The Bee continues its countdown to the first Friday night of the football season – Aug. 25 – with another roll-out of the top returning players in the Stanislaus District.
Last week, we introduced Nos. 50-41.
This week, we inch closer to the top-10 with Nos. 40-31. On this list you’ll find running backs primed for breakout seasons, a mighty mite at middle linebacker, and a prospect at tight end.
There’s also a defensive back that has changed addresses and two Warriors on the West Side chasing history. In all, there are 10 players from eight different schools represented on this week’s list.
One important note: We reserve the right to be wrong, but please understand we’ve done the leg work. The list is a collaborative effort. We scoured old rosters, all-league lists and articles, as well as watched 7-on-7s closely this summer. We also polled local coaches and journalists in search of the 50 best returners.
Feel free to contact me with your input and opinions, whether by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter (@jburns1980), but please don’t disparage any of the athletes in the top-50. That just isn’t cool. Remember, this is meant to be fun and informative, and I look forward to any new information you might have.
So, without further ado, here are this week’s top returning players, Nos. 40-31:
40. Lance Bickle, tight end, Pitman: At 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 225 pounds, Bickle was named to the all-Central California Conference second team last fall as the Pride ascended to No. 1 in The Bee’s large-school ranking.
39. Michael Winters, running back/defensive back, Ripon: Michael Winters is the Indians’ top returner, an all-Trans-Valley League running back with big-play ability. Winters rushed for 528 yards and five touchdowns on just 69 carries in 2016, averaging nearly eight yards per carry. He’ll benefit from more touches and a veteran offensive line. The Indians return four linemen: Dylan Sexton, Trent Hawes, Mitchell Ulrich, and Owen Gollinger. Winters also is Ripon’s most experienced defensive back, a unit ravaged by graduation.
38. Chris Butterfield, wide receiver, Enochs: An accomplished two-sport athlete for the Eagles, senior Chris Butterfield is a bundle of grit, speed and hands. The center fielder is the two-time defensive player of the year in the Modesto Metro Conference and a returning all-conference wide receiver. He led Enochs with 1,197 all-purpose yards, including 532 yards on 25 receptions. He averaged 21.3 yards per catch.
37. Mason Dambacher, linebacker, Sonora: Another in a long line of hard-hitting linebackers at Sonora, Dambacher finished with 113 tackles last fall. What’s more impressive is that 88 of those tackles were solo stops. He likely benefited from having all-star, college-caliber talent around him – read: defensive end Killian Rosko, now a freshman at Sacramento State, and linebacker Bradley Canepa, a Central California Lions All-Star.
36. Carter Williams, defensive back, Manteca: Beyer’s loss is Manteca’s gain. An all-Modesto Metro Conference defensive back for the Patriots last fall, Williams has transferred to the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champions. He joins a defense that already boasts Division I prospect Justin Kakala, a defensive lineman with a verbal commitment to Cal, All-District linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua and No. 42 Kyle Rachels, a safety. Williams recorded 57 tackles in 2016, and proved to be a playmaker despite limited touches. He averaged more than 10 yards per touch and returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score.
35. Octavio Perez, Orestimba: One of the top linebackers in the Southern League, Perez will be looked upon to lead the Warriors down a historic path. The Orestimba football team has never won three consecutive league titles and the last boys’ program to three-peat was the basketball team in 1939-41. Perez registered 85 tackles, picked off five passes and blocked two field goals for the Warriors, who have not lost a league game in two years.
34. Coleby Garrett, linebacker/fullback, Central Catholic: The 5-foot-8, 185-pound Garrett isn’t very big, but few players get as much production out of their frame. Garrett is the only returning linebacker for the Raiders, who have had some good ones in the middle in recent seasons, namely Kekupaa Freehauf (Modesto Junior College), Montell Bland (UC Davis) and Austin Escobar. Garrett is coming off a season of 65 tackles, but also showed his versatility with spot duty as a fullback. He averaged 10.6 yards per carry.
33. Jack Camara, linebacker, Sonora: Camara is one of the top returning defensive players in the Stanislaus District. He was named to the all-Mother Lode League team last fall as a defensive end/outside linebacker. He’ll continue to come off the edge for the Wildcats, a three-time defending league champion. Camara will set the physical edge for Sonora, inheriting a role once owned by middle linebacker/fullback Canepa and Nate Gookin. The 6-foot, 210-pound senior had 87 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.
32. Tyler Vargas, athlete, Orestimba: With the graduation of wide receiver Toby Silva and quarterback Josh Barron, two proven playmakers, Orestimba will look to put the ball in the hands of Vargas, a versatile weapon. Vargas started all 12 games as a sophomore, earning all-Southern League honors. He scored a touchdown four different ways and finished second on the team in receptions (41) and yards (638). With a throwing quarterback in place – junior Jacob Bettencourt – Vargas could see a major spike in production. That’s scary, especially when you consider Vargas found the end zone 12 times last season.
31. Davion Gates, running back, Modesto Christian: Gates rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, despite sharing carries with four-year standout and Central California Lions All-Star selection Chris Brown. Gates finished his junior season with 1,036 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he averaged nearly 9.6 yards per carry in coach Mike Parson’s run-heavy offense. How explosive is Gates? The 6-foot, 170-pounder topped 100 yards five times, including a career-high 201 yards on just 11 carries in a victory over Gustine.
Last week: 41. Chris Styles, running back, Modesto; 42. Kyle Rachels, safety, Manteca; 43. Estevan Barragan, defensive back, Central Valley; 44. Jaysen Reindel, lineman, East Union; 45. Ryan Henriques, safety, Modesto; 46. Michael Vivo, quarterback, Waterford; 47. Clifford Johnson, lineman, Merced; 48. Tymon Bolden, running back, Orestimba; 49. Dallin Tilby, kicker, Turlock; 50. Andrew Gibson, running back, Ceres.
Next week: Nos. 30-21.