Compiling a list of top players in any sport at any level is purely subjective, but not complete guess work.
So here we are, gluttons for punishment in our effort to unveil The Sacramento Bee’s first Top 50 list. Just as well strap me to a blocking sled and unleash the overlooked for additional grief, right?
We’re confident in our top players, but, really, who’s to say that No. 12 on this list is any better than No. 27? Or 44? Or 50?
Not all of these players will land scholarships as fewer than 2 percent of high school athletes in the U.S. receive rides. Size, skills, grades, effort, character and film that pops land players on the recruiting radar.
There are tens of thousands of prep players competing and scrambling for hundreds of scholarships, so the math never adds up favorably. When he heard we were compiling a list, Sheldon assistant coach Dale Ellingsworth smiled and said, “You mean Folsom and then everyone else?” Something like that.
Folsom, with 15 returning starters from a 16-0 team, leads the way with 10 players in the Top 50, including four of the top seven. We could have just linked Folsom’s roster here instead. Jesuit has five on this list, including two of the top three. The teams play Aug. 24.
The Top 50 was compiled based on college recruiting projections, past performances, input from area coaches, media and scouts, as well as personal observations.
1. Joe Ngata, Folsom, WR, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds
One of area’s greatest all-time great talents – hands, body, speed, drive – and The Bee’s 2017 Player of the Year has committed to Clemson.
2. Isaiah Rutherford, Jesuit, CB, 6-2, 175
First offer was from Alabama, and he’s quickly become Jesuit’s most heavily recruited football player. Ever.
3. Laiatu Latu, Jesuit, TE/LB, 6-5, 245
Can catch touchdowns in coverage, block kicks, rush the passer and more. Dominantly versatile.
4. Joey Capra, Placer, OL, 6-4, 280
Committed to Oregon, Capra comes from a family of technically sound, bruising linemen.
5. Kaiden Bennett, Folsom, QB, 6-1, 180
The next great Bulldogs QB might also be the most dynamic – sorry, Dano Graves, Jake Browning and company. Loves being a leader and has an offer from Utah, among others.
6. Daniyel Ngata, Folsom, RB/DB, 5-9, 190
His devastating downfield blocking alone makes him a sure thing. Major offers from across the land.
7. Elijhah Badger, Folsom, WR, 6-2, 195
When USC comes calling, you’re good, and he’s good – and great alongside the Ngata brothers.
8. Zach Larrier, Monterey Trail, QB/DB, 6-0, 190
A standout sprinter in track, Larrier does it all for the Mustangs, with leadership his best strength.
9. Matt Jenner, Oak Ridge, QB, 6-4, 220
Big, strong, skilled, and sparkled in playoffs last year and may emerge as a major recruit, a la Ian Book, now at Notre Dame.
10. Zac Welch, Oak Ridge, OT, 6-4, 295
Loves the game, strives to improve – and to push and demolish rush ends as one of the program’s all-time most sought after linemen.
11. Cade Brownholtz, Jesuit, LB, 6-3, 225
Comes from a family of football stars but also checks in as a rare family defensive stopper. Had huge moments in 2017.
12. Matthew Horne, Elk Grove, ATH, 6-2, 185
The Herd’s next great playmaker has committed to UNLV after fielding national interest from as far as Notre Dame and as close as Cal.
13. Levelle Bailey, Burbank, DB/RB, 6-3, 190
With offers from Fresno State, Nevada and others, one of the best two-sport athletes in Northern California also prides himself in good grades.
14. D’Marcus Ross, Capital Christian, RB/DB 5-10, 220
A standout since his freshman season, Ross may be a safety in college but he also runs with fury at this level.
15. Jehiel Budgett, Monterey Trail, RB/DB, 5-11, 175
Do the local colleges offer locals? Sacramento State and UC Davis are hot on Budgett, with some Pac-12 interest as well.
16. Caleb Nelson, Folsom, WR/CB, 6-0, 170
You cannot cover all of the Folsom receivers, and Nelson’s skills have generated offers, including San Jose State.
17. Blake Baughman, Placer, OL, 6-5, 250
Is it fair that Placer has bookend tackles in Capra and Baughman, headed to Nevada? Hillmen aim for CIF State return.
18. Logan Arnold, Yuba City, DE, 6-3, 265
A Nevada commit, Arnold also had feelers from Pac-12 programs such as USC. To be big and fast ...
19. Dawson Hurst, Del Oro, WR/CB, 6-0, 195
The next impact Hurst to come through Del Oro, Dawson is a versatile three-year starter with Big Sky Conference interest.
20. Tatuo Martinson, Del Oro, LB/DL, 6-2, 250
Del Oro’s next stellar stopper had 11 sacks and big moments in the rugged Sierra Foothill League.
21. Nathan Peterson, Dixon, OL, 6-5, 290
As bright as he is dominant in the trenches with interest from Ivy League school. Best prospect since brothers Mat and David Ball went on to excel at UCLA in 1990s.
22. Dawson McPeak, River Valley, QB, 6-4, 215
Perhaps the best player in program history with a commitment to Northern Arizona, McPeak is a stellar student and son of the principal, Lee.
23. Connor McIntee, Jesuit, TE, 6-4, 235
Committed to Air Force, McIntee gives Jesuit its best 1-2 tight end punch in program history, dating to 1963.
24. Jacob Ellis, Granite Bay, RB/LB, 6-1, 185
A second-year two-way starter doesn’t have to be prolific to be feared as he leads storied Grizzlies.
25. Charlie McBride, Rocklin, TE/P, 6-3, 230
The program’s next top tight end might also be the program’s best punter as one of the state’s most versatile players.