On your mark. ... Get set. ... The high school football season in California is about to get up and ‘go.”
Besides a game in Hawaii last week, the Golden State will kick off games in five of the 10 sections, starting Thursday.
Fourth-ranked Mission Viejo opened Friday with a 34-21 win at Mililani thanks to 193 yards passing and two touchdowns from Kadin Semonza.
The state always features top-end talent and teams — the top three are prominent in the SBLive/Sports Illustrated Power 25 national rankings — and features a wide balance of schools (13 private, 12 public) up-and-down the 760-mile-long state.
Here is SBLive’s Top 25 squads, their records, head coaches, histories, season openers, in-depth season previews and a thumbnail look at why they are ranked as the elites in one of the nation’s hotbeds.
1. St. John Bosco-Bellflower (10-2 in 2021)
Head coach: Jason Negro
Last five seasons: 52-8
Season opener: Aug. 26 at Allen, Texas
The Braves, ranked No. 1 nationally in the SBLive/Sports Illustrated Power 25, were already considered the deepest team in America before Louisville commits DeAndra Moore (WR) and Aaron Williams (CB) enrolled. Negro’s squad, which won state Open titles in 2014, 2016 and 2019, feature 4- and 5-star recruits, including edge rusher Matayo Uiagelelei and yet another Louisville commit, quarterback Pierce Clarkson.
2. Mater Dei-Santa Ana (12-0)
Head coach: Bruce Rollinson
Last five seasons: 58-2
Season opener: Friday vs. West-Salt Lake City, Utah
It’s hard to imagine the Monarchs anywhere but the top spot considering they haven’t lost a game since 2019 and not more than one game since 2015 with three mythical national crowns. They also feature one of the nation’s top junior quarterbacks in Elijah Brown and arguable the best offensive line in America, led by DeAndre Carter and Brandon Baker. But Bosco appears slightly deeper, especially on defense. The Monarchs respectfully disagree.
3. Centennial-Corona (11-1)
Head coach: Matt Logan
Last five seasons: 46-8
Season opener: Friday vs. Santiago
The Huskies have stood toe-to-toe with Trinity League private powers for decades under Logan, who has piled up a 264-55 record in 25 seasons. This year’s squad boasts 10 returning starters, led by 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior quarterback Izzy Carter, an Arizona State commit. He’ll split time with another future Division I quarterback Carson Conklin. Centennial gave Mater Dei arguably its toughest tussle of 2021, losing 21-16, and will have the opportunity to turn the tables on Sept. 2. A massive offensive line, a deep set of skill players, two DI quarterbacks and a talented brigade of linebackers should give the Huskies a good shot. A pair of top junior transfers from Mater Dei in Seth Zamora (WR) and Marco Coleman (DB) should help.
4. Mission Viejo (9-2)
Head coach: Chad Johnson
Last five seasons: 42-11
Next game: Aug. 26 vs. Servite
With a whopping 17 returning starters off last year’s superb squad, Johnson is more than optimistic. He should be with a Semonza (6-1, 190), a Ball State commit, to go along with a trio of top receivers in Mikey Matthews (66 catches last season, 843 yards), Jackson Holman (46, 699) and KJ Reed (33, 549), all with either Division I commitments or offers. Four offensive linemen are between 270 and 285 pounds, none shorter than 6-3. Johnson called this the best group he’s ever coached.
5. Santa Margarita-Rancho Santa Margarita (6-5)
Head coach: Anthony Rouzier
Last five seasons: 22-32
Season opener: Friday at San Juan Hills
The record recently won’t scare anyone, but with eight All-Trinity League players returning, including quarterback Jaxton Potter, there’s a lot to like about the Eagles. A UAB commit, Potter threw for almost 2,900 yards and 23 touchdowns and ran for four more last season. His favorite target should be versatile Colorado State commit Niko Lopez (65 catches, 693 yards, eight TDs) who can play out wide or even tight end. Other big contributors should be junior Emmett Mosley, a four-star athlete and Servite transfer, and Michigan-bound defensive end Collins Acheampong.
6. Los Alamitos (9-2)
Head coach: Ray Fenton
Last five seasons: 35-15-1
Season opener: Friday at Garces Memorial-Bakersfield
The Griffins return 11 from last year’s squad including USC-bound Malachi Nelson, the nation’s No. 4 ranked quarterback according to Sports Illustrated. Nelson completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,690 yards and 39 touchdowns a year ago. He’ll be throwing to his future teammate at USC in Makai Lemon (65 catches, 1062 yards, 15 touchdowns) who also doubles as a terrific cornerback (four interceptions). Los Alamitos played Bosco tough in a first-round Southern Section defeat before losing 63-38.
