Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hodge overcomes size to lead the state in tackles

Khalil Hodge of St. Mary's-Stockton reacts to an option play during the Rams' 35-15 victory over Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa on Sept. 5. Hodge is leading the state in tackles and tackles per game according to Max Preps (photo credit
Undersized? Khalil Hodge of St. Mary's-Stockton doesn't want to hear it.

At 6-foot, 225-pounds, he's considered small compared to some of the top linebackers in California for the Class of 2015. Players like Cameron Smith (6-foot-2, 235-pounds, Granite Bay), John Houston (6-foot-3, 210-pounds, Serra-Gardena) and Keisean Lucier-South (6-foot-4, 211-pounds, Orange Lutheran) all tower over their Friday night opponents - and all three are getting courted by some of the biggest college football programs in the nation.

Hodge, however, has this advantage compared to the highly recruited linebacker trio: he's leading the state with 129 tackles through seven games according to prep website Max Preps. That's why the senior doesn't want anyone to tell him that he's too small.

"I don't feel like a small linebacker at all," Hodge said. "I feel like I'm big enough to make all the plays needed for an inside linebacker."

And big plays he's made this season.

Hodge is the battering ram for the St. Mary defense. He throws his body into the middle of the field to pummel running backs and anyone else who dares to run at him. Hodge's role in the Rams' 4-4/4-3 scheme is to stuff the run, guard the slot (inside) wide receiver and blanket a running back who attempts a wheel route out of the backfield.

He's averaged 18.4 tackles per game and intercepted his first pass this season against Tokay-Lodi on Oct. 17, with the Rams shutting out the Tigers 32-0. The victory against Tokay also saw Hodge finish with 19 tackles, including 10 solo stops.

Some of his highlight plays, though, came at the goal line during the Rams' Sept. 26 shootout against Los Gatos. Hodge shot through the gaps and halted any scoring opportunities with the game on the line. Hodge and the Rams came out victorious 35-32, with St. Mary's defensive leader getting 18 tackles and one sack.

Hodge said his work ethic has led to his dominance on the Ram defense.

"I've put in a lot of hard work in the offseason, so I feel like now I'm just starting to reap the benefits," Hodge said. "But, it wouldn't be possible without all the guys around me, especially our huge defensive line."

The Rams' front four have served as offensive linemen for Hodge. They've created openings by shoving around the opposing front line so Hodge can attack the hole. Hodge said that along with his ability to trust his linemen, he takes pride in his reaction skills.

"My strengths would be dissecting and attacking plays, plus being able to see the play and then defeat offensive linemen to the ball," Hodge said.

He's won over one of his teammates. Demetrius Ferguson - the Rams' top wide receiver option - said he admires Hodge's attitude and work ethic.

"He's a comedian outside of football. But once he steps on the field, it's like something clicks in his mind and he turns into a animal," Ferguson said. "He's a great guy and he's amazing to be around."

With three regular season games left for the 6-1 Rams, Hodge wants to improve his sideline-to-sideline ability.

"I want to make every play and be able to go the distance," he said.

He's also hoping to get more recognition on the recruiting trail. He has just one scholarship pledge that came from 47.5 miles away: Sacramento State of the Football Championship Subdivision.

"I definitely feel underrated," Hodge said. "I'm putting up huge numbers right now and I'm not really getting much recognition from colleges."

Hodge, though, said his primary focus is to get the Rams to make a state bowl run.

"One word to describe us would be 'special,' " he said. "We have the talent to go all the way to state this year."

More on Hodge:

Next game: Hodge and St. Mary's will take on Tracy (5-2) for a 7:15 p.m. showdown on Friday, Oct. 24.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Week seven gold mines

This week's highlights: two PAC-12 recruits wore out their opponents in the Central Section. In Los Angeles County, a highly coveted Class of 2016 running back dashed to 386 yards against a state power.

