Preseason high school football rankings and preview
ESPN will release the ESPNRISE.com FAB 50 national football rankings each Monday of the regular season and playoffs, starting on Labor Day weekend and continuing through the final game of the various state playoffs around the nation.
For the first time ever, a single national high school ranking will be compiled by a panel of voters, including experts such as Mark Tennis, Doug Huff, Chris Lawlor, Sheldon Shealer, Ronnie Flores and Jon Mahoney. These rankings combine three previously separate national rankings into one.
Today, the ESPNRISE.com FAB 50 preseason rankings debut with Trinity High, of Euless, Texas, at No. 1, followed by Lowndes (Valdosta, Ga.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)and Jenks (Jenks, Okla.) in the top five.
ESPN RISE FAB 50
1. Trinity (Euless, Texas)
Last season's record: 15-1, Class 5A-I champion
Key players: QB Denarius McGhee (6-3, 180, Sr.); RB Dontrayevous Robinson (6-1, 205, Sr.); OL Cameron Graves (6-2, 265, Sr.); DB Eryon Barnett (6-2, 180, Sr.); LB Earnest Norman (6-0, 215, Sr.); DL Siosaia Tuipulotu (6-2, 280, Sr.)
Outlook: A returning quarterback is almost a prerequisite to be preseason No. 1 in the nation. For the Trojans, McGhee checks off that box with a huge X. He passed for 1,800 yards last season and beats teams with his arm, decision-making and feet. Robinson rushed for 900 yards and 17 TDs as a junior, while senior wideouts Tyree Tucker (6-0, 200) and Stetson Smith (5-11, 190) are versatile playmakers.
Norman, who has committed to Kansas, is one of the leaders on defense. Others on that side of the ball who figure to excel include Barnett and Prinz Kande (6-0, 180) in the secondary and defensive linemen Tuipulotu and Sioeli Pauni (6-0, 255). Along with Norman, linebacker Elikena Fielo (5-11, 200) makes a ton of stops. Trinity's last playoff loss was to Southlake Carroll (when it was No. 1 in the nation) in a game that was decided on a fake punt.
Trinity is known for its participation in a 2007 Gatorade TV commercial, in which former NFL coach Bill Parcells asks the athletes if they have what it takes to pay the toll. This season, Trinity will find out if it has what it takes not only to pay the toll but also to sit atop the ESPN RISE FAB 50 national poll.
Trinity won the Class 5A-Division I state title last season and is bidding for a third crown in the past four years. With six starters back on both sides of the ball, the Trojans are a consensus overall No. 1 team to start the season in Texas. They also have returning strength in all facets of their lineup, including quarterback and the other skill positions, and have some solid building blocks up front, as well.
Head coach Steve Lineweaver, who has gone 89-16 in eight years at Trinity (including 40-3 the past three years), remains guarded, offering no bulletin board material for opponents:
"We should find out early about our team since we play a Louisiana power [John Curtis of River Ridge] on Labor Day in a televised game at Texas Stadium," Lineweaver said. "After that, we will face two area rivals in Cedar Hill and Allen. You can't take any weeks off, but we hope to keep things going in the right direction."
Last year's team showed its youth in an early game when it lost by a 30-3 score to famed Texas power Permian of Odessa. By the playoffs, however, the Trojans got rolling and whipped that same Permian squad 38-14 en route to their state title. In the state final at the Alamodome, Trinity topped Converse Judson, 13-10.
A similar early loss this year probably would derail any chances the Trojans have to be No. 1 for the final ESPN RISE FAB 50. If they don't lose, though, and complete their regular-season schedule and playoffs with another state title, being in that Gatorade ad might no longer be the most significant national exposure for the school.
2. Lowndes (Valdosta, Ga.)
Last season's record: 14-1, Class AAAAA champion
Key players: RB Greg Reid (5-9, 175, Sr.); DB Gerald Demps (6-1, 195, Sr.); QB Khary Franklin (5-6, 165, Jr.); WR Darius Howell (5-11, 190, Sr.); TE Jordan Black (6-4, 250, Jr.)
Outlook: There is a ton of experience back from last season when the Vikings captured their third state title in the past four years, no doubt helping their town get ESPN's TitleTown USA label. Coach Randy McPherson has seven starters returning on each side of the ball. Reid is a two-way standout who was all-state at running back and is headed to Florida. Franklin isn't big, but he ran the offense well last year as a sophomore. The other skill positions also are strong, with Howell and Black leading the way.
On defense, Lowndes is particularly tough in the secondary as the Florida State-bound Demps is joined by returnees Marcus Solomon (5-11, 185) and Michael Mitchell (5-11, 180). Four state titles in five years would be a remarkable achievement in a strong state like Georgia, and this is a team with the talent and depth to make a run at the ESPN RISE FAB 50 crown. Some preseason ranked teams below, however, could be playing difficult schedules; since strength of schedule factors into the rankings, the Vikings will need to start out strong to convince any skeptics.
3. De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
Last season's record: 13-0, CIF Division I state champion
Key players: RB Kylan Butler (5-8, 180, Sr.); QB Blake Wayne (5-10, 170, Sr.); WR-DB Noah Perio (5-11, 165, Sr.); WR-DB Blair Wishom (6-0, 190, Sr.); OL-LB Zach Stanley (5-11, 206, Sr.)
Outlook: There is some rebuilding to do along the front lines on both offense and defense, but this could be the fastest overall squad that head coach Bob Ladouceur (332-20-3 since 1979) has ever had. That's why the Spartans (with 10 returning starters) are beginning in their usual spot of being No. 1 in California. Butler led the team in scoring last year with 22 TDs and is headed to the University of Arizona.
Speed is also coming up from a 9-1 JV team, led by junior RB Tyler Anderson (5-11, 180), who had one of the highest SPARQ Ratings from the entire country last spring.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Last season's record: 14-1, Class 5A state champion
Key players: WR Duron Carter (6-3, 205, Sr.); QB Ryan Becker (6-0, 185, Sr.); C Brandon Linder (6-5, 280, Jr.); LB Conor O'Neill (6-1, 185, Sr.); Giovanni Bernard (5-9, 200, Jr.)
Outlook: As in most years, the Florida preseason No. 1 ranking seems somewhat wide open for debate, although it certainly wasn't last year with Miami Northwestern. St. Thomas Aquinas has the combination of being a defending state champ with some outstanding returnees. The Raiders also have a great tradition, with four straight appearances in the state championship game; they are looking for their fifth state title this season under veteran head coach George Smith, who is 318-65 in 31 seasons.
Five offensive starters are back, including Becker, who passed for 1,800 yards and 29 TDs as a junior. Carter is the son of ex-NFL wideout Cris Carter and is explosive going deep or across the middle. Bernard is one of two highly touted junior running backs, with the other being James White (5-10, 180). Linder anchors a strong offensive line, while the top defender is O'Neill.
5. Jenks (Jenks, Okla.)
Last season's record: 13-1, Class 6A state champion
Key players: DB Gabe Lynn (6-0, 180, Sr.); LB E.J. Colbert (5-9, 220, Sr.); WR Tramaine Thompson (5-9, 170, Sr.); OL Brian Mincher (6-2, 270, Sr.); DL Jason Bixler (6-2, 220, Sr.)
