Central California is home to the San Joaquin Valley witch stretches from just south of Bakersfield to Stockton in the north. Despite being a mostly rural area, six metro areas of the Valley have populations over 200,000: Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Fresno, Visalia, and Bakersfield. Each has its share of top high school programs and preps providing Central Cali with some of the best high school athletics in the state.
The majority of the Valley competes in the Central Section, but the northern part of the Valley competes in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Fresno Edison is known as the nation's DB factory. Legendary DB Coach Tony Perry sent numerous players on to the next level including Ricky Manning, Clifton Smith, and most recently 2008 No. 1 CB in the West, Robert Golden. Perry has moved on to the College of the Sequoias, but his legacy lives on this year.
CB Cliff Harris and S T.J. McDonald headline the Tiger secondary. Harris and McDonald are ranked the No. 1 and No. 4 players nationally at their position by Scout.com. But neither is the most talented player on the Edison squad. That honor belongs to Rolando Jefferson. However, Jefferson has some academic issues to fulfill before he signs any letter of intent next February.
Fresno Clovis West is considered one of the top programs in Central California. The Eagles usually contend for Central Section titles honors with or without DI FBS prospects. However, this year they have three of best at their positions in California, SLB Travis Brown, S Nathan Feller, and QB Jeff Tuel.
About 40 miles south of Fresno is Visalia, which has produced some top players in the past, notably former All-American OL Don Mosebar. This year, the top OG in California plays his prep ball at Visalia El Diamante and one of the best athletes is at Visalia Mt. Whitney. El Diamante OL Greg Capella recently committed to UCLA, and Mt. Whitney RB Ben Bowen ran the fastest forty at the UnderArmour/Scout.com L.A. Combine.
Merced (Calif.) is 50 miles north of Fresno. For years, it has been a Sac-Joaquin Section power. This year the Bears have three of the top players in the state, CB Bernard Bolden, TE Kenny Cooper, and DE Nathan Mayfield. About another 40 miles further north lies Modesto, home to last year's DIII state runner-up, Central Catholic. This year the Raiders have of the best receivers in the state, James Orth.
Stockton is actually closer to Sacramento and the Bay Area than it is to Fresno. Nonetheless, it is part of the Valley. Stockton St. Mary's has a one of the top quarterbacks in the state, Cody Vaz. Stockton Chavez is a relatively new program, but standout RB Demareya Nelson could put them on the map this season.
DI powerhouse Bakersfield High is the most historic program in the area. Last year, the Drillers won their state-record 34th section title. However, the top player in the area will be playing his ball at DV Bakersfield Christian. Fresno State commit Derek Carr transferred to BCHS this year after starring at Sugar Land (TX) Clements High School. He is the younger brother of NFL No. 1 pick David Carr.
Here are the top players in the region:
THE BAKERS DOZEN
1. Fresno (Calif.) Edison CB Cliff Harris (6-0, 170) – "Woo" is Scout.com's No. 1 rated corner in the nation. He is deserving of his ranking, and what is scary he may be a better receiver/return man. There has not been one camp Harris has not stood out as the best at this position, and at times, the best player overall. Harris is far from making his college choice. He has offers from USC, Oregon, and Colorado among others.
Why he should be ranked lower: He has yet to take the SAT, but really there is no other reason to rank "Woo" lower. He is the best cover corner in the nation, and he will make an instant impact on any college campus.
2. Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West LB Travis Brown (6-2, 235) – There is not a more polished linebacker in Central California, and possibly the nation than Brown. He can dominate a game with his run-stuffing abilities, and plays sideline to sideline with reckless abandonment. With offers from Fresno State, Colorado, Washington State, and Arizona among other, Brown is still waiting on USC, California, and Oregon before making his college decision.
Why he should be ranked higher: While Harris may need to add a few more pounds to handle the college game, Brown is physically ready to start for over half DI teams right now.
Why he should be ranked lower: While Brown is very physical, his speed and athleticism are sometimes questioned.
