers of the CIFSS's rugged Citrus Belt League think the Terriers will repeat as champions. Top returning players include LB Ca'Shun Robinson, LB/TE Curtis Burgan and OL/DL Jake Thompson.
30. Carson 9-2
This club could have a lethal combination of big-time strength in the trenches and big-time speed on the corners. Inside, watch out for All-American Matt Malele (6-2, 300) and another honors candidate, Sete Aulai (6-2, 265). Outside, WR Greg Chatman, RB Brandon Myles and RB Kevin McCall can all bust it long with 4.4 to 4.5 speed.
31. Vallejo 10-2
The Apaches dropped their only regular season game from last year by just four points and should be one of the premier teams in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section as a ton of top players are back. QB DeMarcus Nelson already has committed to Duke for basketball, but the junior also has looked so good in football that he's been offered by at least one major college. Another athlete we love is FB/LB James Parker, who hit two homers in Vallejo's last baseball game from last spring and tested well at the Stanford Nike Camp. And talk about testing well, Bradis McGriff is a 6-6, 250-pound beast who already looks like one of the top junior linemen in the nation. Then there's DB Warner West, who had seven picks last year and returned two of them for TDs.
32. Centennial (Corona) 10-1
Terrell Jackson burst on the scene last season as a sophomore and finished with 1,300 yards and all-state underclass honors. The Huskies also will be led in 2002 by one of the state's top two senior college prospects, the super-quick and super-fast Ray Bass (WR) and super-tough Brent Martin (LB).
33. Esperanza (Anaheim) 4-5-1
The Aztecs figure to be a problem for both Los Alamitos and Edison in the CIFSS's Sunset League. Shaun Wildenstein rushed for nearly 1,600 yards last season as a junior and the offense also will feature the strong arm of QB Rick Taloa. Esperanza, of course, is more well known for its bevy of linemen. Headlining that group this year will be Gabe Long and Chris Boblit.
34. Salinas 10-2-1
The Cowboys were 1-9 just three years ago and have turned it around under new principal Joseph Pawlick (formerly athletic director at Westlake of Westlake Village) and new coach Mark Ironside. Most of last year's team is back, so some in Monterey County think this year's bunch may have what it takes to knock off Palma. Top players include RB Christian Taylor and QB-DB Andy Palacio.
35. Carlsbad 8-4
Coach Bob McAllister should have the Lancers in the hunt as one of the top five teams in the CIF San Diego Section. The defense may be even better than top five in San Diego, too. Honors candidates J.C. Cooper (LB), Brett Swain (DB) and Adam Tenney (DB) can all fly to the ball whether it's coming around the corner on a run or if it's in the air on a pass. Carlsbad lost in the playoffs last year by just one point to Vista.
36. Birmingham (Van Nuys) 10-1
The Patriots will give Taft all it can handle in the West Valley League of the L.A. City Section. Quarterback Ryan Lombardo is a transfer from Newbury Park who should help the offense put up a lot of points on the scoreboard. The defense will feature one of the state's best secondaries with UCLA-bound Dennis Keyes at safety and sticks-like-glue Chad Green at corner. We also like it that one of this team's non-league games will be against Hart and its opener vs. Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks will be a test, too.
37. Golden West (Visalia) 10-2
It might not be the best Trailblazers' squad ever this year, but it's probably the biggest and strongest. Stanford has already offered 6-8, 265-pound OL Chad Macklin. Robbie Blue (6-2, 275) and Mike McCarthy (6-3, 235) are two more linemen who will help make the earth shake. Even the linebackers are pretty big as Jeremy Engstrom (6-2, 230) should receive major college interest as well.
38. El Camino (Oceanside) 7-4
Herb Meyer, the state's all-time winningest football coach, starts the year with 329 all-time varsity wins since 1959. Meyer's squad in 2002 should be one of the best in the CIF San Diego Section. Key returnees include LB Eric Clark and DT Chris Mino.
