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OCVarsity rankings: O.C.'s top 10 defensive backs
With the start of the high school season quickly approaching, OC Varsity 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. Keyon Riley, Servite, Sr.
Coach Scott Meyer said the secondary is one of the team’s strengths this season and you can see why with players like Riley (6-2, 190) on the field. Riley was recently offered by UCLA and holds offers from several schools. Riley will play both corner and safety. “He has the size, he’s physical and he can run,” Meyer said. “If you need him to be a physical safety or if we need him to go out and cover someone for us, he can do that.”
2. Ben Sukut, Capistrano Valley Christian, Sr.
Sukut (6-2, 190) has developed into one of the best athletes in the county and perhaps the state. He’s a four-year starter for the CVCS. “In the beginning, we knew he was special,” CVC coach Eric Preszler said. “He’s evolved into a guy that’s become a vocal leader.” Sukut’s awareness and high football IQ is one of his greatest attributes, Preszler said. He had 78 tackles, two forced fumbles and three interceptions last season. He recently committed to Arkansas State. He also had offers from San Diego State, BYU, Utah State, New Mexico, Navy, Wyoming and Nevada.
3. Tre Webb, Servite, Sr.
Webb (6-1 180) will be another key component to the Servite defense. Webb has received an offer from San Jose State. “He’s a good-sized corner with great cover skills and he goes to the ball well,” Servite coach Scott Meyer said. “He’s a real long and his size is a big attribute.” Webb’s quick feet and length will serve him well this season.
4. Malcolm Dixon, Sunny Hills, Sr.
Dixon (6-1, 180) also plays quarterback for the Lancers. He has offers from six Ivy League schools (all of them except for Harvard and Brown). “He’s taken that quarterback mentality to the defensive side of the ball and become the quarterback of the defense as well,” Coach Peter Karavedas said. “He’s an instinctive player and understands how things develop. He’s our biggest asset on defense.” Last year, Dixon had 32 tackles and three interceptions.
5. Schuyler Whitehead, Los Alamitos, Sr.
Whitehead (6-2, 198) is a physical presence and will see time all over the field. He’ll spend time at safety, linebacker and running back for the Griffins. Last season, he earned all-state honors from Cal-Hi Sports and is a rated as a 3-star recruit as a safety by Scout. Whitehead is being recruited for all three positions, including as a linebacker by Washington and as a safety by Washington State, Oregon State, Utah, Arizona, Utah State and Boise State.
6. Darien Cornay, Los Alamitos, Sr.
Cornay suffered a broken collarbone in Week 2 last season and missed the remainder of the season. He bounced back strong during the summer’s 7-on-7 circuit and appears poised for big things this year. Cornay (5-10, 185) has all the ingredients to be top corner - physical, speed, good instincts. He appears to be another in the long line of standout defensive backs out of Los Alamitos. He has interest from several schools.
7. Lance Vecchio, Villa Park, Sr.
Vecchio (6-2, 195) is a three-year starter for the Spartans. You can expect him to be extremely busy this year - on offense, in the return game and on defense. “He’s a versatile guy with a high football IQ,” Villa Park coach Dusan Ancich said. “He’s a huge presence in our secondary.” Vecchio recorded 34 tackles with three interceptions last season and is comfortable playing either in coverage or near the line of scrimmage. Vecchio earned second team All-County honors last season.
8. Brandon McKinney, Orange Lutheran, Jr.
McKinney (6-0, 180) started last year as a sophomore. Coach Chuck Petersen said “he (McKinney) controls things, and he’s going to be the glue for our guys back there (in the secondary).” McKinney has offers from Washington and Arizona State. “He’s a really smart football player, very athletic. … Nothing rattles him.”
9. Jalen Cole, Mater Dei, Jr.
Cole (5-10, 170) made a big impression last season. He had five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He is poised for an even bigger season in 2015. Cole has an offer from Colorado State.
10. Elijah Gates, Buena Park, Jr.
Gates (5-11, 174) is a transfer from Alemany of Mission Hills. He had 25 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks as a sophomore. Coach Anthony White calls him a “premier” player. Gates has all the ingredients to be a D1 corner. “He has incredible agility, breaking speed, ball skills and good instincts,” White said. “He also has that confidence.” He’s generated interest from several Pac-12 schools.
Others to watch: Malik Bilal, Garden Grove, Sr.; Josh Debernarde, Calvary Chapel, Sr.; Andrew Frohner, San Clemente, Sr.; Trace Hobbs, Canyon, Sr.; Curtis Jackson, Irvine, Sr.; Conor O’Brien, JSerra, Sr.; Brenden Schooler, Mission Viejo, Sr.; Zach Stroud, Capistrano Valley, Sr.; Khalil Watson, Villa Park, Sr.; Avery Williams, JSerra, Sr.
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