Here's the week seven gold mines:


The future Arizona Wildcat couldn't be tamed in the Patriots' 49-21 trouncing of Stockdale-Bakersfield. Mariscal ran for 121 yards on nine carries and scored twice. He also added an 86-yard kickoff return for the touchdown.


Olurunfunmi continues to add to his already decorated prep career. The UCLA commit rushed for 260 yards on 18 carries and scored five touchdowns in the Broncos' 63-28 rout of Clovis East.


In a heavyweight, high-scoring brawl between Bosco and Serra-San Juan Capistrano, it was the Braves moving to 6-1 overall and handing the dominant Serra its first loss of the season, a 49-44 shootout. McGrew, Class of 2016, was largely responsible for helping end Serra's fast start, with career-high's in rushing yards (386), carries (26) and touchdowns (five).


McDaniel continues to power through defenses and keep Hanford's unbeaten run alive. The Bullpups improved to 8-0 overall behind McDaniel's 186 yards and five touchdowns in the 56-44 victory over Golden West-Visalia.


Jones only threw 17 passes, but completed 14 of them for 327 yards and had four touchdowns. The senior led BCHS to a 56-7 thumping of Shafter.


The dual-threat combined for 424 yards (341 passing) and four touchdowns as Lemoore stayed perfect at 8-0 following the Tigers' 49-15 rout of Mt. Whitney-Visalia.


Playing against a massive Kingsburg offensive line, the 6-foot-2, 275-pound Davis was Warren Sapp-like after getting three sacks in the Emperors' 34-21 victory.


Hodge continues to be an enforcer for the Rams' defense. The 6-foot, 218-pound senior had 19 tackles, 10 solo stops and one interception in St. Mary's 32-0 shutout victory over Tokay-Lodi.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Week seven highlights: Santa Maria running back strikingly similar to former Mendota star

Mondo Mansera of Pioneer Valley-Santa Maria gets hoisted by one of his linemen after scoring one of his four touchdowns for the Panthers. Pioneer Valley defeated Cabrillo of Lompoc 38-20 (photo credit Phil Klein/contributed).
I didn't know anything about Mondo Mansera of Pioneer Valley-Santa Maria before the Panthers' game against Cabrillo of Lompoc on Friday, Oct. 17.

After watching him go off for 218 rushing yards and finish the evening with four touchdowns in Pioneer Valley's 38-20 romp, Mansera gave me flashbacks of a former Central Section star I got a chance to watch: Mendota High icon Edgar Segura.

Mansera, a senior, doesn't have half of Segura's credentials (Segura owns Central Section records with 8,029 career rushing yards and 137 touchdowns). In fact, Mansera has 1,663 career-rushing yards with 17 touchdowns. But Mansera's style of play is similar to Segura.

What traits do they share? Both are listed at 5-foot-9, 165-pounds. They can juke defenders. They can catch out of the backfield. The most impressive trait, though, is their ability to wear down defenses toward the end of the game. Segura got stronger as the carries increased during his career. Not once did I see Segura look gassed after a game. I witnessed Mansera execute the same strength as he broke Cabrillo's spirit late in the 18-point win.

With the Conquistadors looking to rally back from a 31-7 deficit, the Panthers turned to their workhorse on a 16-yard scoring run, extending the lead to 38-20 and deflating Cabrillo's comeback attempt.

I don't know if college football is in Mansera's future, but he showed me that he's skillful enough to compete at the next level.


Led by a deep backfield and stout defense, Sanger handed heavyweight Edison-Fresno its first loss of the season, a 15-14 stunner that sent shock waves throughout the Central Section and CMAC.

How did the Apaches do it against the section's top brawler in Division I? They overcame a 14-0 deficit, held the stud Tiger backfield duo of Khai Williams and DeAndre Lockhart to 74 combined yards after getting 251 total last week and lastly, a late interception in the end zone by Ray Aguirre sealed the victory.

Sanger - who had an up-and-down 3-2 non-league start - is now at the top of the CMAC standings at 2-0.