39. James Logan (Union City) 10-2
Brothers Ryan and Brandon Ting have been standouts for the Colts for two seasons and should lead them to a strong 2002 as seniors. A game late in the regular season vs. San Leandro probably will determine who gets seeded second in the NCS Class 4A playoffs.
40. Westlake (Westlake Village) 10-3
Erik Vose started at quarterback for two seasons at Chaminade and will now be at the helm of a potentially prolific offense. The Warriors also have loads of talent at the other skill positions, especially RB with Kenneth Mackins and DB with Marcos Maddocks. OL Zach Verdin is another honors candidate to watch.
41. St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 6-5
This could be one of the best teams ever at Bosco with 18 returning starters and two prime-time honors candidates in RB-DB Derek Williams and WR-DB Joe Cowan. An early-season game vs. Los Alamitos will tell a lot. Braves also open in Florida on Sept 6 vs. Monsignor Pace of Miami.
42. Foothill (Pleasanton) 9-1-1
The East Bay Athletic League may be the best in Northern California this year with the Knights as well as No. 21 Monte Vista and No. 47 San Ramon Valley. Head coach Matt Sweeney always has a top-notch team and this year's group looks good based on the return of two very impressive sophomores from last year: RB-DB Brad Bergesen and WR-DB-K Joey Munn.
43. Dorsey (Los Angeles) 10-3
It's not going to be easy for the defending CIF L.A. City champs as the bulk of last year's starters have departed. The strength might be up front as a lot of big bodies are back. We really liked 6-2, 280-pound junior Erick Faatagi in last year's title game vs. Taft. Jerome Johnson also is a 6-2, 225-pound tight end who had a 57-yard reception in the same game.
44. Rancho Cucamonga 7-3
The Cougars are favored in the Baseline League of the CIFSS over the likes of Upland, Alta Loma and Diamond Bar. They've got excellent talent coming up from the sophomore level and two key seniors with lots of all-star potential are RB Josh Sayles and RB/DB Terrell Thomas.
45. Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 9-2
QB Shane Steichen ranks as one of the top QBs in Northern California and the Trojan offense will showcase additional firepower from the likes of RB James Keeler, WR Marcus Spain and jr. WR Austin Collie. Last year's team knocked off state-ranked Johnson of Sacramento in its last regular season game before losing a tough overtime thriller in the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. II playoffs to Granite Bay.
46. San Ramon Valley (Danville) 9-2-1
The Wolves offer yet another terrific pass-catch combo from the S.F. East Bay in QB Sam Keller to WR Brodie Stringer. Keller has some more good talent at his disposal, too. If SRV can get some defense, it will be right there with Monte Vista and Foothill in the East Bay Athletic League.
47. Bellarmine (San Jose) 7-4
Jarred Belser ranks as one of the top running backs for the S.F. Bay Area and will be joined by other promising players from last year's team as the Bells will take aim at defending champ Mitty in the tough West Catholic Athletic League.
48. Nevada Union (Grass Valley) 9-3
QB Jon Sheets came on strong at the end of last season and could lead the Miners to a top finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section. Another to watch is Phil Cosenza, a 265-pound TE who may be receiving major college interest projecting him to be a guard or center.
49. Paso Robles 7-4
We like the Bearcats because of their offensive line, with all-state candidate Travis Draper leading the charge. Their schedule also makes them a team to watch with a nonleaguer early against CCS power Palma.
50. Edison (Fresno) 10-1-1
Clifton Smith is probably the top two-way player in the Central Section and is highly coveted by major colleges as a cover corner. Lorenzo Sims is another versatile DB who can be dangerous with the ball in his hands on offense. Up front, a lot of eyes will be on 6-6, 330-pound junior Jason Rooters, who was one of the state's top shot putters last spring as a sophomore.
Later this week we will release our preseason state football rankings according to divisions. If there's a small school or medium school team you'd like to see in those lists or if you want to let us know about a team we didn't rank above, feel free to e-mail us at email@example.com.