Just as fast as Caden Pinnick can change direction, or as sudden as Carter Jackson can hit the jets, or as swift as Ricky Cole and CJ Lee can turn a game, half of the Sacramento-area high school football season is complete.
In the books in a flash.
At the midway point of the 11-week sprint to the California Interscholastic Federation’s Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, we offer up our leading Player of the Year and Coach of the Year candidates. Statistics are fun and all for top player lists, but team impact, leadership and results are especially paramount. Ultimately, playoff success will decide this race, big performances in the biggest games of the season.
As for Coach of the Year honors, to this point, there is logic in a nod to the leaders who have their teams off to a fast start. This includes: Casey Taylor at Oak Ridge (5-0), Jason Adams at Rocklin (5-0), Mike Maben at Del Oro (5-0), Chris Bean at Twelve Bridges (6-0), Reggie Harris at Inderkum (5-1), Kyle Landes at Vista del Lago (5-1), Marlon Blanton at Jesuit (4-1), Brad Hunkins at Woodcreek (4-1), Michael Paschke at Woodland Christian (5-0) and 2022 Bee co-Coaches of the Year Carl Reed and Syd Thompson at Grant (5-1).
At this point, we’re going with a coach who has vaulted his program out of nowhere. That’s Reid Sanders, who has led upstart Rio Americano to a 6-0 showing, its best since 1994. Special nod to Ryan Nill at rising Laguna Creek (4-2), Jason Tenner at West Park (4-1) with an overhauled roster, Brandon Pacheco, who has Union Mine off to a 4-1 start in his first season, and Jesse Collins, who has Mira Loma off to its best start in 15 years at 5-1.
The Bee’s Player of the Year race is deep and talented with quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and more vying for the region’s highest honor. Here’s a look at the leading candidates.
Caden Pinnick, QB, Del Oro
The senior is the most dazzling signal caller for the Golden Eagles since the mid 1990s when Randy Fasani was the nation’s No. 1 recruit (signing with Stanford and playing in the NFL). The Golden Eagles are 5-0 in part because defenses cannot contain Pinnick’s ability to make plays. He is third in the 150-football member CIF Sac-Joaquin Section in total yards (1,424) and second in yards per game (284). He has 13 touchdown passes and one interception with 216 yards rushing and five scores.
How he can win it: Keep on Pinnicking. Win the Sierra Foothill League and the D-II section finals.
CJ Lee, QB, Jesuit
The senior is the primary concern for defensive coordinators because he can extend plays with his feet, buckle a defense with long scoring runs, has a nice passing touch and is a team guy. He has passed for 869 yards and eight TDs with one interception and run for 413 and six for the Delta League favorite Marauders, who are 4-1. Of all the great QBs in program history, Lee is the most athletic one we can recall, certainly the best runner.
How he can win it: Lead Jesuit to its first section crown in more than 20 years.
Ricky Cole, QB, Inderkum
The junior is the most exciting at his position for Inderkum perhaps ever. A program long known for the wing-T run game has embraced its spread QB star, and Cole has come out of nowhere, wowing his coaches with his work ethic and skills. He is first in the section in total yards with 1,475, averaging 245.8 yards of offense per game for the 5-1 Tigers, the favorites to win the Capital Valley Conference. He has passed for 1,128 yards with 20 touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 342 yards and six scores.
How he can win it: Lead the program to its first section championship.
Carter Jackson, RB, Granite Bay
The junior Cal commit is “Action Jackson” because he’s the fastest back in the region, able to turn a game with a 60-yard bolt. He has reached the end zone eight times. To win the SFL, teams have to run the ball, and Carter isn’t alone in the quest as impressive sophomore Isaiah Ene has also left a mark as a RB/LB threat.
How he can win it: Win the section D-II bracket and keep on running in the NorCals.
Kaleb Edwards, TE/DE, Oak Ridge
The junior is the most heavily recruited player on this list who has not committed to a college program, as tall as he is talented at 6-foot-7, 235 pounds. He has great hands, can fly down the field and has chased down quarterbacks as a rush end for the 5-0 Trojans. A junior, Edwards leads Oak Ridge with 17 receptions for 310 yards. He is tied for the team lead with six tackles for loss and leads with four sacks and nine QB hurries.
How he can win it: Win the SFL and D-I section title.
John Koett/Matt Long, Vista del Lago
This could be a co-award because this is the best QB to WR combo in the section, and one rolls with the other. The seniors have been paramount in their team’s 5-1 start with Koett leading the charge with poise in passing for 1,326 yards and 18 TDs with three interceptions. Long, who stretches and buckles defenses, has 28 receptions for 463 yards and seven scores. He also has a section-leading five interceptions on defense.
How they can win it: Win the Capital Athletic League and a D-III section championship.
Nathan Crawford, RB, Twelve Bridges
The senior is setting school records for a new program that could last for years. He leads the section with 19 rushing touchdowns and 124 points scored for a 6-0 team. A powerful runner with burst, Crawford has 797 yards rushing for the Pioneer Valley League favorites, and he’s the first to praise linemen and defenders for their good work.
How he can win it: Win the PVL and a D-V section championships.
Ryder Lyons, QB, Folsom
The only sophomore on this list, Lyons is a relentless competitor who craves to excel, a common trait for Bulldogs quarterbacks since the program rose to power in 2010. He is second in the section with 1,425 total yards, averaging 285 yards a game as a skilled passer and a hard-charging runner. And no one has faced a more difficult schedule than Folsom, which has losses to NorCal No. 1 Serra of San Mateo (28-21) and NorCal No. 2 De La Salle (14-7).
How he can win it: Win the section D-I title and the NorCal crown.
Kingston Lopa, WR/DB, Grant
The 6-foot-5 Oregon commit senior safety is the latest big-time Pacers recruit who is as versatile as the senior is eager to lead. He has a team-high five TD catches from another POY candidate in QB Luke Alexander, and he has 3.5 sacks for the Metro League favorites, who are 5-1 with only a 21-18 loss to No. 2 Oak Ridge.
How he can win it: Repeat as section and CIF state D-III champions.
Cole Owens, WR, Casa Roble
The senior goes by “Cyborg” because he does inhuman things for the Golden Empire League and section D-V favorites. Owens has 232 yards receiving and three TDs, averages nearly five tackles per game and makes plays in the secondary for the 4-1 Rams.
How he can win it: Win a D-V section title and a CIF NorCal championship.
Derek Keeley, RB/LB, Rocklin
For a team so well rounded, we could name any number of Thunder players here, but we’ll go with this junior who leads his 5-0 team in rushing (340) and touchdowns (six) and is second in tackles behind Alex Durham. It takes do-all grinder like this to win championships.
How he can win it: Win the SFL and a D-II section championship.
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