3. Fresno (Calif.) Edison S T.J. McDonald (6-3, 195) – We have yet to see a high school player more physically impressive than McDonald is. Pound-for-pound no one hits harder in California. He is tremendous in run support and is scary coming off the edge in blitz packages. He is committed to USC, following his father's footsteps.
Why he should be ranked higher: He is surprisingly versatile. He could be among the best in the nation as an OLB, TE, or WR.
Why he should be ranked lower: His cover skills are still a question mark. He erased a lot of doubt at UA/Scout.com L.A. Combine, but his stock will really soar if shuts down Merced's (Calif.) talented receivers and backs in early September.
4. Fresno (Calif.) Edison WR Rolando Jefferson (6-3, 200) – "Bubba" is best offensive player we have seen in Central California in a long time. His combination of speed, power, and agility is unheard of at this level. It is a shame he did not attend any of the top camps this spring to show off his talent. However, teammates Harris and McDonald rave about Jefferson being the best receiver they have ever faced. "Bubba" has offers from Miami, Oregon, and Fresno State among others. He is also likes USC, but his academics are an issue.
Why he should be ranked higher: Easily he is the best athlete in California. Nobody we have seen matches his talent.
Why he should be ranked lower: He should not. The only reason he is not ranked No. 1 is the huge question mark concerning his eligibility.
5. Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West RB/S Nathan Fellner (6-0, 200) – He is sleeper in Central California. Fellner backed up 2,000-yard rusher Matt Jelmini last season, and only played when Jelmini was injured. As well, he only played two full games on defense. He made the most of his limited time on the field, and backed up his play with solid showings in the spring and summer camps. Projected as a safety in college, he has an offer as a RB from Stanford. Washington and San Diego State are his other offers as a S.
Why he should be ranked higher: He should not. The top four are a cut above the rest, and that is not a knock against Fellner's talent.
Why he should be ranked lower: He has yet to start an entire season at the varsity level.
6. Merced (Calif.) DE Nathan Mayfield (6-4, 215) – He can be a special player in the right defense. He is a little undersized but has the framed to support 250 lbs and not lose his speed and quickness. His low weight is mostly due to participating in track. He will not have that issue in college once he gets on a proper weight gain program. Mayfield has an excellent motor, and can play OLB. He has seven BCS offers including Oregon, Cal, Colorado, Nebraska, and Arizona State. He is in no hurry to make a decision.
Why he should be ranked higher: Few ends are as dominating let alone possess his speed and quickness.
Why he should be ranked lower: He can be reckless and uncontrollable at times. Moreover, his grades are an issue.
7. Visalia (Calif.) El Diamante OL Greg Capella (6-4, 325) – There is not a better OL prospect in Central California. He is just 16-years-old and wears a size-19 shoe. He could be 6-5 or 6-6 and weighing close to 350 before his 18th birthday. Capella recently committed to UCLA.
Why he should be ranked higher: He really should not; he is ranked this high based on potential.
Why he should be ranked lower: He is still relatively new to the game, and his footwork is still questionable. He did not really emerge as a legit DI prospect until late in his junior season.
8. Merced (Calif.) WR/CB Bernard Bolden (5-9, 175) – He is the Bears' playmaker on offense and defense. He lined up at CB, S, RB, WR and KR last year. He is projected to play CB at the next level, but he can be equally as effective at receiver or running back. Bolden does so many things well, but not one particular thing great. He has a boatload of offers including Cal, Colorado, Arizona State, and Nebraska.
Why he should be ranked higher: No one plays so many positions as well as he does.
Why he should be ranked lower: He should not; he is ranked this low mainly because there are questions regarding his grades.
9. Bakersfield (Calif.) Christian QB Derek Carr (6-3, 190) – He started two years at the highest level of competition in Texas at one of the top programs in the Houston area. He has all the tools to be successful college quarterback. The Fresno State commit cannot shake the comparisons to his older brother David, but at this stage of their careers, Derek has better footwork and mobility.
