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Prep football's 2016 Top 10

12/22/2015, 3:00pm PST
By Don Norcross

St. Augustine opens at No. 1, followed by Helix, Madison, Rancho Bernardo and LCC

St. Augustine quarterback Rodney Thompson threw 24 touchdown passes for the Saints in 2015.

It’s never too soon to start thinking ahead. So with Rancho Bernardo and Mater Dei Catholic still looking for spots in the trophy case to hang their state championship plaques, we gaze toward the future. Here’s one man’s 2016 San Diego Section high school football Top 10, including 2015 won-loss records.

1. St. Augustine (10-3)

Two-way threat quarterback Rodney Thompson returns. Thompson arched 24 TD passes, ran for seven scores, accounted for nearly 2,300 yards from scrimmage but wasn’t even the best Thompson on the team.

That distinction goes to safety/wide receiver Tariq Thompson.

“Best football player I’ve ever coached, hands down,” says Saints head coach Richard Sanchez.

The question mark is who replaces Elijah Preston and his 7,196 career yards rushing. Darrell Broussard gets the call. Warning to opponents: Broussard is faster than Preston.

2. Helix (11-2)

The unknown for the Highlanders is who succeeds head coach Troy Starr. Know this: as usual, there will be no shortage of talent on University Avenue. The section Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Zeke Noa, returns, as does All-CIF safety Scott Young.

Valhalla transfer Carson Baker, currently a sophomore and a big talent, replaces Michael Austin at QB.

Nate Stinson, his I’m-gone speed and 35 TDs are bound for Northern Arizona. “He’s a once-in-a-20-year guy,” says Starr, adding, “It’s Helix. We find running backs.”

3. Madison (8-3)

With less than four minutes to play in the second quarter of the Open Division quarterfinals at Helix, Madison was tied with the Scotties 14-14. Helix erupted for a 35-14 halftime lead on its way to a 56-34 victory, but the Warhawks impressed everyone with their physical style.

Running back Erick Buchanan gained more than 1,000 yards rushing, averaged 10 yards per carry and will be the focal point of the offense. QB Terrell Carter tossed 22 TD passes against one interception. Brandon Lewis (10 TD catches) will give secondaries fits.

Sampson Niu is a physical force at inside linebacker.

4. Rancho Bernardo (13-2)

How’s this for dedication: the day after the Broncos captured the Division III-A State Football Championship Bowl, quarterback Mark Salazar worked out with personal QB coach Cree Morris.

Salazar, who accounted for 25 TDs, 21 through the air, returns. So does running back Milan Grice (1,872 yards rushing, 23 TDs on the ground).

With four of five offensive line starters back, scoring won’t be an issue for RB. When the Broncos do get stopped, head coach Tristan McCoy can call on kicker Matt Araiza, who booted a section record 18 field goals.

5. La Costa Canyon (7-4)

The offense will revolve around running back/slot back Zach Goodkin, who led the Mavs in rushing and receiving.

Quarterback Tanner Clark accounted for more than 1,800 yards in total offense. He’s a marvelous athlete who’ll also play wide receiver.

Starting linebackers Nick Demos, Taj Sherman and Nick Madgett return.

You’ve got to like a head coach who doesn’t soft sell his team. “Our skill guys are as good as anybody in the county,” says Sean Sovacool.

This is a team, remember, that beat Rancho Bernardo by two TDs.

6. Oceanside (9-5)

The transition is complete at One Pirates Cove. Dave Rodriguez replaced John Carroll. And while the Pirates slipped from the Open Division to Division I, that slippage included a section title.

“If a transition year means a CIF championship,” says Rodriguez, “we’re OK with that.”

Good luck denting the left side of Oceanside’s offensive line. Donovan Laie (6-4, 290), who’ll only be a junior, will line up again at left tackle. Next to him will be guard Mykal Burnal (6-2, 290).

Jake Gerardi punts, handles placements, plays tight end, wide receiver and defensive end, sells programs, directs the band and handles the PA.

7. Mater Dei Catholic (14-1)

Teams may climb only one division a year and after dominating Division IV this fall a Mater Dei romp through D-III would not be stunning.

Running back CJ Verdell will be the leading candidate for 2016 Offensive Player of the Year. He rushed for 2,135 yards, averaged 12.5 yards per carry, scored 34 touchdowns, plus intercepted two passes in the section title game against Bishop’s.

Quarterback Chris Jones (2,147 yards, 25 TDs, 1 interception) and receiver Eli Shelton (38-yard per-catch average) are impact players.

8. Cathedral Catholic (7-5)

The Open Division Dons being ranked behind Division IV parochial school brethren Mater Dei is probably enough to send head coach Sean Doyle into offseason three-a-day practices.

Sarcasm aside, from 2007 through ’13 the Dons won six section titles, and it’s not like the program with the county’s most beautiful campus has slipped.

Losses to Helix in the Open Division semis the past two years deserve no apology.

Quarterback Tate Haynes will be back, along with running back Adam Eastwood. The Dons will pound away on the ground, play physical defense and be a presence come 2016.

9. Mission Hills (11-1)

The Grizzlies lose starters at 20 of 22 positions. “We’re going to be just an average football team next year,” says head coach Chris Hauser.

To which Rancho Bernardo’s McCoy replies, “I don’t buy that. Nobody’s going to feel bad for him.”

Mission Hills has compiled 10 straight winning seasons and a combined 95-28-2 record in that decade. No one expects the Grizzlies to fall off the map.

It helps that one of the returning starters is Jack Tuttle, a 6-4, 192-pound quarterback who threw for more than 2,000 yards this season as a sophomore.

10. Bonita Vista (12-3)

Opposing South County coaches will not weep when running back Greg Bell accepts his diploma next spring. Bell rushed for 2,632 yards, scored 34 TDs and takes his talents to San Diego State.

The Barons, though, will not be talent barren. Quarterback Anthony Posada (2,269 yards passing) is back, as are four of five offensive linemen.

Josh Godfrey will do fine as Bell’s replacement. There are Grand Canyon gaps to fill on defense.

Others: Carlsbad, El Camino, Eastlake, Otay Ranch, Steele Canyon, Valley Center.

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