OCVarsity rankings: O.C.'s top 10 specialists
With the start of the high school season quickly approaching, the Register has put together its lists of the top 10 players in the county at each position.
These lists are based on the observations of the Register’s reporters, the input of football coaches around the county and the amount of interest shown by college scouts.
Here is a look at the top special teams players going into the season. (For this category, kickers, punters, long snappers and return specialists are grouped together.)
1. Sam Loy, Santa Margarita, Kicker/Punter, Sr.
Loy can do it all, making him a weapon in all three facets of the kicking game. He won the punting portion of the West Coast Kicking Academy Head-to-Head Competition, and he has impressed at national combines. Southern California kicking expert Brad Bohn calls the senior “the most refined punter in SoCal.” On field goals, he has range extending beyond 55 yards. Loy has scholarship offers from Army and Navy.
2. Jason Neiger, Corona del Mar, Kicker/Punter, Sr.
The senior is another valuable combo-kicker. He will take on the punting duties this year. “Jason excels at all three specialties,” said Bohn, who heads up the West Coast Kicking Academy and doubles as the Sea Kings special teams coach. “He is a very consistent placekicker with a big kickoff leg and can change field position with his punting ability.” He has drawn interest from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
3. Jerry Fitschen, Orange Lutheran, Kicker, Sr.
Fitschen is an all-around talent. He has the leg to set up his defense with long fields on punts and kickoffs. Lancers coach Chuck Petersen noted the senior has also excelled in onside-kick situations.
4. Elias Deeb, Mater Dei, Punter, Sr.
The senior is an excellent directional punter with college-level hang time. He was the top punter at the USC kicking camp and placed third at the West Coast Kicking Academy Head-to-Head Competition. The Monarchs hope their offense runs smoothly, but if it halts, Coach Bruce Rollinson says, “He can change field position in a minute.” Deeb is being recruited by the University of San Diego.
5. Grant Jaffe, Santa Margarita, Long snapper, Sr.
He is at the top of the list for the county’s long snappers. Long snapping guru Chris Rubio projects the Eagles senior as a potential Division 1 prospect. “He can send it back pretty fast,” Eagles coach Rick Curtis said. “He adds another dimension to our punt and field-goal teams. I’m sure he is one of the top 15 (long snappers) in the nation.”
6. Joel Velasquez, Trabuco Hills, Kicker, Sr.
Velasquez has a booming leg that can make the kick return a nonfactor in games. Mustangs coach Joe Silvey says Velasquez is a tremendous weapon, adding, “As someone who coaches defense, it’s nice to know that (an opponent’s) drives are going to consistently start at the 20.” He is highly sought after for his punting abilities. He has received preferred walk-on status from Oregon, while also receiving interest from Clemson, Stanford, San Diego State, Kent State and UC Davis.
7. Matthew O’Donoghue, Foothill, Long snapper, Sr.
The long snapper is a critical cog for a team that relies heavily on its special teams. The Knights played three one-possession games last year, winning all of them. Whether he is putting the ball on a tee for the holder or snapping the ball into the chest of the punter, O’Donoghue consistently finds the target.
8. Nick Shanks, St. Margaret’s, Returner, Sr.
Tartans coach Stephen Barbee referred to Shanks as an “X factor,” and that holds especially true in the return game. He will be on the receiving end of punts and kickoffs again this year. Shanks helped his team to a CIF-SS East Valley Division title last year with return averages of 40.5 yards on kickoffs (2 TDs) and 35.7 yards on punts (6 TDs). He is being recruited by multiple Ivy League schools.
9. Ethan Worden, JSerra, Kicker, Kicker, Sr.
This will be Worden’s third year as the Lions’ kicker. He is a high-percentage kicker with experience in big games. He produced touchbacks on 37 of his 65 kickoff attempts (56.9 percent) last year.
10. Chase McGrath, Mater Dei, Kicker, Jr.
The junior will add the place-kicking duties to his list of responsibilities after handling the kickoffs last season. Kicking instructor Chris Sailer has pinned McGrath as the county’s top prospect in the junior ranks. Bohn agrees, referring to McGrath as “one to watch for the next two seasons.” With his range beyond 50 yards, Mater Dei shouldn’t hesitate to call on him this season.
Others to Watch: Chase Berman (K/P), San Clemente, So.; Elijah Bynum (Returner), Buena Park, Sr.; Grant Crum (LS), Mater Dei, Sr.; Josh Davey (K), Mission Viejo, Sr.; Clay Eggeman (K), Capistrano Valley, Jr.; Ben Filipek (K), Fountain Valley, Sr.; Michael Lemus (K), El Toro, Sr.; Hayden McGinnis (K/P), Tesoro, Sr.; Alex Michaelsen (LS), Newport Harbor, Jr.; Evan Mickelson (K), Foothill, Sr.; Jack Montgomery (K/P), San Juan Hills, Jr.; Kyle Petrucci (LS), Corona del Mar, So.; Andrew Tomlinson (LS), Mission Viejo, Sr.