Outlook: Head coach Allan Trimble has guided the Trojans to nine state titles in the past 12 years and is favored to make it 10 out of 13. Eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters are back, although the loss of two key graduates -- QB Mark Ginther and 1,700-yard rusher Chris Adkins -- must be overcome. Some offensive firepower is on hand with Thompson, who caught 35 passes for 625 yards and seven TDs, and upcoming junior RB Colton Dost (5-10, 170), who had nearly 800 yards and nine TDs last year on just 82 carries in a backup role.
A key transfer at QB might be junior Beau Marsaln, who has passed for 4,065 yards and 45 TDs over the past two years at two different smaller schools. On defense, Lynn, one of the most highly-regarded DBs in the nation, and Colbert, who had 90 tackles with three sacks and two fumble recoveries, are the top returnees. Bixler is back after getting 60 tackles, while LB Jaeger Cox (5-11, 200) and DE Chris Ray (6-4, 220) are two other returning defenders to watch.
6. Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
Last season's record: 12-0, Non-Public Group IV champion
Key players: QB Brett Knief (6-0, 190, Sr.); RB Dillon Romain (5-11, 205, Sr.); RB Troy Jones (5-9, 185, Jr.); DB Trace McDermott (6-0, 190, Sr.); OL Jack Templeton (6-3, 260, Sr.)
Outlook: Shooting for a third straight 12-0 season obviously isn't enough for the Ironmen. This school, which just recently was No. 1 in the final FAB 50 national baseball rankings for the 2008 season, is looking for a national title. The Ironmen, with eight offensive and five defensive returning starters, take to the road this season to face St. Xavier of Cincinnati and De La Salle of Concord, Calif., and are the only preseason ranked team in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 that is playing two others in the top 10.
Kneif, a baseball standout who has verbally committed to North Carolina, compiled 2,178 yards and 22 touchdowns last season to earn first team all-state honors. Romain and Jones, meanwhile, combined for 32 touchdowns. McDermott, a top defensive returnee in the secondary, is back to catch passes along with junior Jimmy Clark (6-1, 170). Up front, Templeton isn't alone as a standout returnee, as both Matt Strizak (6-1, 250) and junior Brandon Sacco (6-4, 240) fit the bill, as well. The team's place-kicker, Patrick Murray, also is a college recruit.
7. Gateway (Monroeville, Pa.)
Last season's record: 11-2, WPIAL Class AAAA finalist
Key players: LB Dorian Bell (6-0, 225, Sr.); DB Corey Brown (6-0, 180, Sr.); DE B.J. Stevens (6-0, 235, Sr.); QB Robert Kalkstein (6-1, 180, Jr.); OL Colin Rodkey (6-4, 260)
Outlook: On paper, Gateway is the best preseason team in Pennsylvania. But getting beyond the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) will not be an easy task. The Gators return seven offensive and eight defensive starters from a squad that pushed last year's Class AAAA state champ, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, to overtime before losing in the WPIAL final. Gateway features two of the Keystone State's top recruits in Bell and Brown (both have committed to Ohio State).
Bell had 131 tackles and 11 sacks as a junior. Brown picked off five passes. Kalkstein is a returning starter at quarterback, and his top target will be Brown, who caught 28 passes for 500 yards last season. DB Brian Williams (5-7, 160) and LB Mike Wilson (6-2, 195) are two honors candidates to watch. The Pittsburgh-area WPIAL has returned to state prominence by producing the past four Class AAAA state champions.
8. Deerfield Beach (Deerfield Beach, Fla.)
Last season's record: 11-3, Class 6A semifinalist
Key players: QB Denard Robinson (5-11, 180, Sr.); RB Cassius McDowell (5-9, 165, Jr.); DB Adrian Witty (6-1, 175, Sr.); DB Donte Dotson (5-9, 165, Jr.); DL Johnny Seays (6-1, 240, Sr.)
Outlook: The Bucks look like the team to beat in Florida's Class 6A ranks. They gave defending mythical national champ Miami Northwestern its closest game last year in a 19-14 loss in the semifinals. In the regular season, they also handed Class 5A state champ St. Thomas Aquinas its only loss. Twelve starters, six on each of the ball, are back -- and one of those is Robinson, who accounted for nearly 2,500 yards in total offense.
He'll be joined in the backfield by McDowell, who scored 15 TDs and rushed for 900 yards. Of the six players returning on defense, highly touted corner Witty leads the group. Deerfield Beach's chances of going even higher in the rankings probably depend as well on how several Florida teams do in games against out-of-state teams like Byrnes, S.C., and Poly of Long Beach, Calif.
9. St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Last season's record: 15-0, Division I champion
Key players: QB Luke Massa (6-5, 200, Jr.); OL Matthew James (6-7, 285, Sr.); LB Luke Kuechly (6-3, 210, Sr.); DL Patrick Muldoon (6-4, 255, Sr.); RB Connor Earley (5-11, 190, Sr.)
Outlook: If the Bombers go unscathed and win their third state title in four years, they will be in contention once again for the final No. 1 ranking. Many thought last year's team should have been No. 1 instead of Miami Northwestern, based on strength of schedule, and that would again be a linchpin of any argument this team would have at the finish.
The schedule includes the top-ranked teams from New Jersey (Don Bosco Prep) and Alabama (Prattville) plus a defending Kentucky champ (Louisville Trinity) and an Indiana state runner-up (Indianapolis Cathedral). This doesn't even include the teams the Bombers will play or might play in their own state. Massey returns at QB after passing for 1,200 yards and seven TDs while starting the final seven games last season. Earley is expected to step up at RB after backing up All-American Darius Ashley last season. James leads the offensive line, while Kuedchly and Muldoon should make St. X rugged up front on defense. Kuedchly was the team's top tackle last year, while Muldoon was named to the all-state team.
10. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Last season's record: 15-0, Class 5A champion
Key players: Marcus Lattimore (5-11, 195, Jr.); QB Chas Dodd (6-2, 185, Jr.); WR Ricco Sanders (5-11, 180, Sr.); DB Justin Bright (6-1, 190, Sr.); OL Jamie Dunaway (6-3, 270, Sr.).
Outlook: If Byrnes goes unbeaten against a challenging schedule and wins a sixth state title in the past seven years, it might not be enough to be No. 1 in the nation this year. But with all the juniors around, that probably would make the Rebels a solid preseason No. 1 for 2009. Latti, one of the top junior running backs in the nation who rushed for 1,884 yards and scored 30 TDs last season, and Dodd, one of the nation's top junior quarterbacks who threw for 3,202 yards and 32 TDs, are two of 17 returning starters.
You know that second-year head coach Chris Miller is expecting big things since the schedule includes three out-of-state foes in Florida powers Pahokee and Tallahassee Lincoln plus North Gwinnett, which was the Class AAAAA runner-up in Georgia last season. Sanders and yet another junior, Nick Jones, both caught 58 passes and will be back as Dodd's top two targets. Among the eight starters back on defense is Bright, who has committed to Florida State and was one of the top safeties at the recent NIKE 7ON national passing tournament held in Beaverton, Ore.
