The Bee’s list of top-50 returning football players is teeming with talent coming back after strong 2016 seasons.
And then there are those like quarterback Bobby Avina of Gregori High and linebacker Paul Puaauli of Modesto Christian, players who would rather forget 2016.
Avina and Puaauli had their junior seasons dashed by injuries. Their return is probably best re-classified as a “comeback.”
They headline this week’s release of top returning players because of their potential and flashes of brilliance. If Avina and Puaauli can remain healthy, both will find themselves in the Player of the Year discussion. They’re that good. Their comeback also could produce a scholarship and league championship.
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Time will tell.
For now, let’s hash out this week’s top returning players, Nos. 30-21:
30. Bobby Avina, quarterback, Gregori: The senior is looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2016 season that saw him appear in just five games. Naturally, Avina’s numbers were pretty tame: 55 of 98 for 650 yards and two touchdowns. After a strong showing on the summer 7-on-7 circuit with Valley’s Got Talent, one of the top outfits in the nation, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Avina will look to capitalize on his potential.
29. Paul Puaauli, linebacker, Modesto Christian: “The Beast” is back. Puaauli missed his entire junior season after tearing an ACL during a 7-on-7 competition in South Lake Tahoe. Puaauli is a versatile talent for coach Mike Parsons, who gave the 6-foot, 215-pounder the nickname. As a sophomore, he rushed for 587 yards and eight touchdowns, registered 74 tackles, and forced two turnovers.
28. Zac Campbell, linebacker, Oakdale: The middle linebacker was named to the all-Valley Oak League first team. He sealed the Mustangs’ victory over Vista del Lago and its Spread offense in the quarterfinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs with a deflection in the end zone. Campbell was part of a large junior class on defense that bolstered a record-setting rush attack.
27. Brandon Gray, wide receiver/defensive end, Beyer: The 6-foot-3 senior is the Patriots’ top playmaker, a two-way player who uses size and speed to his advantage. Gray led Beyer in receiving with 26 receptions for 637 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 24.5 yards per catch. On defense, he paced the Modesto Metro Conference in sacks with 11, including a season-high 2.5 in a win over Edison.
26. Kyle Reis, offensive lineman, Manteca: The son of head coach Eric Reis, Kyle follows in a long line of big-bodied, intelligent offensive linemen at Manteca. Kyle is a returning all-VOL first-team performer with a future at the next level. He has generated some interest, but could see his stock climb with another deep run. The Buffaloes are the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champions.
25. Jacob Peterson, athlete, Sierra: One of the Stanislaus District’s top returning wide receivers, Peterson’s role will change this fall with the arrival of new coach Chris Johnson. The Timberwolves will transition to Johnson’s hybrid Wing-T offense, a system he perfected at Ripon. Johnson will use Peterson’s athleticism – he’s also an all-VOL baseball player – by lining him up in the backfield, on the wing and maybe even under center.
24. Bryce Peterson, quarterback, Downey: Peterson made his varsity debut as a wide receiver in Downey’s ‘Air Raid’ offense last fall, but he’ll slide under center this season. Peterson replaces all-Modesto Metro Conference gunslinger Brett Neves, and like his predecessors, he will have a multitude of weapons on the perimeter, including UCLA-bound senior Isaiah Johnson, senior Jairol Harris-Red and junior Javon Gamez, the MMC’s runner-up in the 100-meter dash and top wideout on the junior varsity team. Peterson moves into the Top 25 thanks to his athleticism, which he proved last season, and hype. Even as a freshman, coach Jeremy Plaa understood Peterson would one day quarterback the five-time defending conference champions. That day is today.
23. Oliver Perez, running back, Gustine: Perez is the Stanislaus District’s top returning rusher after amassing 1,496 yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2016. He averaged 149.6 yards per game and got stronger as the season wore on. He had five consecutive 100-yard games to close the season, including back-to-back games of 265 and 248 yards. With a veteran line in front of him, a heavier workload and a playoff appearance, Perez could join former Gustine running back Brandon Labry (2015) in The Bee’s 2,000-yard club.
22. Evan Bearden, wide receiver/defensive end, Sonora: After a tame sophomore season, the Wildcats will unleash the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Bearden on the Mother Lode League. Bearden will play both ways, rekindling his role as a wide receiver (20 catches, 350 yards and three touchdowns) while filling the void left by defensive end Killian Rosko, now at Sacramento State. Bearden has the same type of ceiling. College scouts are intrigued by his size and skill set, and a breakout season could turn that interest into offers.
21. Brenden Tallent, offensive lineman, Pitman: The all-Central California Conference offensive lineman won’t impress you with his height (5-foot-11) or weight (215 pounds). However, under the lights, few are as tenacious in the trenches as Tallent. A wrestler, Tallent understands the importance of leverage. He also used his smaller, lighter frame to exploit bigger, heavier linemen. Pitman coach Tom Tyler has a unique philosophy about turning heavyweight wrestlers into linemen: “Those guys figure out leverage and they don’t mind a little confrontation.”
Last week: 31. Davion Gates, running back, Modesto Christian; 32. Tyler Vargas, athlete, Orestimba; 33. Jack Camara, linebacker, Sonora; 34. Coleby Garrett, linebacker, Central Catholic; 35. Octavio Perez, linebacker, Orestimba; 36. Carter Williams, defensive back, Manteca; 37. Mason Dambacher, linebacker, Sonora; 38. Chris Butterfield, wide receiver, Enochs; 39. Michael Winters, running back/defensive back, Ripon; 40. Lance Bickle, tight end, Pitman.
Next week: Nos. 20-11.