What’s a season without some star power? The Sacramento region has players of note in the trenches, at the skill positions and on defense. Here’s a look at 25 key returning senior players:
Isaiah Ajayi, RB, Woodcreek, 5-foot-11, 200 pounds – He rushed for 868 yards and 10 touchdowns in eight games in 2016, including 155 and three against top-ranked Folsom in the power-packed Sierra Foothill League.
Marco Baldacchino, QB, Oak Ridge, 6-0, 170 – Perhaps the area’s most dynamic player, Baldacchino passed for 1,841 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushed for 991 and 17 in 2016.
Austin Baze, RB, Bear River, 6-1, 230 – Injuries stalled Baze last fall, but perhaps the most imposing player in program history is ready for a breakout season on a team looking to bounce back.
Andrew Birch, LB, Del Oro, 6-0, 205 – The team’s leading tackler in 2016 with 105 stops for a defensive coordinator who doubles as his dad, Steve Birch.
Blayden Brown, LB, Rocklin, 6-0, 201 – After recording 132 tackles, Brown returns as an even better player and leader. He also rushed for three touchdowns.
Lorenzo Burkes, RB/LB, Jesuit, 6-2, 225 – A package of power and speed, Burkes rumbled for 1,410 yards and 18 touchdowns. He is among a host of stars returning for Big Red.
Greg Cabral, RB, Del Campo, 5-9, 170 – After producing one of the best seasons in Sac-Joaquin Section history with 2,418 yards and 21 touchdowns, Cabral and quarterback Tyler Dimino aim for a championship.
Bryan Catchings, OL, Oak Ridge, 6-3, 275 –The UNLV commit is the anchor in the trenches for a team geared to score points with designs to win its first section Division I championship.
Will Craig, OL/DL, Granite Bay, 6-5, 275 – He casts a shadow as one of the region’s most dominant lineman, and Craig joins linebacker teammate Evan Tattersall as Cal commits.
Isaah Crocker, WR, Inderkum, 6-2, 175 – Crocker has the the gift of gab and speed with an offer from Alabama among his many suitors. He dominated in 2016 playoffs.
Jason Gallagher, LB, Jesuit, 6-1, 225 – Cerebral, tough and productive, Gallagher posted 119 tackles in 2016 and heads one of the region’s strongest defenses.
Justin Kraft, WR, Whitney High, 6-0, 175 – The two-time Bee All-Metro receiver has 2,045 yards and 26 touchdowns in his career and will set school records sure to last.
Kahlef Hailassie, WR/DB, Cosumnes Oaks, 6-1, 180 – The Colorado commit is a game breaker who doubles as a defensive star. Had seven touchdown receptions in 2016.
Jailen Henderson, OL/DL, Sacramento, 6-0, 270 – A run-stopper who doubles as a key blocker, Henderson is joined on defense by linebackers EJ Haag-Larry and Jaime Cousey.
Leevi Lafaele, LB, Inderkum, 6-2, 210 – Physical as a run-stopper and quarterback chaser, Lafaele is also a powerful runner, rushing for 869 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016.
Jalen Lampley, RB, Franklin, 5-9, 165 – Dazzling as a runner, defender and on special teams as a return specialist, Lampley keys an experienced bunch.
Niti Liu, OL/DL, Grant, 6-3, 310 – The UCLA commit looks a lot like scores of powerful Pacers linemen who went on to the college ranks: big, talented, effective.
Noah Lunday, OL, Folsom, 6-1, 255 – It always starts in the trenches for Folsom, and the line also includes fellow Bulldogs bruisers Tucker Dunbar and Justin Viega.
Dominick Norris, RB, Vista del Lago, 5-10, 190 – The running element to a pass-heavy offense, Norris rumbled and scooted for 1,349 yards and 13 touchdowns for another playoff team.
Justin Poerio, WR/DB/K, Oak Ridge, 6-0, 180 – Perhaps the program’s most versatile player since Austin Collie, The Bee’s Player of the Decade for the 2000s, Poerio makes plays on offense, defense and special teams.
Brandon Rupchock, RB/DB, Folsom, 5-8, 170 – The next versatile Bulldogs playmaker can score touchdowns on the ground and in the air and prevent them on defense.
George Spithorst, TE/LB, Elk Grove, 6-3, 240 – A punishing blocker and a ferocious tackler, Spithorst was also an All-Metro slugger for a championship baseball team.
Christian Simmons, RB/DB, Capital Christian, 5-11, 215 – Versatile, hard hitting and quick, Simmons is poised for a 1,000-yard rushing season, and he will join Maurice Gaines to make one of area’s top secondaries.
Zion Thomas, RB/LB, Elk Grove, 5-10, 190 – After rushing for 976 yards and 13 scores in 2016, Thomas could gain more yards in the run-heavy triple-option scheme.
Spencer Webb, TE, Christian Brothers, 6-5, 240 – Webb, one of the school’s most heavily recruited prospects ever, had 660 receiving yards last season.