11. Poly (Long Beach, Calif.)
Last season's record: 13-1, CIF Southern Section Pac-Five champion
Key players: RB Melvin Richardson (5-10, 210, Sr.); QB Morgan Fennell (6-2, 190, Sr.); LB Kenny Tuiloma (5-10, 230, Sr.); DB-WR Stanjariuus McKay (6-0, 185, Sr.); DB Darius Williams-Fox (5-8, 170, Sr.).
Outlook: In his first seven years as head coach, Raul Lara has won three CIF Southern Section titles in the highest classification and has the ingredients to win a fourth this season. Lara is a former Jackrabbits linebacker, and defense will once again be the team's strength, with five returning starters from a unit that kept two nationally ranked opponents out of the end zone in the final two games to secure the school's 17th section title.
Leading the defensive charge are linebackers Tuiloma, George Daily-Lyles (5-11, 210) and Matthew Jones (5-11, 200). Defensive end Iuta Tepa (6-3, 220) is highly touted, and although the secondary must replace stalwarts Vaughn Telemaque (Miami) and Herman Davidson (North Carolina), McKay and Williams-Fox are impact players.
The offense will rely on a power running game led by Richardson, arguably the most impressive offensive player in Poly's postseason surge last season. Richardson rushed for 1,316 yards on 128 carries, and Poly has the luxury of speed backs Davion Barner (5-8, 170, Sr.) and Cory Westbrook (5-9, 185, Sr.). Poly, which opens with defending ESPN RISE FAB 50 champ Miami Northwestern in Florida, will make the playoffs for the 29th consecutive season, but in order to defend its section title, reliable pass-catchers need to be developed.
12. Lake Travis (Austin, Texas)
Last season's record: 15-1
Key players: QB Garrett Gilbert (6-3, 190, Sr.); WR Cade McCrary (6-4, 185, Sr.); RB Chris Aydam (6-1, 185, Sr.); OL Paden Kelly (6-4, 280, Sr.); DL Matt Kuenstler (6-2, 265, Sr.); DL Nick Whitehair (6-1, 240, Sr.)
Outlook: While No. 1 Trinity looks solid as a preseason No. 1 in Texas for Class 5A, the same can be said of the Cavaliers in Class 4A. Eleven starters are back, led by Gilbert, who should be completely healed from shoulder surgery by the start of the season. Gilbert, son of former NFL quarterback Gale Gilbert (five straight Super Bowl appearances), turned Texas football on its ears a year ago by passing for 4,827 yards and 49 TDs. The national player of the year candidate will be joined in the backfield by Aydam, who rushed for 1,000 yards and caught 32 passes. McCrary, meanwhile, is back after catching 41 passes for 664 yards and six scores. The Cavaliers should be tougher on defense, too. Kuenstler and Whitehair were among the team leaders in tackles and sacks last season, while the secondary features Marcus Pate (5-10, 185) and Harry Hatch (5-11, 170). Watch for an early-season game with Westlake of Austin. The Chaps handed the Cavaliers their only loss last year and are traditionally one of the top teams in the Lone Star State.
13. Rockhurst (Kansas City, Mo.)
Last season's record: 13-0, Class 6 champion
Key players: QB Nathan Scheelhaase (6-3, 195, Sr.); RB-DB Sal Belfonte (5-10, 195, Jr.); WR Keith Langtry (6-2, 180, Sr.); OL Tom Freeman (6-4, 265, Sr.); LB Bill Linscott (6-0, 200, Sr.)
Outlook: The season-opening game for the Hawklets against No. 49 Blue Springs South will be shown on ESPN and will be a matchup of the top two teams from the Kansas City area. But that's not the only tough game on the Rockhurst schedule this year, as it also will play Kansas powerhouse Hutchinson plus one of Colorado's best, Mullen Prep of Denver. Veteran coach Tony Severino, in his 32nd season (26th at Rockhurst), has a squad with much offensive prowess. QB Scheelhaase, who recently committed to Illinois, was the first underclassman in 25 years to win the Simone Award as Kansas City's player of the year. As a junior, he passed for 20 TDs and 1,861 yards, with another 900 yards rushing plus 14 TDs. Belfonte was the team's leading tackler as a sophomore and had more than 1,000 yards in kickoff and punt returns. The team's biggest concern, it appears, is finding another go-to running back since graduated standout Drew Temple is now at Missouri.
14. Armwood (Seffner, Fla.)
Last season's record: 13-1, Class 4A semifinals
Key players: LB Petey Smith (6-0, 240, Sr.); DL Ryne Giddins (6-4, 245, Sr.); QB Mywan Jackson (6-1, 170, Sr.); OL Justin Cabbagestalk (6-4, 295, Sr.); DB Angelo Hadley (5-11, 190, Sr.)
Outlook: Getting two wins last season over Tampa Plant (also in the preseason ESPN RISE FAB 50) and having a well-balanced group of talented returnees makes the Hawks extremely rankable. Last year's team was nationally ranked, as well, and dual-threat QB Jackson will be running the offense again. Junior running back Sherman Jessie is another dangerous threat each time he touches the ball, as is senior wide receiver/return man Rob Jones (6-0, 170). Cabbagestalk is the anchor of the offensive line. The defense returns two of the nation's top recruits in Smith and Giddins, who had a school-record 21 sacks last year. Senior linebacker Casey Callahan was the team's leading tackler with 126, while Hadley paces the secondary.
15. Lutheran (Orange, Calif.)
Last season's record: 11-2, CIF Southern Section Pac-Five semifinalist
Key players: DE Kapono Asuega (6-1, 270, Sr.); LB Jeremiah Pemasa (5-10, 200, Sr.); RB/DB Exavier Edwards (5-10, 180, Jr.); QB Bobby Wheatley (6-1, 190, Jr.); DB Gabe Lemon (5-10, 175, Sr.)
Outlook: In 2007, the Lancers had aspirations of advancing to their second consecutive Pac-Five title game when disaster struck in the semifinals against Long Beach Poly. Lutheran was looking to score six or kick a field goal when Wheatley, then a backup, botched a snap under center inside Poly's 5-yard line and the Jackrabbits held on for a 2-0 win. Head coach Jim Kunau will be highly motivated to erase the memory of that stinging loss, and with nine returning starters plus several talented transfers, his club has the ability to return to the championship round. The defense will be stingy once again as six of the returnees, including Asuega and Pemasa, will be joined by some of the newcomers. Lemon had nine interceptions at nearby Trabuco Hills and will complement returning secondary starters Terrence Brown (6-0, 170, Sr.) and Kyle Dravis (5-10, 175, Sr.). Lutheran, which plays in the highly competitive Trinity League, has to replace many of its skill-position players on offense but will be especially strong on the right side of the offensive line with guard Aaron Prindale (5-11, 250, Sr.) and tackle Moses Peralta (6-2, 260, Sr.). Edwards will have an expanded role as the primary ball carrier, and to say Wheatley has valuable game experience at quarterback is an understatement.
16. Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, Va.)
Last season's record: 13-1, Division 6 semifinalist
Key players: QB Phillip Sims (6-0, 200, Jr.); WR Tim Smith (6-0, 180, Sr.); RB Perry Jones (5-8, 175, Sr.); LB Jerod Askew (6-1, 230, Sr.); DL Jamara Gray (5-10, 240, Sr.).