Side note: while several followers of high school football in the Central Valley view Sanger's victory as an upset, I'm not surprised by this for three reasons:

1) Sanger is used to challenging the monsters of the CMAC.

2) The Apaches have a 25-year veteran head coach in Chuck Shidan who knows how to prepare his teams.

3) Sanger has been a major player in the Central Section's DII title race for the last couple of seasons.

Sanger's victory, however, helped create a logjam for the rest of the CMAC with four teams sitting at 1-1. I've got a feeling that the CMAC could see co-league champions by season's end.


Central-Fresno, led by quarterback Nick Szpor's career-high four touchdown passes, extended its winning streak to four games with a 28-14 victory over Clovis.

The Class of 2016 prospect Szpor, who was once on Reedley High's varsity football roster as a freshman, threw two strikes that were good for 52 and 55 yards. He added two passing touchdowns to his tight end Zeandae Johnson, who's committed to Cal-Berkeley.

Central, once 0-3, is now 4-3 overall and 2-0 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.


St. John Bosco-Bellflower and Serra-San Juan Capistrano had perhaps the game of the year in the Los Angeles region, as Bosco held on for the high-scoring 49-44 victory.

Junior Sean McGrew did most of the damage for the Braves, as he finished with career-highs in rushing yards (386), carries (26) and touchdowns (five).

McGrew, who's listed as a four-star recruit by of Yahoo! Sports, holds seven offers including five from the PAC-12 (UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Colorado and Cal-Berkeley).

The victory knocked Serra from the undefeated ranks. Both teams are now 6-1 overall.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lima now the big target for Camarillo

Nico Lima averaged 15.3 yards per catch and was a tough tight end to bring down in Camarillo's 28-10 loss to St. Bonaventure-Ventura on Oct. 10. Lima is expected to be the Scorpions' new top target with four regular season games left (photo by Lorenzo J. Reyna)
Nico Lima was considered an afterthought by St. Bonaventure-Ventura while heading into Camarillo High's highly anticipated clash with the Seraphs on Oct. 10.

However, with one reception on a post route, Lima put St. Bonaventure on notice - and literally on his back.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound tight end caught the short pass and had a majority of the Seraph defense latching on to him, hoping they could slow down the big tight end. But Lima galloped and dragged the clinging white uniformed defenders through the middle of Carl Thompson Field for a 21-yard gain.

"Every catch that I get, I have the attitude of 'don't die easy.' I've got fight for the team and keep them going," Lima said when asked about that reception. "Some people saw that my receptions were down before the game and that I wasn't considered that big of a threat. But once the game continued, I could tell that I started to get more looks from them (St. Bonaventure)."

Now - after his four reception, 61-yard evening in the 28-10 loss to the Ventura County kingpin - Lima is the Scorpions' newest big receiving option as Camarillo makes its push for the Camino League title.

Lima is now expected to get an increase in touches for the Scorpions' No-Huddle Pro Set offense, as CHS (4-2) heads toward its final four-game stretch, beginning first with a home contest against Calabasas on Friday, Oct. 17. The Camino League slate starts on Oct. 24 with a road trip against another Ventura County monster: Newbury Park (5-1).

Lima is stepping up as the Scorpions' top threat in the absence of Frankie Tostado, who had a season-ending right elbow injury in the 34-32 victory over Saugus on Oct. 2.

Lima said the Scorpion coaches are making better use of him.

"They're now putting me in situations where I can get more one-on-one match ups and I can win those battles every time," Lima said. "Or, they (the opposing defense) can get people to try and box me in, but that gets more of our people open."

The senior said his strengths as a tight end are "catching in space and my blocking." He added that his blocking has improved a lot.

He also said he admires NFL Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, who he emulates on the football field.

"He started with nothing especially growing up with a single mom, but he made all the right choices and worked his way up in life," Lima said. "I feel like I can relate to him with my work ethic."

