High School Football

Here are 10 must-see players who will make an impact in the Stanislaus District

It takes an entire team to win CIF Sac-Joaquin Section title. But having that one special player can make all the difference in the world.

In talking with coaches and attending practices and scrimmages this summer, here are 10 players to watch — and the ones that can guide their teams to a crown — in the Stanislaus District (Note: The list is listed in alphabetical order by school):

Big Valley Christian senior running back Javyn Drobnick: After rushing for 2,211 yards (19th in state and third in section) and 26 touchdowns, Drobnick, at 5 feet, 7 inches tall, worked on his quickness and changed his diet in the offseason. With close to 4,000 career rushing yards, Drobnick will help lead the Lions, who are one of the top teams in Div. VII. Drobnick said he has received interest from UC Davis, although he would be a nickelback if he were to become an Aggie.

Central Catholic senior quarterback Dalton Durossette: Durossette, who has signed with Santa Clara to play baseball, had 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions last year in the Raiders’ run-heavy offense. With an uncharacteristic lack of depth at running back this season, Central Catholic could pass the ball more. Durossette’s accuracy was impressive at a recent scrimmage. He will also play defensive end for the Raiders.

Central Catholic senior tight end/defensive end Nic Sani: If there is one player I think will have a breakout year, it’s Sani. At 6-foot-6, Sani is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and is a great redzone target for Durossette. Despite only playing in six games before suffering from season-ending shoulder surgery, he already has offers from Nevada and UC Davis, among others. If he stays healthy, I predict double-digit touchdowns.

Downey senior quarterback Bryce Gouker: Gouker completed nearly 70% of his passes to go along with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions in only seven games started last year. Now, with full-control of the offense and a stronger arm, Gouker’s numbers could be even better. Downey coach Jeremy Plaa recently said his 6-foot-2 quarterback “knows where to go with the ball ahead of time.”

Escalon senior running back/defensive back Kaden Christensen: Christensen had nearly 1,400 total yards and 11 touchdowns last year and was voted to the Bee’s Small-School All-District Team as a defensive back. He was voted a captain by the Cougars’ players and led the team with 810 rushing yards and four interceptions. There is plenty of hype around the Escalon program and Christensen is valuable to the team on offense and defense.

Escalon senior running back/linebacker Colton Panero: Like Christensen, Panero also was voted a captain and tied for the team lead with 10 rushing touchdowns and added four receiving. He was second on the team with 77 tackles. Escalon has three veteran running backs with Panero, Christensen, and junior Luke Anderson and coach Andrew Beam likes to rotate them. Individually, the trio might not run for over 1,000 yards and have double-digit touchdowns, but the group is dynamic and tough for opposing defenses to plan against.

Oakdale junior running back Zeke Saffar: After averaging over 10 yards per carry in his first year on varsity, Saffar said he worked on his speed (4.4) and strength (squat 400 pounds and bench around 300) in the offseason. Mustangs coach Trent Merzon called him “special” and with the graduations of Max Moore and Caleb Kuppens, Saffar will be the feature back in Oakdale’s run-heavy offense. Would I be surprised if Saffar had over 1,800 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns? No. He is that good.

Ripon Christian senior running back/wide receiver/safety Sean McGovern: McGovern fits the definition of a true “two-way player.” The Knights’ leading receiver (32 receptions, 560 yards, eight touchdowns) in 2018, he will be move into the backfield and replace Bee Small School Player of the Year, Michael Kamps. On defense, McGovern had 107 tackles, 13 pass deflections, five fumble recoveries, and four interceptions. A big-play threat, he is going to be the focal point of the Knights’ offense and opposing offenses will try to stay away from him.

Turlock senior offensive lineman Everett Johnson: A University of California commit who plans on enrolling in January, Johnson is physical and pushes around defenders with his 6-foot-8 frame. With a couple of graduations on the o-line, the Bulldogs will lean toward Johnson’s way when running the ball. He’s not afraid to let defenders know how he is feeling. He has developed into a leader and been praised for his maturity.

Turlock senior quarterback Brock Paslay: Paslay started the Bulldogs’ 28-0 win over Cosumnes Oaks in the first round of the Div. I playoffs last year after senior Jonah Kosakiewicz sat out with an ankle injury. He isn’t as mobile as Kosakiewicz but Paslay has a strong arm and is accurate. Against Central Catholic in a scrimmage last week, Paslay had a couple of impressive touchdown throws. With senior wide receiver Holden Baldwin and others, Paslay has a dynamic group in the balanced Bulldogs’ offense.

Who did I miss? Email me at jalopez@modbee.com with your thoughts.

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Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.