Outlook: With 14 returning starters from a squad that averaged 40-plus points per game and came within a hair of the Division 6 state final, Oscar Smith is primed for a preseason No. 1 ranking in Virginia. The Tigers -- who aren't far geographically from Phoebus of Hampton, Va., another preseason ESPN RISE FAB 50 team -- will be led by Sims, a superstar in the making who passed for 3,045 yards and 33 TDs as a sophomore. Sims has the luxury of throwing to one of the state's top receiver prospects in Smith, who had 36 catches for 587 yards and five TDs last year. Jones, who has committed to the University of Virginia, is a two-way standout at running back and linebacker. Askew, who had 120 tackles and 14 sacks last year, and Gray, who had 17 sacks, headline the group of defensive returnees.
17. St. Ignatius (Cleveland, Ohio)
Last season's record: 8-3, Division I playoff qualifier
Key players: QB Andrew Holland (6-2, 195, Sr.); DB Dan Fox (6-3, 215, Sr.); RB Mike Anter (5-10, 180, Sr.); WR Connor Ryan (6-1, 185, Sr.); WR Joe Parris (6-1, 190, Sr.)
Outlook: This program was arguably the nation's best during the decade of the 1990s, but in recent years St. Ignatius has watched others in Ohio, particularly St. Xavier of Cincinnati, take center stage. This year, with 12 returning starters, the Wildcats figure to be one of Ohio's best. They are normally a senior-oriented team, and with veteran head coach Chuck Kyle still guiding the ship, when St. Ignatius has that much talent back it is usually very good. Kyle, who was selected to coach the USA's first junior national team, has eight starters returning on offense. Holland and Anter were team leaders in passing and rushing last year, while Ryan and Parris were the top two receivers. The defense is anchored by Fox, a Notre Dame recruit and three-sport performer who roams the field as a strong safety.
18. St. Xavier (Louisville, Ky.)
Last season's record: 13-1, Class 6A runner-up
Key players: RB Deuce Finch (5-10, 200, Sr.), OL Seth Harvey (6-0, 323, Sr.), DL Trevor Foy (6-7, 240, Sr.), DB D.J. Hall (5-11, 190, Sr.); QB Matt Brutscher (6-1, 190, Sr.)
Outlook: The Tigers will aim to complete a run to the state title this season after suffering their only loss last year, in overtime, in the Class 6A final to archrival Trinity, a team they defeated in the regular season. St. Xavier has more key players returning than Trinity, and it's enough to make the Tigers No. 1 in Kentucky to start the season. Finch leads the returnees; an all-state pick, he rushed for 1,555 yards and 15 TDs last season despite missing a month with an injury. He will run behind a line anchored by Harvey. New QB Brutscher is expected to step in and excel, as well. On defense, St. Xavier has rebuilding to do, but Foy up front and Hall on the back side look like all-state candidates.
19. Plano (Plano, Texas)
Last season's record: 13-2, Class 5A-Div. I semifinalist
Key players: QB Carson Meger (6-1, 195, Sr.); RB Rex Burkhead (6-0, 205, Sr.); WR Kris Lott (6-2, 200, Sr.); DB LaRon Kelly (5-10, 180, Sr.); OL Hanur Kim (6-3, 260, Sr.).
Outlook: Preseason No. 1 Euless Trinity of Texas certainly knows about the Plano Wildcats since it took two overtimes before the Wildcats finally succumbed to Trinity, 30-27, in the state semifinals. Offensively, Plano returns even more than Trinity and looks like a good bet to average more than the 32.7 points per game of last year. Meger emerged as a junior and ended with 3,342 yards passing and 23 TDs. Burkhead is starting his fourth year as a varsity player at Plano. He had 1,770 yards rushing last year, with 520 receiving yards and a total of 33 TDs. The team's leading receiver, Lott, also is back. He had 72 catches for 1,260 yards and 11 TDs. Longtime assistant coach Jaydon McCullough is taking over the reigns as head coach from Gerald Brence, who is now in administration. Kelly, who has 4.37 speed and is regarded as one of the top DBs in Texas, should lead the defense along with fellow safety Justin Collins (6-2, 190). Two others up front who return along with Kim: Jordan Talley (6-1, 260) and Justin Boyde (6-0, 210).
20. Plant (Tampa, Fla.)
Last season's record: 11-2, Class 4A quarterfinalist
Key players: QB Aaron Murray (6-2, 205, Sr.); WR Nathan Marvel (6-1, 195, Sr.); DB Hunter Baldwin (6-0, 190, Sr.); WR Orson Charles (6-3, 215, Sr.); LB Mike Mirabella (5-11, 190, Sr.).
photo4> Outlook: Winning the Nike 7ON national passing title in July didn't advance the Panthers in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 preseason evaluations, but it did answer questions about whether Murray will miss most of his favorite targets from last year. The emergence of Charles plus Justin Rudolph (5-9, 175) showed Murray will be as good as ever. The University of Georgia recruit passed for 4,012 yards and a state-record 51 TDs while rushing for 932 yards and 12 scores as a junior. Head coach Robert Weiner also has the team's top three tacklers back on defense -- Baldwin, Mirabella and DL Austin Clark (5-11, 250). The Panthers also are loaded in the secondary with Javonte Martin (5-9, 165) at corner and transfer safety Eric Dungy (6-0, 175), a junior who is the son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. Plant can't be ahead of area rival Armwood in the rankings (due to two head-to-head losses last year) but still looks like one of Florida's (and one of the nation's) top teams for this season.
21. Camden County (Kingsland, Ga.)
Last season's record: 12-2, Class AAAAA semifinalist
Key players: LB Justin Orr (6-2, 205, Sr.); RB Greg Baker (5-9, 175, Sr.); TE Marquevious Myers (6-1, 225, Sr.); LB Gavin Oliver (5-10, 185, Sr.); LB Ty Booth (5-10, 205).
Outlook: Eleven starters are back from a team that made it to the Class AAAAA state semifinals last year and has been a regular title contender in Georgia for most of the past decade. The real strength for the Wildcats is on defense, where seven of 11 starters return, led by all three linebackers. This group should be able to stuff the run and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. There isn't as much back on offense, but Baker is a top-notch ball carrier and Myers is a dangerous pass-catcher.
22. Carmel (Carmel, Ind.)
Last season's record: 13-2, Class 5A champion
Key players: QB Morgan Newton (6-4, 215, Sr.); OL Brooks Michel (6-7, 295, Sr.); OL Alex Pierce (6-5, 300, Sr.); RB Kurt Freytag (5-11, 185, Sr.); WR Joe Rippe (6-0, 175, Sr.).
Outlook: The Greyhounds count 11 starters -- six on offense, five on defense -- who are back to defend their 2007 state crown. The leader is Newton, a three-sport athlete who stars in the secondary as well as at quarterback and who earned all-state honors last year as a junior QB. Rippe is another versatile offensive weapon for the Greyhounds; a top all-around athlete, he was one of Indiana's top junior sprinters and long jumpers during this past spring's track season. The offensive line features two mammoth major-college prospects in Michel and Pierce. RB Freytag is primed for a standout season.
