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OCVarsity Midseason Report: Best team? Top players? Surprise teams?
This week is a good a time to take stock of the high school football scene in Orange County.
Most teams have played half of their 10 regular-season games, and have reached the start of league play.
We asked our reporters to give their analysis of what they have seen so far, and to make some predictions on what will happen in the coming weeks of the season.
We’re calling it the OCVarsity Midseason Report and we’ve broken it up into two parts.
Here is Part 1: Best teams, surprise teams, top players
What team do you expect to finish the season ranked No. 1 in the county?
Steve Fryer: Mater Dei. The Monarchs might lose to St. John Bosco and they might not win the championship of that crazy-deep Division 1. But they still look like they will be the best team in 2016 Orange County football.
Dan Albano: Mater Dei. The Monarchs are ranked No. 1 going into league play and should strengthen their case by dethroning St. John Bosco for the Trinity League title. Mission Viejo will defend its South Coast League crown and will be worthy of consideration for No. 1 as another 10-0 team and winners of 38 straight games going into the playoffs.
Kenny Connolly: Mater Dei. The Monarchs are playing on another stratosphere in every facet of the game. They’ve arguably got the best collection of receivers in the entire country, and with an offensive line providing JT Daniels ample time and space in the pocket, nobody has come remotely close to slowing this offense down. And let’s not forget, the defense has already pitched three shutouts.
Damian Calhoun: Mater Dei. The Monarchs have been so dominant this season that, I’ve given serious thought to vote them No. 1 and 2 in the county. The Monarchs roll into Trinity League play averaging 55.6 points a game and they allowed just 21 points all year. Can anybody stop the Monarchs? Can anybody contain them? No and no.
Andrew Turner: Mater Dei. Pundits said this Mater Dei team was special, perhaps beyond the Monarchs’ normally lofty standards. After their nonleague schedule, it’s plain to see why. The Monarchs have an embarrassment of riches in the passing game. That makes the job very easy for sophomore quarterback JT Daniels, who leads the county with 28 touchdown passes. Of those scores, 71.4 percent have been thrown to Amon-Ra St. Brown (10), Osiris St. Brown (5), and CJ Parks (5).
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Who are your leading candidates for O.C. offensive player of the year?
Steve Fryer: Mater Dei’s JT Daniels. It looks like the sophomore quarterback’s completion data and touchdown pass totals are going to approach Orange County records.
Dan Albano: Mater Dei’s JT Daniels is the frontrunner at the midpoint. The sophomore is calling plays, putting teammates in position to excel and delivered a monster first half with 28 TDs and only two interceptions.
Mater Dei junior wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is another contender to watch, especially if he breaks Rod Perry's single-season school-record for TD catches. He already has 11 TD catches.
Also keep an eye on CdM QB Chase Garbers. The senior, who is a Cal commit, has yet to be intercepted.
Kenny Connolly: Mater Dei’s JT Daniels. Here we are at the halfway point of the regular season – Week six – and the Monarchs stud sophomore has as many touchdowns passes (28) as incompletions (28). The offensive line and group of wideouts deserve plenty of credit, but at the moment, Daniels and his 80-percent completion rate is lapping the field.
Damian Calhoun: I don’t have any candidates. I have The Candidate. J.T. Daniels. The sophomore quarterback is about to rewrite the Mater Dei single-season record book and there are some decent names in that book (Leinart, Barkley, Blanton, etc). His numbers entering Trinity League play are video-game like, completing 80 percent of his passes, 1,925 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Good luck to all Trinity League defensive coordinators trying to slow down the Monarch Express.
Andrew Turner: Mater Dei’s JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Is a quarterback only as good as his receivers, or is a receiver only as good as his quarterback? It’s hard to go wrong with either philosophy when looking at Daniels and the Monarchs junior receiver.
Also worth considering are Mission Viejo’s Austin Osborne and Santa Margarita’s Grant Calcaterra.
Osborne, a wide receiver/kick returner, scored five touchdowns on six receptions for 222 yards last week against El Toro, a display of his speed and evasiveness.
Calcaterra, a senior receiver and Oklahoma commit, had 15 catches for 286 yards and three touchdowns against Loyola of Los Angeles. Can he recapture this magic as the Trinity League gets underway?
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Who are your leading candidates for O.C. defensive player of the year?
Steve Fryer: Mission Viejo’s Colin Schooler. Yes, he might be as valuable as a running back. But the senior is a great linebacker, too, and if he is the best player in Orange County, maybe he should get one of the O.C. player of the year awards.