7. Serra-San Mateo (11-2)
Head coach: Patrick Walsh
Last five seasons: 49-11
Season opener: Aug. 26 at Folsom
The Northern California Open Division representative has been to four state bowl games since 2016 and with a very deep skilled squad, the Padres should make their fifth title game. They feature a very talented quarterback in Maealiuaki Smith (6-4, 200), who has eight college offers and leads a deep junior class. The running back and receiver brigade go at least six deep, but the Padres will need to progress steadily on its big but inexperienced offensive line.
8. Folsom (11-4)
Head coach: Paul Doherty
Last five seasons: 57-7
Season opener: Friday vs. Monterey Trail-Elk Grove
Led by one of the most recruited players in the state, Notre Dame commit Rico Flores, the Bulldogs hope to build off their monumental 28-27 Northern California Division 1-AA championship win over De La Salle to advance to the state finals. Folsom has proven one of the state’s elite with three state titles, but its win over the Spartans, a first by a Sac-Joaquin Section squad since 1978, pushes them to another level. Flores, a wide receiver and defensive back, has more than 30 college offers. He had 81 catches for more than 1,100 yards to go along with 1,552 all-purpose yards. He’s considered even better on defense.
9. De La Salle-Concord (9-3)
Head coach: Justin Alumbaugh
Last five seasons: 51-8
Season opener: Aug. 26 at Monterey Trail-Elk Grove
The Spartans love it that Northern California teams Serra and Folsom are ranked ahead of them. Before last season, they hadn’t lost to a Northern California team since 1991, a crazy span of 318 games. Now two are ranked ahead of them. The team has gone back to the future and carries an old-school edge led by five players with Division I commitments, linemen Derek Thompson (Harvard) and Cooper Powers (TCU), tight end Cooper Flanagan (Notre Dame), running back Charles Greer (Fresno State) and defensive back Journey McKoy (Nevada).
10. Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth (7-5)
Head coach: Jon Ellinghouse
Last five seasons: 46-15
Season opener: Friday at JSerra Catholic
With 14 starters returning, Ellinghouse thinks his squad has “great potential,” and is “very balanced,” led by the man in the middle of the offense, three-year starting center Aidan Bretthauer (6-2, 300) and junior tackle Eugene Brooks (6-3, 360), who already has 14 scholarship offers. The line also features 6-9, 310-pound sophomore Ashdon Wnetrzak and senior guard Lance Lysholm (6-4, 300). They should help athletes like 5-9, 160-pound junior tailback Terrell Cooks Jr. (offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Florida State, Georgia and Michigan) and a deep core of excellent receivers. Junior Damon Wrighster and sophomore Alonzo Esparza are fighting for the starting QB spot.
11. Serra-Gardena (11-4)
Head coach: Scott Altenberg
Last five seasons: 32-22
Season opener: Friday at Orange Lutheran
The defending state 1-A champions return 15 starters, including one of the most sought-after senior athletes in the country in Rodrick Pleasant, who set a California record in the 100 meters with a time of 10.14 seconds in the spring. He was injured much of last season but should be fit to live up to his No. 8 national cornerback ranking. He’s flanked by another 4-star recruit in cornerback Dakoda Fields along with speedy-physical linebacker Tanu Sosa (138 tackles, six sacks) in 2021. Junior running back Cincere Rhaney (1,054 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) is the team’s top returning offensive threat. Jason Mitchell, another junior, is the likely replacement for graduated quarterback Maalik Murphy, now at Texas.
12. Orange Lutheran (10-5)
Head coach: Rod Sherman
Last five seasons: 27-27
Season opener: Friday vs. Serra-Gardena
Sherman, a former high school coach in Colorado, got the Lancers to the CIF 1-AA Southern California regional final in his first year, before losing 71-62 to Cathedral Catholic. That’s no missprint. Orange Lutheran scored 62 points in a regional final and lost, by nine. The Lancers return 11 starters including the Trinity League’s leading tackler, in 5-10, 220-pound linebacker Gabe Morin. “He’s the best leader I’ve ever coached,” Sherman said. Three are fighting it out for the starting quarterback spot, including freshman Alex Medyn.