23. John Curtis (River Ridge, La.)
Last season's record: 12-2, Class AA champion
Key players: RB Kenny Cain (5-11, 210, Sr.); DL Walker Asburn (6-2, 255, Jr.); LB Jonathan Pippin (6-0, 210, Sr.); DB Jonathan McKnight (6-0, 170, Jr.); LB Matt Stansbury (5-11, 195, Sr.)
Outlook: Labor Day weekend will be huge for the Patriots when they open up with ESPN RISE FAB 50 preseason No. 1 Trinity of Euless, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium. The defending Class AA state champions, who have won four straight titles and 22 overall under legendary 38-year head coach J.T. Curtis, have seven starters back on defense and four back on offense. Curtis, the second-winningest prep coach in U.S. history with a 455-48-6 record, will rely on 2007 top rusher Cain plus newcomer quarterback Evan Ingram (6-1, 195). On defense, Asburn returns after being named the MVP of the 2007 state final, while McKnight should continue to progress as a major college prospect. He started last year as a sophomore and is the younger brother of USC sophomore sizzler Joe McKnight.
24. Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.)
Last season's record: 14-0, Class 3A champion
Key players: QB Jake Heaps (6-2, 195, Jr.); WR Gino Simone (5-10, 165, Sr.); WR Kasen Williams (6-2, 195, Soph.); DB William Chandler (6-2, 170, Sr.); WR Jake Knecht (6-0, 190, Sr.).
Outlook: State Hall of Fame coach Steve Gervais is now at the University of Washington, but new coach Mat Taylor shouldn't miss a beat. He has been credited with helping install Skyline's prolific offense, which returns almost all key components this year. The Spartans, who won a battle of unbeatens against O'Dea of Seattle in last year's Class 3A final, are moving up to Class 4A this year and are the team to beat overall in Washington. Heaps, who could be one of the top junior QBs in the nation, passed for 3,103 yards and 31 TDs as a sophomore. Simone comes back for even more prolific totals after last season (70 catches for 1,420 yards and 20 TDs). Williams came of age as a freshman in the state final and is regarded as having unreal potential. The Spartans also have some top linemen returning, led by Grant Engel (6-2, 255), who was MVP of a summer lineman challenge.
25. South Panola (Batesville, Miss.)
Last season's record: 15-0, Class 5A state champion
Key players: QB David Renfroe (6-2, 195, Sr.); RB Nicholas Parker (6-1, 195, Jr.); FB Reuben Corley (6-0, 225, Sr.); DB David Conner (5-10, 190, Sr.); DB Lareco Lee (5-11, 190, Sr.)
Outlook: When you have 10 starters back from a team with the nation's longest active win streak (75 games), you earn at least a Top 25 spot in the preseason ESPN RISE FAB 50. The only reason the Tigers aren't higher is a fairly long list of graduated standouts, including RB Darius Barksdale, who rushed for 2,940 yards and scored 37 TDs. Second-year head coach Lance Pogue does have an experienced QB in Renfroe and two backs in Parker and Corley who should make up for some of Barksdale's yardage. Conner and Lee should lead a potent secondary, while another to watch on defense is touted junior Devin Clark (6-2, 260).
26. Prattville (Prattville, Ala.)
Last season's record: 15-0, Class 6A champion
Key players: LB Alex Page (6-1, 235, Sr.); LB La'angelo Albright (5-11, 200, Sr.); DL Anthony Holland (5-9, 255, Sr.); LB Octavius Gilbert (5-8, 200, Sr.); DB Zach Brownell (6-0, 200, Sr.)
Outlook: The Lions should get an early-season gauge when they visit defending Ohio Division I titlist St. Xavier at Cincinnati, and risk their 30-game winning streak, to open the season. The schedule for first-year coach Jamie Dubose also includes a home game vs. Tennessee power Brentwood Academy. The top returnees are all on defense, so Dubose's biggest challenge will be to find offensive players to step up and fill the void created by graduation. Two all-state honorees will anchor the defense: Page, who can play linebacker or defensive end, and Albright. They were the team's top two tacklers last year. Holland and Gilbert will add to the power of the front seven on defense, while the secondary's top veteran is Brownell.
27. Joliet Catholic (Joliet, Ill.)
Last season's record: 13-1, Class 6A champion
Key players: RB Tyler Hudetz (5-9, 190, Sr.); LB Josh Mander (6-2, 225, Sr.); OL Joe Kripp (6-4, 300, Sr.); RB Dave Janicki (5-9, 165, Sr.); LB Jake Stockman (6-1, 210, Sr.)
Outlook: The Hilltoppers are coming off a record 13th state championship and are in typical reloading mode since their lineups are senior-dominated much of the time. This year, though, Joliet Catholic does return the team's leading rusher in Hudetz plus touted linebacker Mander, who is moving from outside to inside linebacker. Hudetz rushed for 1,618 yards and scored 20 TDs as a junior. Mander will be joined inside by Stockman, another returnee, while senior corner Nick Ratajczak (5-10, 175) leads the secondary. Head coach Dan Sharp may use senior Mark Ginnetti (6-0, 175) as the new QB, but another possibility might be senior Jim Bolin (5-8, 160), who can run the ball effectively. Senior Dan Foreman (6-4, 275) is an offensive lineman to watch.
28. Lakeland (Lakeland, Fla.)
Last season's record: 10-2, Class 5A regional semifinalist
Key players: QB Jarred Haggins (6-2, 180, Jr.); RB Jason Guzman (5-11, 180, Sr.); LB Jordan Jones (6-2, 220, Sr.); OL Corey Swanson (6-3, 285, Sr.); OL Brenton Clayton (6-2, 310, Sr.)
Outlook: A return to prominence in the Sunshine State appears likely for the Dreadnaughts, who were No. 1 in the nation two years ago and won a state-record 53 straight games from 2005-07. Headlining the offense will be Haggins, also known as Scooter, who accounted for 1,275 yards last season in rushing and passing. Guzman was a 1,000-yard rusher and should get plenty of holes from a line led by Swanson and Clayton. The defense is led by Jones, a middle linebacker who had 112 tackles, including 52 solos, as a junior. Coach Bill Castle's team opens the season against defending Pennsylvania Class 4A champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic on Labor Day.
29. Maryville (Maryville, Tenn.)
Last season's record: 15-0, Class 4A champion
Key players: DE Justin Smith (6-2, 245, Sr.); RB Thomas Shuler (5-10, 180, Sr.); WR Chris Jordan (5-9, 170, Sr.); PK Zach Sharp (5-11, 200, Soph.); P Ross Bustin (5-10, 180, Jr.)
Outlook: Until someone derails the Rebels, they remain the team to beat in Tennessee. They enter the season with a state-record 60-game win streak, which also is the second-longest current win streak in the nation. Maryville also has won four straight state titles. Head coach George Quarles (123-9 in nine seasons at the school) is counting five offensive and six defensive returning starters. Smith, an all-state pick as a junior, is one of the top defenders in the state. The kicking game is lights-out with Sharp, who booted five field goals as a freshman, and Bustin. A new quarterback needs to emerge, but the offense has some top pieces back in Shuler and Jordan.
