One of the best stories in college football this year is Sacramento State. The Hornets, who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, won a Division I playoff game for the first time in program history last Saturday by rallying to beat Richmond and remain undefeated. They sit just three games from a title, with Incarnate Word up next Friday night.
What makes this story even better is its distinct Kern County flair.
Burroughs alum and former Bakersfield College all-conference linebacker Brock Mather has 59 tackles for the Hornets in his first season, including 13 in a memorable overtime win over Montana. Kennedy product Ivan Garza has become a reliable starter at tackle. Three young players, Riley Hernandez (Liberty), Aidan Meek (Garces) and Alex Rocha (Bakersfield High), are also on the roster.
They represent a mere fraction of the variety of local athletes playing postseason college football this winter.
Fresno State, the Mountain West Conference champion, takes on Washington State Dec. 17 in the LA Bowl. LJ Early, a BC standout defensive back from 2018, has made the most of his four years in Fresno. In his final year of eligibility (after a redshirt and a COVID extension), Early has 37 tackles and snagged an interception against Nevada on Nov. 17.
Freshman kicker Dylan Lynch, just one year removed from Liberty, is 6-for-7 on field goals this year and executed a successful onside kick to fuel the Bulldogs' fourth-quarter comeback on Oct. 29.
Lost Hills native and Wasco grad Osmar Velez has seen an expanded role on the offensive line as a junior, playing in 10 games. Tight end Zach Hartsfield, formerly of Centennial, BC and Eastern Michigan, has appeared in 11.
Marshall, which faces UConn on Dec. 19 in the Myrtle Beach Bowl, has Stockdale alum Harshan Sachdeva, a New Mexico transfer, but he has not recorded a stat. UConn punter George Caratan is a Delano native.
Two of the Jernagin brothers joined San Jose State this year. Ian, a freshman running back from Garces, has not played, but Isaac, who starred at BC last season after getting dismissed from Nevada, has returned several kicks and accumulated 56 yards of offense. Jaylan Lawson, a BC teammate of Isaac Jernagin's, has played in two games. The Spartans take on Eastern Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Dec. 20.
The Christmas Eve tradition of the Hawaii Bowl returns this year, and will feature a Liberty grad in linebacker Brady Anderson. He has recorded one tackle for San Diego State, which will face Middle Tennessee.
Last year's Bakersfield Christian starting quarterback, Braden Waterman, is a reserve for Ole Miss. The Rebels earned a spot in the Texas Bowl against Texas Tech on Dec. 28.
One of the top prospects out of BC in recent memory, Oklahoma defensive back Justin Harrington, decided to remain with the team after the arrival of head coach Brent Venables and played a bit this year, recording 22 tackles and one interception. The Sooners have a date with No. 13 Florida State in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29.
Fifth-year senior linebacker Carl Jones Jr. has played in every game since his arrival at UCLA, and posted 24 tackles and one interception this season. His Bruins play Pittsburgh Dec. 30 in the Sun Bowl.
The same day, another Liberty product, Ramon Henderson, should see some action for No. 21 Notre Dame in their Gator Bowl tilt with No. 19 South Carolina. Henderson has tallied 17 tackles and half a sack on the year.
Wyoming's roster features three Bakersfield natives: a pair of offensive linemen from Garces in Ethan Shipp and JJ Uphold (the latter moved from defense to offense last spring) and a BCHS grad at nickelback, Keonte Glinton. Shipp and Uphold have not recorded stats this year. Glinton has recorded 26 tackles and a fumble recovery. However, he missed a string of games and then entered the transfer portal on Tuesday. The Cowboys face Ohio in the Arizona Bowl, yet another Dec. 30 matchup.
Joey Porter Jr. of Penn State didn't play high school football locally, but the son of Foothill grad, former NFL linebacker and current San Antonio Brahmas assistant Joey Porter still lists Bakersfield as his hometown. However, after a standout season at corner with 11 pass breakups, Porter Jr. has chosen to forgo the bowl game and enter the NFL Draft.
Porter Jr. is expected to join Glinton and Cameron Williams, a BHS grad at Washington who also entered the portal, in missing bowl games this winter.
Colorado School of Mines has made another deep run in the Division II playoffs, featuring BHS grad Adrian Moreno, an inside linebacker who has 42 tackles on the year and forced a fumble last week in an upset win over Angelo State. The Orediggers host Shepherd in a semifinal matchup Saturday.
Other players whose teams appeared in the D-II playoffs before elimination include Jamar Moya of Northwest Missouri State (Ridgeview; the brother of former Iowa State defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya) and Kaden Shelton of CSU Pueblo (Frontier/BC). Wisconsin-Whitewater, which has Tyler Fimple (Centennial) on the roster, made the Division III playoffs.
At the NAIA level, Arizona Christian made the Football Championship Series but lost in the first round. The Firestorm roster includes Fred Cruz (Liberty).
In junior college action, City College of San Francisco beat College of the Sequoias 34-24 in the Golden State Bowl on Saturday. The Rams featured Ridgeview's Shawn Allen (who had two rushing touchdowns) and Daelin DeGraffenreid. Kevin Chavez (Wasco) and Damareyah Wafford (South) did not record stats for the Giants.
Another former Spartan, Terrell Bishop, had a tackle for El Camino in a Southern California Bowl loss to San Diego Mesa. Hassin Lopez, also previously at South but a transfer from BC to East Los Angeles, was kept off the stat sheet as the Huskies fell to Golden West in the Patriotic Bowl.
Last year's engine of the Kennedy offense, running back Avian Pesina, did not figure into West Hills Coalinga's Silicon Valley bowl loss to Foothill.
Possibly the lone Bakersfield native playing JUCO outside of California, Jaylen Stephens (Frontier) did not record any stats for Lackawanna in its 28-26 Wool Bowl loss to power New Mexico Military Institute.