Why he should be ranked higher: He has two years proven starting experience, and still has not reached his potential.
Why he should be ranked lower: His numbers are not spectacular compared to some of the top QBs in California.
10. Visalia (Calif.) Mt. Whitney RB Ben Bowen (5-10, 200) – He is arguably the fastest player in Central California, not to mention the strongest. He ran a 4.43 at the UA/Scout.com L.A. Combine, and benches 425. Moreover, he should shatter those marks by next spring. He is extremely versatile and athletic. Projected as a safety by some, he holds an offer from Portland State as a RB.
Why he should be ranked higher: No one ran a faster forty at a UA/Scout.com Combine in California.
Why he should be ranked lower: He did not come on until late last year, and a DI school has yet to offer.
11. Modesto (Calif.) Central Catholic WR James Orth (6-3, 195) – He did not get to show his strengths in the Raiders' run-orientated offense last season. However, he had a MVP-type showing at the UA/Scout.com Oakland Combine. With a new head coach and offense, he is poised for a breakout statistical season. He has great size and speed, and he could easily play safety or linebacker in college. San Jose State was first to offer him after starring at their one-day camp last month.
Why he should be ranked higher: He had a great spring, and he has size, speed, and intangibles that cannot be coached.
Why he should be ranked lower: His numbers do not standout compared to other top receivers.
12. Fresno (Calif.) McLane S Marte Sears (6-3.5, 185) – He is the quintessential ball-hawking safety. Impressive size with long arms make Sears an intriguing prospect. His frame can support another 30-40 lbs. He can play QB or WR but some colleges may look at him as WLB of his size. Regardless, safety is his best position. He has a verbal offer from Arizona State, and most of the Pac-10 schools are recruiting him along with Fresno State and Colorado State.
Why he should be ranked higher: Few have his size and instincts let alone his ability.
Why he should be ranked lower: His speed is questionable.
13. Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West QB Jeff Tuel (6-3, 190) – He can become the biggest sleeper in the 2009 class. He spent that last season playing behind Cal-bound Beau Sweeney. However, he possesses a stronger arm and surprising mobility. He runs a 4.6 forty and 4.1 shuttle. Despite little game film, he picked up his first offer from Washington State last week.
Why he should be ranked higher: On paper and testing alone, few QBs in the nation match his numbers.
Why he should be ranked lower: He still has to prove himself on the field.
THE NEXT DOZEN
14. Bakersfield (Calif.) Christian WR Jake Peterson (6-3.5, 190) – He played quarterback last year but makes the move to his natural position of receiver. He runs excellent routes and has great hands. Nebraska, Michigan State, and Fresno State among others are recruiting him.
15. Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's QB Cody Vaz (6-1, 200) – The Oregon State commit produced five-star stats last season, but has two-star size. Nonetheless, he should top his yardage from a year ago.
16. Merced (Calif.) TE Kenny Cooper (6-5, 245) – He did not put up spectacular numbers last season but has all the tools to be top notch TE in college. Cooper has offers from multiple BCS schools including Arizona State, Nebraska, and Washington State.
17. Corcoran (Calif.) RB/LB Brant Botill (5-10, 195) – Playing DV ball does not help his cause, but his numbers are hard to ignore as was his spring. Botill is still awaiting his first offer, but Fresno State, BYU, and Utah State among others are showing heavy interest.
18. Fresno (Calif.) Edison DE/TE Nat Harrison (6-3, 226) – Great athlete can play multiple positions. He had a subpar second half of junior season, but rebounded with a decent spring. Utah offered him as a sophomore.
19. Stockton (Calif.) Chavez RB Demareya Nelson (6-1, 200) – Big-time size and strength make Nelson the most complete back in Central Cali.
20. Fresno (Calif.) Edison WR Rashaun Schaffer (6-4, 180) – When he is on, not even the top CB in the nation can cover him. However, Schaefer plays 50/50, half the time he does not exert his full potential. Utah offered him as a sophomore.