30. Southlake Carroll (Southlake, Texas)
Last season's record: 11-2, Class 5A-Div. II quarterfinalist
Key players: DL Brayden Burnett (6-3, 235, Sr.); QB Kyle Padron (6-4, 200, Sr.); PK-LB Cade Foster (6-1, 220, Jr.); DL Jackson Richards (6-4, 235, Jr.); DB Seth Jameson (6-0, 180, Sr.)
Outlook: QB Riley Dodge and just about all the offense from last year's team is gone. It was a squad that lost its chance for a possible fifth straight state title partly when Dodge suffered a shoulder injury in the playoffs. The offense may sputter early, but probably not that much as Padron is expected to step up as the starter. He completed 62 percent of his passes in a backup role behind Dodge last year and recently committed to new SMU coach June Jones. The defense has eight players back who started some games last year and should be the Dragons' strength, particularly in the first few games. Burnett and Richards should be dominant as defensive ends, while Jameson is expected to be a leader in the secondary. Foster is perhaps Carroll's most intriguing player. He was a standout kicker as a sophomore with 12 field goals in 15 attempts, including a long of 48 yards. This year, he also will play middle linebacker and could be a major college prospect as a senior.
31. Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.)
Last season's record: 14-0, Division I champion
Key players: QB Tom Parish (6-3, 200, Jr.); RB-DB Brian Crook (5-11, 185, Jr.); WR Ross Finco (5-10, 165, Jr.); OL Jared Volk (6-4, 285, Sr.); PK Jeff Budzien (5-11, 165, Sr.)
Outlook: The Warhawks will open defense of their Division I state championship with 11 starters back from an unbeaten team. Three experienced juniors could keep Arrowhead in the national rankings mix for next year, as well. They are Parish, whose father and grandfather were Big Ten QBs; two-way back Crook, the MVP of last year's state final; and Finco, whose grandfather, Kenny Ploen, was an All-American QB at Iowa. A key senior is Budzien, who booted field goals from 55 and 49 yards out as a junior.
Last season's record: 10-2, CIF Southern Section Pac-Five quarterfinalist
Key players: QB Matt Barkley (6-3, 225, Sr.); OT Chris Ward (6-5, 290, Jr.); RB Jaron Hytche (5-10, 210, Sr.); DB/WR Christian Maldonado (6-0, 180, Sr.); WR Victor Blackwell (6-0, 175, Soph.).
Outlook: While there are some question marks for the Monarchs with the loss of 10 regulars, there is no questioning that Barkley will generate points for the Mater Dei offense. All he did as a junior was complete 62 percent of his passes for 3,560 yards and 35 touchdowns while earning CalHiSports.com State Junior Player of the Year honors. Barkley will miss throwing to his cousin, Robbie Boyer and Andrew Abbott, but the talented Blackwell is expected to play a big role in the offense while Maldonado is adept at both running and catching the ball. Developing defensive depth will be key for a unit that gave up 48 points in its playoff loss, but Mater Dei is just as optimistic about its offense as it is cautiously pessimistic about its defense. Barkley has received as much publicity as any prep athlete in the country, but Mater Dei has not won an outright league title, much less a section title, with the USC commit under center, so it must start out the season ranked lower than Trinity League rival Orange Lutheran in the FAB 50.
33. Union (Tulsa, Okla.)
Last season's record: 13-1, Class 6A finalist
Key players: RB Jeremy Smith (6-0, 205, Sr.); WR Anthony Foster (5-11, 170, Sr.); DB Randy Stanley (5-9, 165, Sr.); WR Tracy Moore (6-3, 210, Sr.); DB Terrell Williams (6-0, 185, Sr.)
Outlook: It's always a two-horse race at the top of the pack in Oklahoma between the Redskins and Jenks. This year, Jenks has overall returnees and a lot returnees on defense. If a new quarterback emerges at Union, though, after the graduation of Brandon Rogers, the Redskins might be even better than Jenks on offense. The Redskins certainly have a lot of firepower back on that side of the ball, led by Smith, an Oklahoma State commit who piled up 1,744 yards rushing and scored 20 TDs last season. Foster and Moore were the top two pass-catchers with 45 each and combined for eight TDs. Williams, who played at another school last year, is regarded as one of the top defensive backs in the state and also could be utilized on offense. The new QB likely will be junior Chase Boyce (5-11, 175), a backup to Rogers last year.
34. St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia)
Last season's record: 10-2, Catholic League champion
Key players: OL Mark Arcidiacono (6-5, 285, Sr.); LB Michael Pereira (6-0, 235, Sr.); OL Mike Pinciotti (6-3, 285, Sr.); QB Mark Giubilato (6-3, 230, Sr.); RB Mike Yeager (5-10, 170, Sr.)
Outlook: This perennial Philadelphia power, along with others from the Catholic League, joined the state association last year and is eligible for the state playoffs this season -- for the first time ever. This year's team, coached by Gil Brooks, might be the best ever for linemen and one of the best in the nation. Arcidiacono has committed to Penn State while Pinciotti is another honors candidate. Junior Seth Betancourt (6-6, 285) will be a top college prospect next year and joins those two. Giubilato didn't start last year but has committed to Temple and should be one of the best QBs in the Philadelphia area. Pereira had 100-plus tackles and is the top defensive returnee, along with all-league nose tackle Andy Marshalick (6-0, 275).
35. Bellarmine Prep (San Jose, Calif.)
Last season's record: 10-2, CIF Central Coast Section Open Division semifinalist
Key players: RB Usua Amanam (5-10, 170, Sr.); LB Michael Clay (6-0, 205, Sr.); OL Kevin Danser (6-5, 295, Sr.); QB Austyn Carta-Samuels (6-0, 205, Sr.); RB Kyle Olugbode (5-10, 170, Jr.)
Outlook: All last year it was obvious to many in the San Francisco Bay Area that the Bells would be a year away from being a dominant team. Being ahead of De La Salle is too much to ask, but being one of the best in California is very likely. Amanam combined for nearly 2,000 yards in rushing and receiving as a senior and is headed to Stanford. Clay is regarded as one of the state's top college linebacker prospects, while the same is true of Danser as an offensive lineman. Carta-Samuels returns at quarterback, too. He threw for 1,347 yards in a mostly rushing offense and has the ability to scramble. He isn't a Pac-10 level recruit like the other three, but he has committed to nearby San Jose State. And with his red hair, he looks a little like former Spartan Jeff Garcia (now in the NFL).
36. Quince Orchard (Gaithersburg, Md.)
Last season's record: 14-0, Class 4A champion
Key players: DL Terrence Stephens (6-2, 285, Sr.); DL Jason Ankrah (6-4, 245, Sr.); DB Travis Hawkins (5-10, 180, Sr.); TE Cody Magill (6-2, 230, Sr.); DL Dake Williams (6-1, 240, Sr.)
Outlook: The Cougars are Maryland's clear No. 1 team heading into the season. They have four starters with Division I offers and return 13 starters overall from a squad that went 14-0 last year on its way to winning the Class 4A state crown. Up front on defense, there might not be too many teams in the U.S. with the group that Quince Orchard claims. Stephens has committed to Stanford while Ankrah and Williams look like future college players, as well. Hawkins, who also plays receiver on offense, holds offers from Oregon, Florida and Georgia, among others. If the Cougars can run the table again, they will have a 28-game win streak by season's end and will have gone 38-2 over three seasons. The challenge in the regular season will come from Sherwood, which the Cougars defeated by just three points in the regular season last year.
