Well, we’re finally here.
Friday night football. A night that didn’t appear all that likely entering the new year, but an idea that gained considerable momentum as COVID-19 case numbers began to drop. And now it’s a reality.
Friday will be a night of firsts when all 18 Kern High School District schools will be in action. It’s been more than 16 months since most took the field. The first varsity football game for some, while for others, the first with new teammates at a new school.
Garces, Bakersfield Christian and Wasco, not part of the KHSD, got a head start. The Rams played last week, dominating Tulare Union 43-6, and the Eagles and Tigers have opened their seasons as well.
Other county schools decided not to play this season, for a variety of reasons, opting instead to focus on their traditional spring sports teams, with an eye on football starting in the fall. Some players, such as Garces’ talented lineman Zach Buckey, who committed to Stanford, chose to skip the season to concentrate on next year’s college transition.
Obviously, plenty has changed, and with all the chaos and uncertainty during the hiatus, it’s understandable that local high school football fans might feel a bit out of touch.
Who are the best teams? Heck, who is even playing this year and where? And unless you’re a close family member or friend, will you even be able to attend the games? Only four tickets were allocated per athlete.
To help sort things out, I’ve prepared a cheat sheet, of sorts, highlighting some of the area’s top returning players, along with a few newcomers that are expected to have an impact this season.
It’s not a complete list, not by a long shot, and there undoubtedly will be a handful of deserving athletes that are omitted. But thanks to plenty of help from area coaches — some were a little more giving with their nominees than others — hopefully it is a pretty good representation of the best local high school football has to offer.
With that in mind, here goes:
Some top returning seniors (in alphabetical order): Jaron Amos, RB/WR/DB, Ridgeview; Brady Anderson, LB, Liberty, committed to San Diego State; A.J. Cleveland, QB, Highland; Dom D'Amato, DB/WR, Garces; Zion Hall, WR, Garces, transfer from Ridgeview committed to Cal Poly; Haden Mann, QB, Liberty; Aidan Meek, OL, Garces, committed to Sacramento State; Jalen Smith, LB/RB, Garces; Pedro Trujillo, Bakersfield; J.J. Uphold, DE/TE, Garces, committed to Wyoming.
Some top returning underclassmen: Kaelan Deloney, RB/LB, junior, Foothill; Rafael Gutierrez, OL, junior, Mira Monte; Jayden Hollis, ATH, junior, Stockdale; Daylon Leach, QB, junior, West; Elijah Lucero, LB, junior, Shafter; AJ Morgan, DL, junior, Centennial; Jason Oliver, CB/WR, junior, Liberty; Tyson Reynolds, RB/DB, junior, Foothill; Olaniyan Tatum, DL, junior, Shafter; Justin Vecere, DL, junior, Centennial.
Ready for breakout season: Tahmar Bufford, ATH, senior, East; Tyson Dozier, QB, junior, Shafter; King Ellis, QB/FS, senior, South; Karanbir Singh-Gill, DE, senior, Ridgeview; James Guerena, DT, senior, Bakersfield Christian; LeBron Jackson, WR/DB, junior, Garces; Levi Manning, QB, junior, Centennial; Jojo Montecinos, DB/WR/KR, senior, Liberty; Tybo Rogers, FS/RB, sophomore, Bakersfield; Tyler Routh, WR, junior, Centennial.
Key Transfers: Mekhi Deans, WR/DB, senior, Independence (from Ridgeview); Ladon Denmark, QB, junior, Independence (Ridgeview); Riley Hernandez, LB/TE, junior, Liberty (Frontier); Cameron Huerta, WR, senior, Shafter (Chavez); Vincent Igoa, QB, junior, Frontier (Stockdale); Ian Jernagin, RB, junior, Garces (Bakersfield); Murphy Maino, LB, junior, Shafter (Taft); Travis Plugge, QB, junior, Garces (Frontier); Justin Spainhoward, LB, senior, Frontier (Ridgeview); Bryson Waterman, QB/FS, sophomore, Bakersfield Christian (Paso Robles).
Other key returners: Blaine Abbott, SS/RB, senior, Bakersfield; Terrell Bishop, DT/OT, senior, South; Prentice Boone, RB/LB, senior, Liberty; Logan Bowers, LB/RB, junior, Garces; Daniel Chheng, OT, senior, Centennial; Brian Dean, RB, senior, North; Brandon Gathrite, G/DT/NG, senior, Highland; Chris Gutierrez, WR/DB, senior, Highland; Jaykob Jones, RB/DL, junior, Stockdale; Nick Madden, OT, senior, Ridgeview; Colby Miller, DE, senior, Shafter; Kaden Preston, QB/FS, senior, Kern Valley; Enrique Rangel, OT/NG, senior, Arvin; Ja’Baree Rufus, OL/DL, senior, Ridgeview; Alex Ruvalcaba, DB/WR, senior, North; Tyrone Wilson Jr., FS/WR, senior, South.
Best of the rest: Nick Aguirre, WR, senior, Shafter; Noah Alexander, OL/DL, senior, Kern Valley; Christian Alvarez, SS/RB, senior, Wasco; Jake Andrews, OL/DL, senior, Frontier; DJ Banales, RB/LB, sophomore, Bakersfield Christian; Anthony Barajas, LB/RB, senior, Centennial; Ben Bidart, OT/DT, junior, Bakersfield Christian; Luis Bravo, K, senior, South; Larry Brown, TE/DE, senior, Stockdale; Tyler Carr, WR/FS, senior, Bakersfield Christian; Evan Cloy, OT/DT, junior, Bakersfield Christian; Andre Cordova, CB/WR, senior, Wasco; Jordon Delgado, QB/FS, junior, Bakersfield Christian; Tyler Fimple, WR, junior, Centennial; Sammy Flores, OL/DL, senior, East; Tristan Flores, WR, junior, Centennial; Byron Floyd, DB, senior, Frontier; Xarionn Foreman, WR, sophomore, North; Chris Garza, OL/DL, senior, Wasco; Jayden Huggins, QB/FS, senior, Bakersfield Christian; Jake Hughes, OL/DL, senior, Frontier; Kresean Kizzy, WR/CB, sophomore, Bakersfield Christian; Darius Larsuel, WR/DB, senior, Stockdale; Hassin Lopez, LB/DE, senior, South; James Lucio, OL/DE, senior, Stockdale; Sebastian Marbaugh, QB/DB, senior, Mira Monte; Ayden Martinez, Ol/DL, junior, West; Kieran McCarthy, WR/CB, senior, Kern Valley; Alex Medina, DE/TE, senior, South; Ayden Moreno, QB/S, senior, Bakersfield; Jacob Navarro, LB, senior, Centennial; Alex Olea, LB/RB, senior, Independence; Daniel Overton, RB/WR/LB, junior, Frontier; Evan Peaker, RB, junior, Independence; Vincent Pearman, RB/SS, senior, Kern Valley; Jose Pelayo, RB/DB, senior, Mira Monte; Jaden Perez, DB/WR, junior, Frontier; Bruno Ponce, OL/DL, junior, West; Anthony Rico, WR/DB, sophomore, Independence; Jesus Rojas, RB/FS, junior, Arvin; K-son Rush, DE, junior, North; Elijah Sanchez, DE, senior, North; Jacob Stephens, DT, junior, Frontier; Devon Sundgren, WR, junior, Shafter; Jose Saenz, ATH, senior, Stockdale; Johnie Salazar, QB, senior, East; Garrett Stephenson, WR/SS/LB, junior, Bakersfield Christian; Matthew Tallant, C, junior, Independence; Jose Villa, FB/LB, senior, Arvin.