Let me begin this by saying thanks to the great people at CBS 47 and Scott Bemis for bringing me on the Sunday Sidelines show on Aug. 24. It's the second year in a row Cali Gold Mine has been featured on television!
In case you missed it, here's what Scott and I touched base on, as the opening kick off of the 2014-15 season comes close (begins with week zero on Friday, Aug. 29)
Top five teams in DI:
1) EDISON - Too much talent and experience return to the Tigers. Big tests loom against Bakersfield (Sept. 5) and Clovis North (Sept. 19).
2) BAKERSFIELD - They don't rebuild at BHS, they reload. NT Nigel Brooks will lead an athletic and hard-nosed defense.
3) CLOVIS NORTH - Despite their injuries, future PAC-12 players Bolu Olurunfunmi (UCLA commit) and Jacob Daniel (USC) will lead the Broncos' offense and defense, respectively. Broncos also have OLB Hayden Haupt (Army and Colorado State offer), tall shutdown cornerback Noruwa Obanor (Fresno State offer) and versatile athlete Bransin Johnson (Weber State offer).
4) LIBERTY-BAKERSFIELD: The Patriots welcome back the electrifying ATH Anthony Mariscal, who committed to Arizona as a safety.
5) CENTRAL - An experienced defense will lead a younger offense. The Grizzlies are still stacked in the secondary with Dehlon Preston (San Jose State commit), Savion Simms (four offers, three from the FCS) and Jovonte Page. Cal commit Zeandae Johnson leads the defensive line.
Top five in DII
1) RIDGEVIEW - The difference will be the arrival of RB Sheldon Croney, who holds eight offers (six from the Mountain West).
2) SAN JOAQUIN MEMORIAL - The Panthers will ride the power of RB Stevan Johnson (PAC-12 interest) and the red zone presence of WR Chris Paz (PAC-12 and Oklahoma interest).
3) SANGER - A deep backfield led by Kris Elizondo returns to the Apaches.
4) SUNNYSIDE - Plenty of speed returns for the two-time North Yosemite League champs. Malcolm 'Smash' Williams should get plenty of touches. Williams holds an Eastern Washington offer.
5) KINGSBURG - The Vikings have been humbled in DII, but they have lots of size with Isaiah Trevino, Ben Olsen and Tristan Workman on the front line.
Top team in DIII:
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN - The reigning D IV champs bring back highly touted prospects Brandon Jones (QB) and Matt Smith (RB, Colorado State offer).
DARKHORSE: MISSION OAK-TULARE - QB Trey McJunkin and WR/DB LeAndre Jefferson (UNLV and Wyoming offers) will be a duo to watch in Tulare this fall.
LIBERTY MADERA RANCHOS - The DV champs have speed and experience returning. Do-everything type Wade Wallace returns. He has 27 touchdowns in his varsity career and two CIF titles.
DARKHORSE: CENTRAL VALLEY CHRISTIAN - The Cavaliers have size and a hard-nosed running attack returning. CVC gave Central Sequoia League heavyweights Kingsburg and Dinuba a scare last season (lost by eight to KHS, lost by three to Dinuba).
Top team in DV:
FARMERSVILLE - DV is wide open, but the Aztecs welcome back a deep wide receving core and four-year varsity starting QB Sam Metcalf.
DARKHORSE: It's a toss up between Mendota and Kern Valley. Mendota has to replace the illustrious career of RB Edgar Segura, but head coach Beto Mejia will keep this team motivated. KV brings back dual-threat QB Dalton Gallis, who combined for 37 touchdowns throwing and rushing.
Top team in DVI:
STRATHMORE - The DVI runner-up could air it out more, with the return of QB Carlos Lopez and WR's Daniel Guzman and Andrew Avalos.
DARKHORSE: The rest of DVI is up for grabs, but I'll admit Orange Cove could be moving in a better direction. Head coach Emilio Botello (former Fresno State linebacker) has more one-on-one time with his team since he's no longer the school's athletic director. He was highly successful before taking the AD duties. Plenty of experience returns to the Titans, including lineman Diego Rivera and running back Keanu Garcia.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THE VALLEY
1) Bolu Olurunfunmi - He's a high-powered locomotive at RB for Clovis North. Has the size/speed/power trifecta.
2) Tyler Horton - He doubles as a big-play wideout and physical shut down cornerback for the deep and talented Tigers.
3) A.J. Greeley - Love physical cornerbacks? You'll love the Fresno State commit Greeley, who thrives on rattling receivers. Greeley plays like an angry offensive lineman with a mean streak. He's the Tigers' best shutdown corner since Cliff Harris.
4) Michael Wright - Wright might be the biggest sleeper in the Central Section after rushing for over 1,800 yards and scoring 36 touchdowns. He has breakaway speed and stamina. With a younger quarterback, look for an increased load for Wright at Dinuba. Wright is yet to be offered a big-time football scholarship.
5) Caleb Kelly - The freakish 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior is already the most highly-sought prospect in the Class of 2016 (holds 15 scholarship offers). Will double as a OLB and TE for Clovis West.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Savion Simms - Central should use him in a variety of ways with Michiah Quick now at Oklahoma.
Khai Williams - He was the third RB behind Kevin Nutt and Blake Wright at Edison, but still got playing time. It's Williams' show now and Edison plans to give him the rock.
Darian Owens - The Clovis West junior receiver holds four offers (including USC and Oklahoma) and will play in a spread offense this season.
Romello Harris - The Tulare Union running back has improved every season since joining the varsity as a freshman. Already has 30 career touchdowns and holds three scholarship offers (Air Force, Colorado State and Washington State).
FIVE OTHER SLEEPERS TO WATCH
Greg Quezada - When healthy, the big 6-foot, 209-pound Reedley High back is a freight train who can flatten a defender and run like an old school running back. The Pirates have hinted at giving him the ball more this year. Quezada has gotten interest from Nevada and Fresno State during the offseason.
MacIntyre Garbani - He won't wow people with his physical skill set and he's undersized at 5-foot-8, but he's a touchdown and big play machine for the Cavaliers at running back.
Ju'Wan Murphy - If teams throw away from A.J. Greeley and Tyler Horton, look for this under-the-radar Edison defensive back to potentially see an increase in interceptions. Murphy has had an impressive offseason by improving his closing pursuits.
Nick Bianco: The big man at 6-foot-3, 265-pounds has a nasty demeanor on the Redwood-Visalia offensive line and will use it. Bianco has to be one of the top run blockers in the Central Section.
Nick Villalobos: Colleges might like Villalobos' size at 6-foot-4, 230-pounds. But its the Dinuba defensive end's motor and explosion off the line that makes him a prospect to watch for the defending D III champs.