37. Phoebus (Hampton, Va.)
Last season's record: 13-1, Div. 5 finalist
Key players: QB Tajh Boyd (6-1, 210, Sr.); RB Shawne Alston (5-11, 215, Sr.); DL Dominik Davenport (6-0, 270, Sr.); DB LoVante' Battle (5-11, 190, Sr.); DL Demetrius Ward (6-3, 215, Sr.).
38. Bastrop (Bastrop, La.)
Last season's record: 15-0, Class 4A champion
Key players: QB-WR Rueben Randle (6-2, 205, Sr.); LB Kentavious Alford (5-10, 185, Sr.); DL DeQuinta Jones (6-2, 265, Sr.); DB Radarius Winston (5-10, 175, Sr.); RB Dwight Hawkins (5-11, 185, Jr.)
Outlook: The three-time defending Class 4A state champ Rams begin the season with a 45-game win streak. The spotlight will be on the quarterback position since Randle, one of the top wide receiver prospects in the nation, is taking over for graduated state player of the year Randall Mackey. Randle is certainly athletic enough to pile up comparable total-offense yardage. If another offensive weapon develops, like Hawkins, the Rams could become as scary as last year. The defense has plenty of star power since Alford returns as the team's leading tackler, while Jones has already committed to Michigan.
39. Miami Northwestern (Fla.)
Last season's record: 15-0, Class 6A champion
Key players: RB Daquan Hargrett (5-9, 180, Sr.); RB Tyresse Jones (5-9, 185, Sr.); QB Wayne Times (5-10, 170, Sr.); DB Tevin McCaskill (6-2, 185, Sr.); DB Khalid Marshall (5-9, 165, Sr.)
Outlook: It's just about automatic when a team is No. 1 in the nation that the same team at least has to be in the top 50 preseason rankings for the following year. The Bulls will be missing most of their top players from last season, but they return top rusher Hargrett, a West Virginia recruit who ran for 1,147 yards as a junior. Jones also is a runner with top moves. Taking over the reigns for graduated player of the year Jacory Harris is Times, a backup last season. On defense, the secondary looks potent with McCaskill and Marshall leading the charge. The Bulls, who are going for their third straight Class 6A state title, will get an early test on their season when they open the schedule against California power Long Beach Poly. Northwestern also will put its 30-game win streak on the line.
40. Katy (Katy, Texas)
Last season's record: 16-0, Class 5A-Div. II champion
Key players: OL Cameron Travis (6-4, 255, Sr.); DL Micah Marks (6-2, 250, Sr.); RB Michael Webber (5-11, 185, Sr.); DL Elvin Tapong (6-2, 240, Sr.); PK Raul Balbuena (5-8, 160, Sr.)
Outlook: When a team dominates in Texas like the Tigers did last year, it's just about impossible to not include them in a ranking like this that goes 50 teams deep. Katy won the Class 5A-Division II title with a 28-7 win over Pflugerville, and no opponent in 16 games came closer than 11 points. Grad losses are heavy, especially with QB Bo Levi Mitchell and RB Aundre Dean moving on to major colleges. The key on offense could be Webber, who played on the varsity as a sophomore but missed last year with a knee injury. He's already been voted a team captain, and if he's back to full strength it could be sky's the limit. Travis is the only returning starter in the offensive line, while the defensive line looks like a strength with Marks and Tapong leading the way. Over the past three years, Katy has gone 43-2. This year's team will be hard-pressed to match last year's performance but still has some players ready to step up and a tradition of recent success that is hard to ignore.
41. Bear Creek (Lakewood, Colo.)
Last season's record: 10-3, Class 5A semifinals
Key players: QB Zach Thenell (5-9, 165, Jr.); RB Tommy Flanagan (5-10, 160, Sr.); OL Jeremiah Sirles (6-8., 300, Sr.); WR Dajuan Mack (6-2, 200, Sr.); RB Lukas Lockett (6-1, 200, Jr.)
Outlook: Father-son duos often are successful, and that's the case for the Bears with Tom Thenell, who has been their head coach since 1992, and his son, Zach, who shined as a sophomore last year. Zach may not be big, but he's a whiz running his father's offense (3,168 yards and 34 TD passes last season). Flanagan was equally productive with 1,424 yards rushing plus 51 catches for 890 yards and 21 TDs scored. Sixteen starters are back and the line has many of those. Sirles is one of the top college prospects in the state, and another lineman to watch is junior Dylan Heitsmith (6-2, 290).
42. DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.)
Last season's record: 10-2, D.C. Catholic champion
Key players: OL Pete DeSouza (6-7l, 305, Sr.); LB Raheem Cardwell (6-2, 205, Sr.); RB Jeff Knox (6-1, 180, Jr.); QB Tom Chroniger (6-1, 205, Sr.); LB Sean Hurtt (6-0, 220, Sr.)
Outlook: Head coach Bill McGregor is always saying that the Stags do not rebuild, they reload. That theory will be tested after DeMatha sent 15 players to Division I programs after last season, including state defensive player of the year Kenny Tate. Helping the Stags reload will be Knox, who transferred in from Pittsburgh Central Catholic after rushing for 1,200 yards and 15 TDs. DeSouza has committed to Maryland, while Cardwell is going to Syracuse, giving DeMatha pop on both sides of the ball. The Stags will get a serious challenge from conference rival Good Counsel, which has the nation's No. 1 linebacker recruit in Jelani Jenkins. Good Counsel, though, shouldn't go ahead of DeMatha in any ranking until it is able to post a win on the field over the Stags.
43. Pahokee (Pahokee, Fla.)
Last season's record: 14-0, Class 2B champion
Key players: WR-QB Nu'Keese Richardson (5-9, 165, Sr.); RB Vincent Smith (5-10, 175, Sr.); LB Carlos Lammons (6-1, 190, Sr.); LB Brandin Hawthorne (6-0, 200, Sr.); OL Doral Willis (6-1, 300, Jr.)
Outlook: The defending Class 2B state champion Blue Darters will reload in an effort to win their fifth state crown in six seasons. Two out-of-state opponents include the opener vs. Olive Branch, Miss., plus a televised contest vs. ESPN RISE FAB 50 ranked Byrnes, a South Carolina juggernaut. Pahokee's top returnee is Richardson, a Mr. Versatile who can catch passes, return kicks and play shutdown corner. This year, Richardson could be tried out at quarterback. Other top returnees are Smith at running back plus Lammons and Hawthorne roaming in the middle of the defense. If Pahokee gets through its early games without a loss, especially with a win over Byrnes, it could conceivably rocket up the rankings by the middle of the season.
44. Permian (Odessa, Texas)
Last season's record: 12-1, Class 5A-Div. I quarterfinalist
Key players: OL Garrett Porter (6-5, 295, Sr.); LB Jerome Leija (6-0, 195, Sr.); RB Sherrard Ray (6-0, 170, Sr.); WR Ryan Rumbaugh (5-11, 170, Sr.); DB Anthony McDowell (5-10, 170, Sr.)
