Among the top county's top defensive backs going into the 2016 season are, from upper left, Madison Wheeler (La Habra), Elijah Gates (Buena Park), Quentin Lake (Mater Dei), Jalen Cole (Mater Dei), Olaijah Griffin (Mission Viejo) and Brandon McKinney (Orange Lutheran).

OCVarsity Rankings: O.C.'s top 10 defensive backs


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 defensive backs going into the season:

1. Jalen Cole, Mater Dei, Sr.

It is going to be a challenge completing passes against the Mater Dei secondary this season. Cole emerged as Mater Dei’s top cover corner last year. He earned first-team All-County honors last season, recording 60 tackles, two interceptions with nine batted balls and 24 pass defenses.

2. Brandon McKinney, Orange Lutheran, Sr.

McKinney (6-0, 185) has committed to Washington. He earned first-team All-County honors last season. McKinney was a strong force at safety last year, recording more than 100 tackles while also seeing playing time on offense. “He’s a highly intelligent football player,” Lancers coach Chuck Petersen said. “He’s a very good tackler in space. He’s a good football player and he makes plays.”

3. Elijah Gates, Buena Park, Sr.

Gates is one of the better athletes in the county. He is drawing attention from scouts on both sides of the ball. Gates (5-11, 175) has offers from several big-time programs, including UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame. “He’s an aggressive, shutdown corner with incredible ball skills,” Buena Park coach Anthony White said. Gates earned second-team All-County honors last season. Gates is ranked in the Rivals Top 250.

4. Olaijah Griffin, Mission Viejo, Jr.

Griffin (6-0, 172) made a huge impact last year, earning second-team All-County honors and All-CIF and All-State recognition. Unfortunately for opponents, they’ll have to face Griffin for two more seasons. Griffin’s versatility is one of his strengths. “He’s very special and he’s worked hard in the weight room,” Diablos coach Bob Johnson said.

5. Madison Wheeler, La Habra, Sr.

Wheeler earned second-team All-County honors last season. Wheeler is described by Coach Frank Mazzotta as a “tough, physical hitter.” Wheeler earned first-team, all-Freeway League honors last season and figures to be one of the keys for the Highlanders this season.

6. Mario Moemoe, Garden Grove, Sr.

Moemoe recorded nine interceptions last season and was selected to the All-County third team. He is a threat to score when he gets the ball, as he return four interceptions for touchdowns in 2015. “He has good ball skills and he’s a very smart football player,” Garden Grove coach Ricardo Cepeda said. “He’s good at baiting the quarterbacks.”

7. Xavier Bell, Mater Dei, Sr.

Bell (6-2, 185) didn’t have a large role last year, playing in just four games, but he made a huge impact, intercepting three passes. He has committed to Arizona, and if he stays healthy he should be in for a breakout season.

8. Keith Taylor, Servite, Sr.

Servite has had several outstanding defensive backs in recent seasons, and Taylor (6-1, 175) is the next one in line. The senior has committed to Washington, and he is ranked in the Rivals Top 250 for the Class of 2017. He transferred from St. John Bosco last year. Taylor has the size and speed to cause opposing offenses serious problems.

9. Devon Cooley, Buena Park, Jr.

Cooley played in 13 games as a sophomore. The 6-2, 180-pound junior has already picked up offers from Colorado, UCLA and Colorado State. “He’s extremely tenacious and competitive,” Buena Park coach Anthony White said. “He’s one of the hardest-working kids in the program.”

10. Quentin Lake, Mater Dei, Sr.

While Jalen Cole controls one side of the field for the Monarchs, Lake controls the other half. Last year, Lake had seven interceptions, eight pass defenses and recorded 49 tackles. Lake, the son of former UCLA and NFL defensive back Carnell Lake, has offers from UCLA, USC and many others.


AJ Allen, Buena Park, Jr.; Chase Ault, Mater Dei, Sr.; Shaun Colaminco, Edison, Sr.; Cade Covarrubias, Mission Viejo, Sr.; Darian Fernandez, Santa Margarita, Sr.; EJ Ginnis, Edison, Sr.; Julius Irvin, Servite, Jr.; Roman Kafentzis, Mater Dei, Sr.; Dylan Laurent, Los Alamitos, Sr.; Malone Mataele, Santa Margarita, Jr.; Chris Mitchell, Mission Viejo, So.; Darius Outland, University, Sr.; Derek Soto, Tustin, Sr.; TJ Taufetee, Garden Grove, Jr.; Nick Warren, Edison, Sr.; Brandon Warren, Orange, Sr.; Bryce Wilson, San Clemente, Jr.

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