Lima is one of a few NCAA Division I prospects on the CHS roster. He holds a scholarship offer from Holy Cross of the Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA) and said San Jose State, San Diego State, Arizona and Colorado have inquired about him. 

Lima - a 3.0 student - said he'll wait it out when making his college choice between now and National Signing Day in February 2015.


What to like: Lima already has the physique of a college football tight end and plays like it. His ability to keep his legs moving and carry defenders on his back is reminiscent of a young Mark Bavarro (former New York Giants tight end). Lima is excellent in space and isn't afraid of grabbing the middle reception. He carries this mindset: he's not going down on first contact, which is something teams want out of their tight end.

What to build on: Lima can get quicker off the snap in the final stretch of games for the Scorpions. He doesn't have breakaway speed and, despite carrying a bevy of defenders as he runs, can still get caught from behind. I'll need to see his consistency in the red zone during these final games, especially with CHS planning to get him involved more in the offense.

Overall: Lima is a late bloomer down in the heart of Ventura County. His throwback playing style as a tight end can make him valuable for a school preferring to line up with three or five wide receivers. He's not the complete package at tight end yet, but judging by his performance against St. Bonaventure, Lima is capable of energizing an offense and brings a nasty demeanor to the Scorpions.

More on Lima:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hot off the film room: wide receivers

J.J. Wills of Clovis High has emerged as the Cougars' top receiving option - and rising Class of 2016 prospect in the Central Valley (photo contributed). 
Cali Gold Mine's inbox got flooded with highlight reels from some top targets in the state. Time for CGM to show love for the wideouts.

From Stockton, to Clovis, all the way to Long Beach, these 2015 and 2016 prospects have either landed their first offer or are leading the way for their teams' passing attack.

Here's the wideouts who caught CGM's attention this week:


Already one of the top deep threats in the "delta," Ferguson (6-foot-2, 158-pounds) has added a fearlessness to his game; he's caught passes between two defenders and can haul down the touchdown. His burst off the snap, quick feet, route running and hands continue to make him a sleeper in Northern California.

More on Ferguson:


The 6-foot-2, 160-pound Rogers - nicknamed "Mr. Go Get it" - has emerged as the Panthers' first big-play target since former WUHS great Deontay Greenberry (University of Houston). Rogers doesn't have Greenberry's speed, size or physical strength; but Rogers can break tackles, win one-on-one battles and stretch the field.

More on Rogers:


Lewis has been a mismatch for opposing cornerbacks, especially in man coverage. Lewis is yet to lose a one-on-one battle and defeats his opponents with his size (6-foot-3, 177-pounds), vertical jump (32 inches), and hands. I've been mostly impressed with his ability to finish his routes and he hasn't had any key drops. Lastly, he just landed his first offer from the University of Nevada.

More on Lewis:


Like the rest of the 2015 guys on this list, Vines brings size (6-foot-3, 177-pounds) to the line. Except Vines has a smooth plant-and-go when he goes against press coverage. He fakes defenders to his right, sprints upfield, then hauls in the jump ball. He's a versatile weapon for the undefeated Tritons because he can return kicks and play free safety. Vines has 36 receptions, 907 yards, an average of 25.2 yards per catch and 12 touchdowns in seven games.

More on Vines:



The Cougars have started to find ways to utilize the 6-foot, 171-pound Wills, who's the son of former UCLA running back Shawn Wills. J.J. has a combined seven touchdowns in the first six games. As a receiver, J.J. impresses with his route running, hands and body control after a catch. His most exciting trait, though, is what he does after the catch - as he can turn a short pass into a 30+ yard gain.

More on Wills:


Once nicknamed "Megatron" during his youth football days in Reedley, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Paz has given the run-oriented Panthers a deep threat/possession target. Paz is one of the most physical targets in the Central Section and has also returned kicks.

