Note: This year’s Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year will be named by Friday, Jan. 4. Being a finalist also does not guarantee a spot on the all-state first team since there is a limit on how many quarterbacks are chosen. All finalists listed in alphabetical order.
Jake Browning (Folsom)
Before his high school career is over, this talented 6-foot, 165-pound sophomore will have his name all over the state record book after setting a state record for passing yards in a season this year with 5,248. He also nearly set a state record for passing touchdowns with 63, falling just two short of the record and helped immensely with the 10 that he threw in his very first game (a state record tie). Unlike some of the Bulldog quarterbacks of recent years, including Dano Graves, who was Mr. Football in 2010, Browning didn’t run the ball too often. In his final game of the season for the 14-1 Bulldogs, he completed 38 of his 64 pass attempts for 284 yards and two touchdowns in a lopsided loss to state No. 1 De La Salle of Concord in the CIF Northern California Open Division bowl game.
Su’a Cravens (Vista Murrieta, Murrieta)
Last year’s state junior of the year is a Mr. Football finalist for the second year in a row and has already been named as the Gatorade State Player of the Year in a selection that was done back in November before the Broncos had their season end just days later with a 30-28 loss to Centennial of Corona. On offense this season, Cravens’ numbers were down a little from last year, but he still rushed for six touchdowns and caught eight touchdown passes while on defense he recorded 95 tackles with five sacks and intercepted three passes. In the closing minute of the loss to Centennial, he caught a long pass and then scored on a 14-yard run to give Vista Murrieta a chance to tie. Cravens will be headed to USC next season.
Thomas Duarte (Mater Dei, Santa Ana)
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior could be the best two-way finalist among the eight. Duarte just this week has already been selected as the L.A. Times Player of the Year (which covers the CIF L.A. City and CIF Southern Section). In leading the Monarchs to a turnaround season (they were 4-6 last year but 11-3 this year and reached the CIFSS Pac-Five championship), Duarte caught 58 passes for 1,025 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has the size to play tight end with the speed to play receiver. On defense, he shined as well with 42 tackles, 10 sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. He recently told OCVarsity.com that the five final colleges he’s considering are Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington.
Michael Hutchings (De La Salle, Concord)
Hutch sure came through in the clutch for the De La Salle defense, turning in dominating outings in each of the last two games against two of the most prolific offenses in state history. Against Folsom in a game in which the Spartans held the Bulldogs to just two scores, Hutchings had nine tackles and one interception. Against Corona Centennial (which was averaging 52 ppg) in a game in which the Spartans held the Huskies to four scores, Hutchings had a team-leading 10 tackles, batted away a pass and perhaps registered the most stunning hit of the weekend on kickoff coverage (although he was flagged for a penalty). Hutchings ended the season with 113 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. He also flashed his speed on one kickoff return against Mullen of Denver by scoring on a 99-yard touchdown. Hutchings will play next at USC. We certainly could have listed De La Salle running back Tiapape Vitale as a finalist, but with other running backs sporting higher totals the team’s best chance at getting the overall Mr. Football winner seems to be from the defense, which for the last two years has been among the best two defenses in school history. Hutchings also remember has made big plays in each of the last three CIF Open Division bowl games (including an interception against Servite two years ago and a big touchdown catch on a fourth-down play against Westlake last year).
Terrell Newby (Chaminade, West Hills)
He was recently named the Mission League player of the year over players such as Serra’s Jalen Greene and Adoree’ Jackson. Newby scored 105 touchdowns in his high school career while the Eagles captured the league title in his senior season. They later lost to Serra in the CIF Southern Section Western Division championship. Earlier this season, Newby made sure his name would go into the state record book as he carried 16 times for 351 yards and eight touchdowns in a win over Harvard-Westlake and just two weeks later he had a six-touchdown night on just 12 carries against Cathedral of Los Angeles. Finding his way into the end zone for a score in all 14 of Chaminade’s games, he finished with 2,305 yards and 45 touchdowns while also catching 18 passes for 176 yards. He has yet to commit to a college but schools like Oregon, Cal & Nebraska are among those interested.
John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach Poly)
Long Beach Poly’s dramatic improvement from early in the season was partially due to Smith’s emergence as a big-time talent on both sides of the ball. The 6-foot, 180-pound junior led the eventual CIF Southern Section Pac-Five Division champions in interceptions with six and was in on 51 tackles. On offense, Smith caught 49 passes for 752 yards and nine scores. He also averaged 16 yards on punt returns with one touchdown. In the CIF Division I state final, Smith’s third-quarter touchdown catch between two defenders enabled Poly to tie Granite Bay 14-14 heading into the fourth quarter. He also was among the team leaders with five tackles in the 21-20 loss. Since the Jackrabbits had two main running backs leading the way on offense this season (Gerard Wicks, Manusamoa Luuga), Smith’s eye-opening play on offense and defense make him look to us like a leading candidate to be the CIFSS Pac-Five Division MVP.
Robert Webber (Centennial, Corona)
His passing numbers might not have been as high as sophomore Jake Browning, who set a state record, but that is partly due to the fact that the Huskies also had a pair of talented running backs that rushed for over 1,200 yards each. Webber also led his squad to the CIF Open Division championship game where he passed for 308 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to De La Salle of Concord. On the year, this dual-threat signal caller passed for 3,968 yards and 41 touchdowns with just five interceptions while rushing for over 700 yards and eight touchdowns. He currently has yet to receive any college offers, but as a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder that’s only because he’s not big. Webber also may be just as good as a baseball player. Those passing totals set a school record for passing yards in a season, beating out players such as Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, Arizona’s Matt Scott and Arizona State’s Michael Eubank.
Troy Williams (Narbonne, Harbor City)
Regarded as one of the nation’s top quarterback recruits due to his dual threat talents, size (6-3, 185) and ability to run a complicated offense (Narbonne runs no-huddle spread), Williams already has been chosen as the CIF L.A. City Section Player of the Year for the second straight season. While Narbonne’s defense had a multitude of stars, Williams was the clear leader on offense. Although the team came up short in its bid to reach the CIF Open Division state final due to a loss to Corona Centennial, Williams was sensational as he passed for 367 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards and one score in that game. For the season, Williams passed for 3,614 yards and 37 TDs and rushed for 692 yards and 12 scores. Prior to the loss to Centennial, Williams had led the Gauchos to a No. 2 state ranking and top 10 for the nation. He is graduating this month and will leave for the University of Washington on Jan. 1.
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