It's about that time.
With the start of the high school football season about a week away, I am continuing the tradition of ranking the top players that will be suiting up for area teams this fall.
The series is titled 'Central Coast 60' because I, the Sports Editor of Lee Central Coast Newspapers, try to find 60 players who will make an impact on this coming season. My goal with this series is to look back in November and see that these guys did indeed affect the games we watch.
The biggest issue this year, though, was getting the list down to 60. At one point, it was around 100. I did cheat a bit and will rank 64 players. I just couldn't whittle it down any further. There are that many impactful kids gearing up for play in our area.
Now, we need to go over a couple ground rules. This list was compiled after hours of research, either by contacting coaches to see what they expect out of certain players, watching film from last season, going to practices or looking at stats from the last couple seasons. Though I reached out for help from some coaches to finish off these rankings, I am the only journalist from LCCN to decide who is ranked where. So, if you have any questions or comments, email or you can even message me on social media.
Another note: I'm only listing guys I cover on a consistent basis. So that's Arroyo Grande down to Nipomo, throughout the Santa Maria Valley out to Lompoc and Cabrillo, then off to Santa Ynez. Also, you'll notice, there are only 11-man players here.
But don't worry, we'll be ranking players from the 8-man realm and the top out-of-area Central Section athletes before the season starts. Stay tuned for all that.
Without further ado, here are Nos. 64-55.
No. 64: Jordan Green, Cabrillo, Sr., WR-DB
This guy has all the tools. He's listed at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and, after seeing him up close, that seems pretty accurate.
He did a little bit of everything last year and I can really see him and QB Jackson Anderson (who will appear on this list later) coming together to create an electrifying duo.
Green caught just 11 passes last year, but those 11 went for 141 yards. He also made 19 tackles and picked off a pass, playing in nine games last year.
If Cabrillo wants to improve on its 1-9 record from last year, Green will have to produce even more in 2018, especially with the tough schedule the Conqs are facing. They start the season at Bishop Diego next week.
No. 63: Jake Steels, Righetti, Jr., WR-DB
Steels has been a standout baseball player at the youth level for awhile, but showed last year that he can play some football too.
Steels is an athletic receiver-defensive back combo and is expected to start in the Warriors' secondary in 2018. He's still a bit raw and young (Class of 2020), but I see him making more plays in 2018 than he did in 2017, when he made about 15 tackles.
No. 62: Darien Langley, St. Joseph, So., WR
If I had to use one word to sum up Langley? Speed.
The kid can flat out fly and he's still working on translating that to the football field. But this kid has the talent to be an offensive threat, especially playing under St. Joseph head coach Pepe Villasenor, who was a standout receiver at St. Bonaventure in the late '90s.
Langley had a strong track season this spring, finishing second at the PAC 8 League Finals in the 100-meter dash as a freshman, losing by a hundredth of a second. I really can't wait to see him play this year. Villasenor says he'll be a starting receiver for the Knights and could become a favorite target of Chase Artopoeus, the new QB at St. Joseph.
No. 61: Cameron Iribarren, Lompoc, Jr., QB
Now this has been one of the toughest kids to rank. Initially, I had him a lot higher than this, but at this point I haven't been able to get a definitive answer if he'll start or not.
I've seen him play a bit in mop-up duty, and he has a lot of potential. He's still young (Class of 2020), but I think he could really develop into something special. He's got a solid foundation, with some playing time last year and with a great coaching staff helping him along in head coach Andrew Jones and offensive assistant TJ Jordan, both former QBs.
Iribarren didn't throw a pass last year and rushed for about 50 yards on seven carries, but having him this low could look silly come November if he has a breakout season, which is a real possibility.
But the Braves could end up leaning on senior Dechlan Sparrow at the position to give Iribarren more time to develop, though my hunch is that Iribarren will play a lot in 2018.
No. 60: Marco Lazarit, Santa Ynez, Sr., DL-OL
Don't worry. I'm not ignoring the big guys who put in work in the trenches.
Lazarit has the size to move blockers and defenders for the Pirates this year. The senior is listed at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds. He'll be busy pass blocking for QB Anthony Gills and opening up running lanes for running back Cash Transeth.
But Lazarit can play some defense, too. In fact, his play is pretty balanced on both sides of the ball.
The Santa Ynez coaching staff has done a real solid job of making sure the Pirates have bulk in the places they need it. They've had a long line of strong linemen and Lazarit is the next one. (That last name should sound familiar, as Marco is related to former All-Leaguer Ramon Lazarit).
No. 59: Alex Lammers, Santa Ynez, Sr., TE-LB
Lammers is a versatile weapon for the Pirates. He's listed as a tight end but mainly made an impact on defense last year at his outside linebacker position.
He made 30 stops, 28 of which he completed on his own.
But he can also return kicks and I'd expect him to be a bigger component of the offense now that All-League wideout Gabe Prendergast has graduated. Lammers also had a knack to be around the ball, recovering two fumbles.
No. 58: Spencer Cothran, Cabrillo, Sr., MLB
I'm gonna be honest with you. I'm actually hyped a bit on Cabrillo. The Conqs could show quite a bit of improvement this year.
They've got about 25 returning players and certainty at quarterback is always good.
Then there's a ton of guys like Spencer Cothran. He's a bit undersized at 5-10, 174 pounds, but he's really productive.
Cabrillo seems to have a bunch of players like Cothran who punch above their weight. That will really pay off down the road. It's gonna be tough sledding in the Channel League, but one thing is for sure: Cabrillo players will be giving it everything they've got.
Cothran has made 76 combined stops over the last two seasons, with 47 tackles last year (39 solo). He also had a sack. When researching Cabrillo I was surprised time and again at all they have coming back this year and there will be around eight Cabrillo players making this list, a lot more than last year.
No. 57: Avery Fondern, Righetti, Sr., WR-DB
Now here's another guy that was hard to get a good grade on. Fondern has a lot of talent and can impact a game in a number of different ways. He just hasn't quite put it all together yet.
I think that'll change this year.
Here's what Righetti coach Tony Payne told reporter Elliott Stern at Media Day: "Avery is moving into the starting lineup as a wide receiver, running back and defensive back. Avery has already stepped up his game. I see him as a shutdown corner and a slot receiver on offense."
That's high praise from a coach who knows a ton about the game. So, if Tony Payne is expecting a lot out of Fondern, I am too.
No. 56: Justin Palato, Cabrillo, Sr., WR-SS
Palato is another sure tackler for the Conqs. I think he'll make his biggest plays on the defensive side of the ball once again for Cabrillo, though he's listed as a receiver and safety.
Palato didn't see too much work on offense last year, mainly returning kicks and punts. But he did come up with a total of 41 tackles (31 solo) and broke up a couple passes.
Palato is just another one of those experienced players Cabrillo brings back in 2018. Palato does have a bit more size, something that can be really useful in this area, where we don't have a lot of tall players. He's listed at 6-1, 200 pounds. That height advantage could make him a handful to deal with against smaller defenders out wide on offense and a battering ram at his safety position on defense.
No. 55: Jovany Lucatero, Lompoc, Sr., DL-OL
Another archetype of the Lompoc defense: A short, powerful defender that can line up at nose guard or as a defensive tackle.
Lucatero is a powerfully quick athlete that made impact plays in the middle of Lompoc's defense all season long.
Lucatero made 31 stops last season and had 3.5 sacks. He's a force, man. He had a strong track season throwing the discus and the shot put.
Expect even more from Lucatero in 2018, especially as he and Juan DeLuna join forces once again. Both of those guys are capable of eating up blocks to free each other up.
Up next: Nos. 54 to 45.