Outlook: Last year's team split with ESPN RISE preseason No. 1 Trinity, winning at home in the regular season and then losing in the state playoffs. Nine starters return, and it's a balanced group with honors candidates on both sides of the ball. Porter is a University of Texas commit and has two other strong returnees up front with him in Sam Brown (6-2, 330) and Zach Smith (6-2, 250). Leija was in on more than 100 tackles and has McDowell coming back to lead the secondary behind him. Offensively, QB Taylor Byrd will be missed greatly, but there are some potent players still around, such as Ray, who averaged 7 yards a carry last year, and Rumbaugh, who caught 44 passes for 710 yards and four TDs. Another player to watch is senior Alan Castillejos (6-1, 175), who will play in the secondary and be the punter-kicker and also might play quarterback. This will be the fourth season at the famed Texas program for head coach Darren Allman. Each year has been better, but the challenge now will be for the Panthers to stay consistently strong year after year.
45. East St. Louis (East St. Louis, Ill.)
Last season's record: 11-2, Class 7A semifinalist
Key players: WR-DB Terry Hawthorne (6-1, 190, Sr.); WR-DB Kraig Appleton (6-3, 200, Sr.); QB Detchauz Wray (6-0, 175, Sr.); DB Tommie Hopkins (6-1, 185, Sr.); DB Keonte Minor (5-10, 170, Sr.)
Outlook: A return to state and national prominence could be a theme for the Flyers, who captured six state titles from 1979-1991 and were ranked among the top three in the nation three times. Fifteen starters are back off a 2007 club that lost in the state semifinals. Wray, who passed for 34 TDs as a junior, can certainly get the job done, but there may not be another team in America with two wideouts like Hawthorne and Appleton. Many thought Hawthorne was the top non-quarterback player in July at the NIKE 7ON national passing tourney, but Appleton is even bigger and also has breakaway speed. Those two combined for 112 catches for more than 2,000 yards and 29 TDs last year. Another offensive player to watch is highly touted sophomore running back Vincent Arterbridge (6-1, 210).
46. Desert Vista (Phoenix, Ariz.)
Last season's record: 9-5, Class 5A-Div. I finalist
Key players: RB-DE Devon Kennard (6-4, 235, Sr.); QB Cole Pembroke (6-0, 200, Sr.); RB Chris Jones (5-9, 160, Sr.); OL David Kraus (6-3, 295, Sr.); DL Danny Mullarkey (6-3, 220, Sr.)
Outlook: Arizona's top preseason team usually comes in higher than No. 46, but that's only because the Thunder dropped five games last year. They definitely have the tools to work their way up if they back up their preseason No. 1 state ranking with some impressive early wins. Kennard, who had a whopping 24.5 sacks and 111 tackles last year while also rushing for nearly 500 yards, is the top college prospect in the state. Pembroke is back to run the offense after throwing for 1,239 yards. He didn't take over the job until later in the season and ended up being a reason why the Thunder made it into the state finals. Jones is the top returning rusher with 562 yards, but another running back to watch is Marcus Washington (6-1, 190), who averaged more than 8 yards per carry as a junior.
47. Northside (Warner Robins, Ga.)
Last season's record: 15-0, Class AAAA champion
Key players: DL Arby Jones (6-4, 260, Sr.); LB Eric Fields (6-2, 220, Sr.); QB Joe Scott (6-1, 185, Sr.); LB Darius Ivey (6-0, 185, Sr.); DB Randall McBride (6-0, 190, Sr.)
Outlook: The Vikings tackle a new challenge this season after winning the past two Class AAAA titles with back-to-back 15-0 records. They are moving up to the largest class, AAAAA, and will compete in Region I, which also includes ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 2 and defending state champion Lowndes of Valdosta. Northside also will face Booker T. Washington of Florida, a defending champ in that state. The Vikings have won 54 of their past 57 games under head coach Conrad Nix and return many of their top defensive players. Jones (headed to Georgia) along with Fields and Ivey in the middle will make it especially tough to run against Northside's defense. Scott is stepping up to handle the quarterback duties after starting seven games last season when the starter was injured.
48. Glenville (Cleveland, Ohio)
Last season's record: 10-3, Division I semifinalist
Key players: OL Marcus Hall (6-5, 300, Sr.); DE Jonathan Newsome (6-2, 225, Sr.); LB Travis Freeman (6-0, 200, Sr.); DB Mike Edwards (5-10, 170, Sr.); QB Terrence Owens (6-2, 165, Sr.)
Outlook: Producing major college football talent at a fever pitch continues to be the norm at Glenville, which is still in search of its first Division I state title. This season, head coach Ted Ginn Sr. has another talent-laden squad, led by Hall, a highly recruited tackle already committed to Ohio State. Newsome (also committed to the Buckeyes) brings intensity and pass-rushing skills to the defense, while Freeman has the versatility to stand out either at strong safety or linebacker. The Tarblooders will face tough regional competition from ESPN RISE FAB 50-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius and others, but will be a tough out for any playoff opponent. Glenville opens the season on Labor Day vs. defending Pennsylvania Class AAA champion Thomas Jefferson of the Pittsburgh area.
49. Blue Springs South (Blue Springs, Mo.)
Last season's record: 9-1, District runner-up
Key players: QB Blaine Dalton (6-2, 195, Sr.); WR Nathan Ingram (6-3, 180, Sr.); RB-DB Winston Wright (5-8, 175, Sr.); PK Brian Geraghty (6-0, 195, Sr.); OL Randy Haller (6-2, 225, Sr.)
Outlook: Preseason rankings in the Show-Me State are pretty easy to do this year since the two best teams from last year and the past two Class 6 state champs -- Blue Springs South (2006) and Rockhurst (2007) -- are playing each other in the first game. Whoever wins is No. 1 in the state. As the defending champ with returning starters, Rockhurst starts out in the favorite's role, but the Jaguars are more than capable of winning that opener. University of Missouri-bound Dalton had 2,000-plus yards in rushing and passing in those 10 games and threw for 18 TDs compared to just two interceptions. Ingram and Wright should be tough to stop on offense, as well. The Blue Springs South-Rockhurst matchup will be shown on ESPN on Sunday, Aug. 31. School officials are hoping to get Blue Springs South alum David Cook, winner of the most recent American Idol, to sing the national anthem.
50. Sheldon (Eugene, Ore.)
Last season's record: 12-1, Class 5A champion
Key players: QB Jordan Johnson (5-11, 170, Jr.); WR-DE Curtis White (6-5, 230, Jr.); RB Cameron Abeene (5-8, 170, Jr.); DB Anthony Yakovich (6-0, 170, Sr.); OL Drew Miner (6-3, 330, Jr.)
Outlook: It was supposed to be a learning season for the Irish last year, but their lineup -- including many sophomores -- came on at the end and won the state title with a 28-14 win over Tualatin. Johnson, the son of head coach Marty Johnson, passed for 2,080 yards and 21 TDs and scrambled for 800-plus yards rushing. The team's most dynamic player, though, is White, who had 13 sacks on defense and caught a TD pass in each of the team's playoff games. White already has committed to Oregon. The departure of running back Zach Todd, who was Sheldon's leading rusher and receiver, must be overcome, but the offense certainly has enough pieces in place to do that. If Sheldon wins another state title this season and comes back with all of its current juniors intact for 2009, it will be much higher in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 preseason rankings.