Dan Albano: Mission Viejo’s Colin Schooler, La Habra’s Madison Wheeler, Mater Dei’s Andrew Faoliu and Villa Park’s John Stamos are the front-runners.
Schooler is a versatile player who is a narrow-second to teammate Christian LaValle in tackles. Wheeler, a safety, already has built a highlight film of some of the biggest hits of the season, though he has picked up penalties, too. Faoliu, a nose guard, doesn't rack up the stats as an interior lineman, but opponents certainly know the value of the recent Arizona commit. Stamos, a linebacker, already has 55 total tackles.
Kenny Connolly: Wide open race in my opinion. I’d give Colin Schooler (Mission Viejo) a slight edge over San Juan Hills’ Jason Glass at the moment. Schooler has played his best under the brightest of lights, namely, a televised game against Long Beach Poly where he racked up 10 tackles and provided the momentum-swinging pick-six in the third quarter that broke a halftime stalemate. Glass has been a force on the Stallions defensive line, totaling 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. It will be fun to see those two take the field against one another in week seven.
Damian Calhoun: I have two favorites. John Stamos (Villa Park). You can always trust that No. 44 will be around the ball. Colin Schooler (Mission Viejo). One of the county’s top two-way threats, Schooler will make you pay on defense. He’s up to 49 tackles. Also keep an eye on Orange Lutheran’s Brandon McKinney. Wait, I need to find someone from Mater Dei, right?
Andrew Turner: Mission Viejo’s Colin Schooler. His 49 tackles are second on the team. Schooler is tied for the team lead in turnovers created (two fumble recoveries, one interception) for the undefeated Diablos.
Also in the running are Servite’s Jarrett Wesner and Orange’s Noah Tiliaia-Faletoi.
Wesner, a senior, is a hard-hitting senior linebacker who leads the Friars in tackles with 49. Servite has two shutouts to its credit, and it narrowly missed upsetting De La Salle of Concord.
Tiliaia-Faletoi, a senior defensive end, is the foreman on a defense that has excelled at blowing up plays in the backfield. Tiliaia-Faletoi blocked a potential winning field goal in a 3-0 overtime win over Godinez in Week 5. He has 49 tackles and 7½ sacks through five games.
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What team (or teams) have surprised you the most?
Steve Fryer: San Juan Hills. The Stallions are 5-1 And to think that team was going to have a down year after all of last year’s outstanding seniors graduated.
Dan Albano: JSerra - hands down. The Lions and their unknown defense went 4-1 in a tough nonleague season to rise in the county rankings. JSerra features several emerging sophomores and claimed a signature victory against Inland Empire power Vista Murrieta.
Orange started 5-0 for the first time since 1925 but a competitive and deep Golden West League awaits.
El Modena also has surprised with its 4-1 nonleague season against a challenging schedule. Marina's 3-2 start could help them surprise a team in the Sunset League.
Kenny Connolly: JSerra continues to get the most out of its roster, evident by its nice 4-1 start. With prohibitive favorites St. John Bosco and Mater Dei awaiting in weeks nine and 10, though, the Lions have no room for error against Orange Lutheran, Servite and Santa Margarita these next three weeks.
Damian Calhoun: The Golden West League has three teams (Santa Ana, Orange and Segerstrom) that are 5-0 starting league play, including Orange. The last time Orange was 5-0, Steve Fryer was probably 3 years old. Another surprise to watch is Marina. The Vikings have had their struggles, but begin Sunset League play at 3-2. Marina hasn’t won a Sunset League game since 2008. I said 2008! They haven’t won more than three games in a long time. Come on, admit it, you’re rooting for Marina to have some Sunset League success this year.
Andrew Turner: Orange and Cypress. The Panters are 5-0 for the first time since 1925. They don’t have a go-to weapon on offense, but it hasn’t mattered. Orange is so big up front that it has been able to dominate teams on the line of scrimmage. The Panthers have posted three shutouts (against Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Godinez). They are allowing just six points per game as they head into a battle of unbeatens in their Golden West League opener against Santa Ana on Thursday. Their average margin of victory is 24.33 points per game.
Cypress (4-1), which was 2-8 season in 2015, is using 5-foot-6 Alex Ashcraft at quarterback. At that size, passing lanes are hard to come by. It would have been reasonable to expect the offense to struggle, but Cypress was undefeated and averaged 35.5 points per game prior to last week’s loss to Capistrano Valley.