This wasn’t simple, like picking the best American president, the most comfortable car or the worst “Rocky” sequel.
Compiling a list of the greatest high school football teams in the most populated state in the country was a daunting task – and one that invites criticism for its creator. Mark Tennis, the longtime editor of Cal-Hi Sports who has Sacramento roots, and his staff picked the top 50 teams in California, a list with a heavy dose of De La Salle, the program Tennis calls “the greatest football dynasty in U.S. history.” The list included a sprinkling of area programs from the past 40 years.
De La Salle’s 2001 team topped the list, and the Spartans occupy four of the top 12 spots and eight of the top 28, with nine other t De La Salle squads receiving honorable mention. That’s how good the Spartans have been.
“I’m sure some would say we don’t have enough of De La Salle,” Tennis said. “We decided in effect to combine some of their teams, like 2000 with 2001 or 2002 with 2003.”
De La Salle is the best prep program – any sport – I’ve covered in 27 years at The Sacramento Bee, so I can’t argue De La Salle’s dominance on the list.
The best Sacramento-area football team I’ve seen was Folsom in 2014, which Cal-Hi ranks No. 24. The Bulldogs went 16-0, with every game ending with a running clock, and set a state record with 915 points. Quarterback Jake Browning was The Bee’s All-Metro Player of the Year after passing for 5,790 yards and a national-record 91 touchdowns. Folsom also featured wide receivers Cole Thompson and Josiah Deguara, linemen Cody Creason and Jonah Williams and linebacker Sam Whitney, The Bee’s Defensive Player of the Year.
The highest-ranked team from this area – No. 15 – is Cordova’s 1975 squad, led by quarterback Scott Jenner, running backs Max Venable and Reggie Young and wide receiver Kenny Bowles. The Lancers (11-0) are the only local team to finish No. 1 in the country and the last Northern California program not named De La Salle to do so.
I’m sure some would say we don’t have enough of De La Salle. We decided in effect to combine some of their teams, like 2000 with 2001 or 2002 with 2003.
Mark Tennis, Cal-Hi Sports editor
Elk Grove’s 14-0 powerhouse of 1998 is ranked 30th. That team was led by Lance Briggs, The Bee’s Player of the Year who became a seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the Chicago Bears, quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie and versatile Ric Cottengim. That team was the best from this region I had covered until Folsom last season. Elk Grove’s 789 points were No. 2 in state history and fourth nationally at the time.
Grant’s 2008 team, 14-0 and the first Sac-Joaquin Section squad to win a state championship, is No. 37. The Pacers’ 25-20 victory over national No. 2 Long Beach Poly for the CIF State Open Division title is the area’s greatest team achievement. Grant was led by quarterback Kipeli Koniseti, running back Devontae Booker and wide receiver Darvin McCauley. Grant’s Mike Alberghini was named the Cal-Hi Coach of the Year.
Cordova’s 1977 team, which went 12-0 behind senior Young, and Grant’s 2006 squad, which finished 13-0, received honorable mention from Cal-Hi.
Other worthy area teams that didn’t make Cal-Hi’s list include Grant’s 1996 section title team led by quarterback Chad Elliott; Folsom’s 2010 team that lost to Grant in the season opener, avenged that loss in the playoffs and finished 14-1 with a CIF State Division II championship behind quarterback Dano Graves; and Granite Bay’s 2012 squad, which overcame a 1-3 start to take the CIF State Division I title with a victory over Long Beach Poly.
915 State-record point total by Folsom’s 2014 team
Second on Cal-Hi’s list is Vallejo’s 1954 team, led by the incomparable Dick Bass, a running back-linebacker. That team was 9-0 in an era before playoffs. Bass later excelled at Pacific and in the NFL. The quarterback was Tom Zunino, who became one of the state’s winningest coaches at Vacaville.
After Vallejo rolled Tamalpais of Mill Valley 87-25 in 1954, Santa Rosa coach Bill McGowan was quoted as saying, “Without a doubt, (Vallejo) has the greatest team in prep school history.”
If only McGowan could have seen the modern-day marvels of De La Salle, Folsom, Cordova, Elk Grove or Grant.