21. Bakersfield (Calif.) West OT David Born (6-8, 320) – He was a promising prospect that fell off the radar after attending UCLA's junior day. Born missed every major camp he was invited to and his stock suffered.
22. Fresno (Calif.) Central RB Brian Easter (5-10, 180) – He just might be the fastest player in California no one knows about. His 3.94 shuttle on a wet, grassy field in April at the Clovis West combine is just a sliver of what he can do.
23. Tulare (Calif.) RB Jontell Reedom (5-10, 190) – He could benefit most from another all-state 2,700-yard rushing output. Texas is the only school recruiting him, but other schools could jump aboard once his academics are in order.
24. Hanford (Calif.) TE D.J. Maciel (6-4. 225) – He was the top TE at the UA/Scout.com Oakland Combine. Maciel plays inside receiver, but is projected as a TE, DE or OLB in college.
25. Visalia (Calif.) El Diamante RB Stefphon Jefferson (5-11, 195) – He backed up an all-state performer last year, but he still managed over 600 yards rushing. Jefferson could be the best all-round back in Central California this season.
THE NEXT 15
26. Fresno (Calif.) Edison RB Marquise Cooper (5-9, 180) – Quick, versatile back has the power to run over most defenders. Excellent MLB, but his size says RB unless pro baseball snatches up the talented center fielder.
27. Hanford (Calif.) WR Cougar Williams (5-9, 160) – Lighting fast playmaker is poised to have a banner senior season.
28. Bakersfield (Calif.) West OL/DL Jeremy Bethell (6-5, 321) – He is another "huge" sleeper. Bethell played DT last season, but is making the switch to RT this season, where he should prosper.
29. Bakersfield (Calif.) Liberty K Colton Schmidt (5-10, 160) – He is arguably the best place kicking prospect in America.
30. Modesto (Calif.) DL William McGill (6-2, 260) – He has great frame to add weight, and he plays with a great motor.
31. Bakersfield (Calif.) Christian DE Ryan Boschma (6-5, 215) – He is flying under the radar playing for the DV school; he did not attend any major camps this spring.
32. Bakersfield (Calif.) DE Tevin Jackson (6-2, 240) – He will be the Driller's leader on defense.
33. Los Banos (Calif.) OL Damon Bragner (6-4, 285) – He is the top OL in the North Valley.
34. Clovis (Calif.) East C Josh Hanlin (6-4, 260) – He could arguably become the top OC in California before the year is over.
35. Sanger (Calif.) DE Nikko Motto (6-3, 265) – The sleeper has an early offer from Arizona State. He can play both sides of the line.
36. Clovis (Calif.) TE Brent Bettencourt (6-4, 225) – He impressed us at the Fresno State camp. He has the size to be a top TE in the college game.
37. Fresno (Calif.) Memorial DE Sullivan Grosz (6-4, 240) – Busy spring and summer should pay off for the talented defender.
38. Bakersfield (Calif.) Highland LB Pat Su'a (6-2, 220) – Little known talent has the size to play DI football.
39. Tollhouse (Calif.) Sierra OL Dustin Hodge (6-6, 240) – He has a great frame, and he is very athletic for his height. Playing TE in college could be possibility.
40. Fresno (Calif.) Bullard WR Evan Caldwell (6-0, 160) – The speedster will be the Knights' top offensive weapon in 2008.
Five more to watch:
41. Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West WR/DB Josh Wicks (6-0, 180) – He played in only three games last season. He has deceptive speed, projected as a DB at the next level.
42. Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West LB Anthony Elliott (5-11, 210) – His size is the only thing keeping him away from major offers. There is no better MLB in Central California.
43. Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's DE Josh Banks (6-2, 220) – Sleeper should emerge as a top prospect in 2008.
44. Visalia (Calif.) El Diamante DE Nate Ware (6-2, 200) – Off-season injury kept him off the radar in the spring.
45. Clovis (Calif.) Buchanan OL Lars Bramer (6-4, 245) – Extremely young and raw, but he has great size and decent athleticism.