They achieved success this high school football season in myriad ways making plays, elevating their teams and causing great anxiety to foes trying to contain them.
Brandon Monroe of Del Oro is The Bee's Player of the Year because the senior was a difference-maker as a tailback, a safety and on special teams.
Jake Browning of Folsom is The Bee's Offensive Player of the Year because he shattered passing marks, including a state record for yards in a single season. He is the first sophomore to be named a Bee Player of the Year.
Zach Claiborne of Oak Ridge is The Bee's Defensive Player of the Year because of his ability to shed blocks and zero in on quarterbacks at a record rate. The senior had a state-leading and all-time area-best 251/2 sacks.
Monroe rushed for 1,545 yards and 17 touchdowns despite missing three games because of a knee strain. He is a powerful 6-foot-1, 190-pounder who has what Del Oro coach Casey Taylor says is "the best vision and lateral cuts I've seen."
Monroe was unstoppable down the stretch, running for 192 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 45-35 victory over Nevada Union and 193 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-35 victory over Rocklin in a Sierra Foothill League finale that secured a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff berth. In a playoff opener against Yuba City, Monroe went for 225 yards and four scores in a 45-21 win. Then he gained 297 yards and scored three times in a 21-10 victory over St. Mary's of Stockton. He had 206 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-32 loss to Elk Grove in the semifinals that ended Del Oro's season.
Monroe also had three interceptions and scored twice on special teams.
Monroe, who initially didn't like the kind of contact football produced and now can't seem to get enough, will play for the North team Saturday in the 56th Optimist All-Star Football Classic at Del Oro.
"I didn't like getting hit when I first played," said Monroe, who has made a verbal commitment to San Jose State. "I got whacked on one play, then after awhile I started to like the game."
Browning won the Folsom quarterback job on the eve of the season, then torched Woodcreek in the team's opener for a national-record-tying 10 touchdown passes and a Northern California record 699 passing yards. Browning is on his way to "becoming one of this area's all-time great, great players," Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor said. "He's that special."
Browning shrugs, insisting he's just trying to do his job.
It was a job well done as he set the state season passing mark with 5,248 yards to go with a Northern California record 63 touchdowns, two shy of the state season record.
Folsom finished 14-1, beating Elk Grove for the Division II section title before falling to eventual national No. 1 De La Salle of Concord in the first Northern California Regional Open game.
"I didn't think I'd put up those kinds of numbers," the 6-2, 180-pound Browning said. "I really just wanted to help our team win."
While Browning and Monroe grew up playing football, Oak Ridge's Claiborne was a late bloomer. He didn't slip on a helmet until his freshman season, at the plea of friends.
By last season, the defensive end had found his groove, with 11 1/2 sacks. This season, Claiborne was even better, using skills from wrestling and martial arts and what his coach Eric Cavaliere called "a relentless motor" to chase down quarterbacks.
Claiborne caps his career Saturday in the Optimist All-Star Classic, playing for the North. And like every game this season, he'll dedicate it to his grandfather, John Salsedo, who died of cancer during the playoffs.
"He's the main reason I started to play this game," Claiborne said. "I think he was proud of what I did."