Four players, four different skill sets, yet all similar in effort in spearheading memorable seasons.
Quarterback Jake Browning of Folsom High School dazzled with his pocket presence, dissecting defenses and making plays. The Bees Player of the Year set state single-season records for passing yards (5,737) and touchdown passes (75), leading the Bulldogs to a 14-1 record.
Wide receiver Damen Wheeler of Sacramento endured a hernia tear prior to the season, but still blew past defenders to help the upstart Dragons to a historic season and earn The Bees Offensive Player of the Year. His 1,931 receiving yards led the state, and his 23 touchdown receptions are among the most in state history.
And the Del Oro senior duo of defensive end Tanner Woods and linebacker Tyler Meteer, The Bees co-Defensive Players of the Year, were the foundation of the Golden Eagles march to a CIF State Division I Bowl game. While their offensive peers overwhelmed opponents with quick-strike scoring plays, Woods and Meteer relied on brawn to stall offenses.
Were both blue-collar types, physical, and we work hard, Meteer said, and thats how we succeed.
Meteer and Woods didnt amass eye-popping statistics because they were usually double teamed. But they made big plays in the biggest games in helping Del Oro (13-3) win the Sierra Foothill League, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship and the NorCal D-I title over Serra of San Mateo, in which Woods four sacks were the most in a NorCal or SoCal regional championship game. For the season, Woods had 10 sacks and Meteer had 126 tackles.
Also a tight end, Meteer had 64 catches for 849 yards and nine touchdowns this season to become Del Oros career receiving leader. Meteer has recruiting visits scheduled to Sacramento State and UC Davis.
Woods also doubled on Del Oros offense, playing guard. But it was on defense that teams especially had to worry about him.
In the section championship game against Elk Grove, I could hear players yelling, Help me here with Woods!, said Woods. That gave me butterflies in my stomach, knowing that they respected my ability, and it helped free up other guys, too. I feel like we left the Del Oro program doing the best we couldve possibly done. We can look back and be content.
A year after setting state marks as a sophomore with 5,248 passing yards and 63 touchdown passes to guide Folsom to a 14-1 record, Browning worked tirelessly to improve. He broke down his mechanics on film and in workouts. He bulked up and threw passes to players all offseason.
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, the junior showed more mobility, and he became a better passer. He has already received scholarship offers from Boise State, Colorado, Washington, Washington State and Utah, with many more expected.
Im a year older, bigger, stronger, faster, wiser, and that was the goal, Browning said. Some of the great quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, they have hints of obsession to always get better, like a chip on their shoulder.
Still, Browning insists that playing quarterback does not define him. He leads an active life and is a 4.0 student.
I go to school, play football, I come home to a house and a family, and I have friends, so its more than just football, Browning said. Im not one-dimensional, and school is really important.
Browning is inspired by his father, Ed, a standout high school quarterback himself in Southern California before playing at Oregon State. Ed Browning teases his son that he cant run with the ball nearly as well as he did back in the day. Jake Browning is up to the challenge to test the arms, any time, anywhere.
Football is also a family affair for Wheeler. The 6-3, 180-pound senior learned the game from his father, also Damen Wheeler. The elder Wheeler was The Bees Offensive Player of the Year in 1995, a 2,000-yard rusher at Valley before starting four years at cornerback at Colorado.
Wheeler has his fathers speed, and perhaps a bit more. He helped lead the Dragons to a school-record 11-3 mark, including the first three playoff victories in program history. Wheeler amazed his father, a Dragons assistant coach, with his state-record 380-yard receiving game in a 48-38 victory over Christian Brothers in a section D-III semifinal. He caught four touchdown passes, including a national-record-tying 99-yarder from Caden Voges.
All of that with a hernia so painful it was often hard to stop and cut on routes.
It was really hard to play sometimes, and there were times we thought maybe I shouldnt play in games, but I had to play, said Wheeler, who is undecided about his college future. I did the best I could. It was exciting to be a part of a team that did so well, and I know my dad was excited, too.
Said Wheelers father: Im so happy and proud for him. Now I know what my dad meant when I was this age, that this is the best time, the best feeling. I know now.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and listen to his Extra Point every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.