13. Pittsburg (9-3)
Head coach: Vic Galli
Last five seasons: 41-14
Season opener: Aug. 26 vs. Bethel
With one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Jaden Rashada and five wide receivers who have secured Division I offers, the Pirates if nothing else should be one of the most entertaining teams in the state. Rashada, a fluid 6-5, 190-pound senior headed to Miami, reminds some of Randall Cunningham. He’s ranked the No. 4 senior QB in the country by Sports Illustrated. His top target is Washington-bound Rashid Williams, a fourth-year player. Promising sophomore Elijah Bow (5-9, 190) hopes to replace first-team All-BVAL RB Charles Brown, who transferred to rival Antioch. The offensive line, without a starter returner, is the big question mark.
14. Norco (8-3)
Head coach: Chuck Chastain
Last five seasons: 37-14
Season opener: Aug. 26 at Santa Margarita
With 13 starters back from last season and players coming off an 8-2 JV team, the Cougars should have another strong year. They are led by 3-star UCLA receiver commit Grant Gray, who is also a baseball standout. Tyler Dudden will be a first-year starting quarterback, although he already secured a scholarship offer to Georgia Southern. Promising Kalani Kaleiwahea returns at running back but Asaiah Ayers, a sophomore transfer from St. John Bosco, might challenge for carries.
15. Bishop Amat-La Puente (8-4)
Head coach: Steve Hagerty
Last five seasons: 31-19
Season opener: Thursday vs. Valencia
Steve Hagerty starts his 15th season for the Lancers and admits he likes his team. “We’re going to be tough to beat.” Amat has 15 starters back, including one of the region’s best in 5-11, 165-pound senior receiver Delano Franklin, who has 19 offers including Florida State, Arizona State and Arizona. “He’s turning a lot of heads,” Hagerty said. Senior running back Aiden Ramos (5-11, 210) is another big offensive threat after accounting for more than 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns.
16. Long Beach Poly (11-4)
Head coach: Stephen Barbee
Last five seasons: 40-14
Season opener: Thursday at Clovis
There’s no shortage of talent or experience for the Jackrabbits, who have sent more than 60 players to the NFL. Senior cornerback Daylen Austin (6-1, 180) might be the next off of this year’s squad. He is an LSU commit. He’s also a fantastic kick returner. “He’s just one of those guys who has the ability to go the distance every single time he touches the ball,” Barbee said. Senior offensive lineman Tyson Ruffins (6-3, 305) is another player with great potential. He has 24 offers. In all, Poly returns 14 starters — seven on each side of the ball — from last year’s team that lost 21-17 to Serra-Gardena in the regional 1-A bowl game.
17. JSerra Catholic-San Juan Capistrano (3-8)
Head coach: Scott McKnight
Last five seasons: 25-25
Season opener: Friday vs. Sierra Canyon
With so much to be excited about — the Lions return 19 starters — McKnight might be most thrilled about his junior quarterback Zander Singh (5-10, 180), who threw for five touchdowns in a playoff loss to Sierra Canyon last season. He’ll have a very talented line protecting him led by David Tuliau (6-1, 265), Kainoa Davis (6-4, 280) and probably the team’s top prospect in 6-6, 260-pound sophomore Jake Flores, who already has offers from Florida State, Ole Miss, Oregon and Louisville.
18. Carlsbad (11-1)
Head coach: Thadd MacNeal
Last five seasons: 38-13
Season opener: Aug. 26 at Mater Dei Catholic
Success often breeds success and the Lancers might be a good example yet. According to MacNeal, the junior class of players are 16-0 which should help with their confidence. The team overall is confident considering they return one of the section’s top quarterbacks in 6-1, 185-pound junior Julian Sayin, who last year completed 181 of 253 for 2,769 yards and 34 touchdowns. He already has offers from Georgia, Michigan, LSU, Auburn and Texas. With eight new starters on offense, it might take a while for the Lancers to jell.
19. Simi Valley (10-1)
Head coach: Jim Benkert
Last five seasons: 39-17
Season opener: Aug. 19 vs. Ventura
A long list of talented players graduated including quarterback Travis Throckmorton (now at Oregon State) and wide receiver Cooper Wallace (Arizona State), but Benkert, who has coached 34 seasons with success also at Westlake and Oaks Christian, likes his team’s depth, work ethic and leadership. It’s nice also to have a running back like 5-11, 195-pound senior Caleb Alvary, who rushed for 1,302 yards and 17 TDs last season. “His speed, balance and athletic ability are second to none,” Benkert said. He’s one of eight returning starters on the team.