More on Paz:


Could the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Jones become the next DeSean Jackson for the Jackrabbits? With his rapid fire feet and deep threat capability, Jones - who's already at five offers including a recent pledge from Texas Tech - has some of the smoothest routes and is looking like a young D-Jax or Michiah Quick of Oklahoma:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Week six gold mines

Vance Sams of Edison-Fresno had a breakout game against San Joaquin Memorial in a battle of unbeatens. Sams, a senior, led a fierce Tiger defense in the 44-14 rout on Oct. 9 (photo by Lorenzo J. Reyna).
In Ventura County, one backup running back stole the show in a heavyweight battle between two Southern Section powerhouses. In Fresno County, a linebacker nicknamed "Area 51" controlled his territory against a national recruit at running back.

Here's this week's gold mines:


Santoyo wasn't listed as the Seraphs' starting running back heading into their contest against Camarillo, but the junior stung the Scorpions with 286 yards on 27 carries and one touchdown, as St. Bonaventure held off CHS 28-10.


"Area 51" had one of his best games of the year in the 44-14 rout of San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno: 12 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and a recovery - all against the previously unbeaten Panthers with powerhouse running back Stevan Johnson on the opposite side of the field.


The backfield duo combined for 251 rushing yards and five touchdowns as the Tigers moved to 6-0 and 1-0 in the County Metro Athletic Conference. Both Williams and Lockhart hold a scholarship offer from Eastern Washington.


In the biggest game of the season for the rising Coyotes and facing an opponent in Bullard High who's defeated Madera 10 straight times, Rios nailed four field goals - including the game-winning 37-yarder - to defeat the Knights 32-31, lifting MHS to a stunning 6-0 start.


Playing against a traditional state powerhouse in Mater Dei, Franklin caught six passes for 148 yards and one touchdown in Bosco's 28-25 victory.


The rising sophomore finished with 170 yards on 32 carries and one score, as the Bearcats continued their undefeated march by defeating Arroyo Grande 28-27 in a game that saw Paso facing a 17-point deficit.


The 5-foot-8, 170-pound junior dashed past Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove with 209 yards on just 10 carries and scored twice in the Pacers' 56-7 rout.


The electrifying and versatile Vines caught seven passes for 200 yards and scored three times for the undefeated Tritons, who cruised to the 56-7 romp over Channel Islands-Oxnard.


The stat sheet from Clovis High's 61-35 trouncing of Clovis East said that Wills only touched the ball four times through rushing and receiving and accounted for 57 yards. However, the rising junior scored three touchdowns - two on receptions - as the Cougars won their fourth straight game. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

On the Golden State recruiting trail: Ginda chooses the Spartans

Pacheco-Los Banos linebacker/fullback Frank Ginda (third person from the left) took to social media to announce his college decision and - through a family photograph - made his choice to join San Jose State (contributed photo).
Frank Ginda of Pacheco-Los Banos took a family picture on Monday, Oct. 13, with a special kind of towel being held up for the camera: a San Jose State towel that helped announce the linebacker/fullback's college decision.

Ginda announced that he's committing to the Spartans, ending his recruiting process that saw San Jose State, Air Force and a few PAC-12 schools coming after him. Ginda, though, said the Spartans were the right fit.

"I felt like that it would be a great place for me to play football," Ginda said. "The coaches were welcoming and the players really buy into the team."

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Ginda - who holds a 3.93 grade point average - is currently the Panthers' leading tackler with 55 stops. He's averaged 11 tackles per game during Pacheco's 5-2 start. He also has a team-high seven tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles.

Offensively, Ginda leads the Panther rushing attack with 241 yards on 20 carries and averages 12.1 yards per carry. He's also leading PHS in receiving yards with 228 on eight receptions.

His trainer and 7-on-7 football coach Devon Hillard said Ginda was blown away by the experience of attending the Spartans-UNLV game on Oct. 4, which factored into Ginda's commitment.

"The San Jose State coaching staff made him feel comfortable," Hillard said. "They are looking for him to play early."

Ginda and Pacheco will play a home game at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 17, against Ceres (1-6).