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St. Joseph's Nathan Halsell kicks a field goal against Santa Ynez. In that game, Halsell went 5-for-5 on PAT tries and 3-for-4 on field goal tries with a long of 43. he had a long of 50 yards last season and ranks at No. 58 among the top 60 returning players for 2017.

We're four weeks away from the football season.

The season is nearly here.


It's been a long offseason and It's never fun spending eight months without a lick of football. 

So, to help the healing process and get ready for Aug. 25, I've compiled a list of 60 names. The kids attached to these names are area football players.

In fact, I think they are the top 60 returning football players in the Santa Maria Times coverage area, from Southern San Luis Obispo County to pretty much all of Northern Santa Barbara County, or Arroyo Grande to Santa Ynez. 

(This is limited to just 11-man players, though I know there are certainly some 8-man guys would easily be on this list).

I'll be releasing 10 names about once per week, with the Top 10 coming out the week the season starts. 

As a disclaimer, this is all from me. So if I miss someone or you think my rankings are skewed, let me know. I also tried to avoid last year's All-League lists as much as I could to get a more true sense of who the top returning players are. But by doing that it increased my chances of missing a player or two. But I think I've got it covered.

Now, the rankings aren't fully based off last year's numbers or whatever else. I'm also predicting an increase or perhaps a decrease in production this year, so there is some guesswork involved here. And, remember, this is also supposed to be fun, so don't take it too seriously.

So, today, we're starting with No. 60 and ending at No. 51. 

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Righetti High's Derek Imel fights off a tackle during a PAC 5 League game at Hitchen Stadium in Arroyo Grande last October. Imel returns to the Warriors as a senior this season and starts the Central Coast 60 rankings off this year at No. 60.

60. Derek Imel, Righetti, Sr., FS-RB (5-10, 165)

Imel is another one of those do-everything-guys. He carried the ball quite a bit for a Righetti team that was always digging around for a reliable running back last year, with 35 carries for 129 yards. He caught just one pass. For one yard. He returned a few kicks.

But his biggest impact came on defense. Imel had his best defensive game in the first game of the season. He racked up 10 total tackles (4 solo, 6 assists) in the loss to Bishop Diego. He finished the year with 33 total tackles (21 solo). He also intercepted a pass and broke up three others and blocked a field goal against Bishop Diego. 

Nothing spectacular out of Imel last year, but it was a solid junior campaign and definitely a foundation for what should be a productive senior season for the Warriors.

59. Markus Frazier, St. Joseph, Jr., DL-OL (6-3, 180)

This kid does it all. And not just on the football field. Frazier also drives a hobby stock car driver at the Santa Maria Raceway and has competed at a host of tracks around the state.

But, for now, we'll focus on Frazier's accomplishments on the field as a sophomore last year for the Knights.

He racked up 19 total tackles last season, with seven solo stops and 12 assists. 

But he was tied for third on the team with three sacks in eight games played. If Frazier bulks up a bit this year (which hopefully won't hurt his racing) he could become even more of a force as a junior for the Knights. 

What may be the most impressive thing about Frazier's season is that his best game came against one of the better opponents the Knights faced last year in St. Bonaventure: Frazier had six total tackles in that game.

He also had a sack against St. Bonnie as well as a sack in the Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Arroyo Grande games. 

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Nathan Halsell attempts a field goal in the playoff win over Fullerton Troy last season. 

58. Nathan Halsell, St. Joseph, Jr., K (6-2, 200)

We can't overlook the kicking game and Nathan Halsell might have the strongest leg in the area. As a sophomore last year for St. Joseph, Halsell handled nearly all the team's kicking duties.

He was the only player to take a kickoff, launching 15 touchbacks on 54 attempts. He was 23-for-24 on PATs and drilled 7-of-10 field goal tries.

Not bad for an underclassman. 

His most impressive feat, though, was distance, with a long of 50 yards on the season. I also remember then St. Joseph coach Dustin Davis lining Halsell up from way past 50 yards last year for a couple field goal tries that came up a bit short. 

Not too many sophomores boot 50-yard field goals. So it looks like the Knights' kicking duties are pretty set for the next two seasons and I'd expect Halsell to rank up on this list before the start of his senior season.

(He also made two special teams tackles and is a pretty good soccer player).

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Arroyo Grande's John Farley nearly blocks a punt by Independence High School's Taryn Young during a game last September. Farley's best game came against Independence last year when he had 11 total tackles. He's No. 57 on the list of the top 60 returning players.

57. John Farley, Arroyo Grande, Sr., DL (6-2, 215)

Farley is a big, strong Arroyo Grande defensive lineman. A.G. always seems to have these type of guys on its roster. Farley was a Second Team All-Area selection for us last year and a First Team PAC 5 pick. (I did look at the All-PAC 5 League list a bit).

Farley was effective and productive for a defensive lineman. He piled up 24 solo tackles and 20 assisted tackles on defense last year, showing a high motor and an ability to make plays as a down lineman. 

His best game came in Arroyo Grande's 45-13 win over Bakersfield Independence on Sept. 9. In that one, Farley had 11 total tackles, five of them solo. 

Farley finished the season with seven tackles for loss and four sacks. He led A.G. in TFLs and sacks.

He also defended four passes and caused two fumbles. With that type of production look for Farley to have a big season this year and make it look like he shouldn't be ranked much higher than No. 57.

Northern League Championship Nipomo at Santa Maria

Nipomo linebacker Luis Diego Riquelme attempts to tackle Santa Maria's Bobby Ruiz in first-half action of last year's Northern League game.  

56. Luis Diego Riquelme, Nipomo, Jr., LB-RB (5-6, 140)

Yes, this guy was/is a bit undersized, but Luis Diego Riquelme (great name, btw) flat out got it done last year. 

Riquelme had 40 total tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as Nipomo went on to win the Northern League title. 

But he also found a way to be effective on offense. He only had carries in two games, but racked up 106 yards on 14 touches. He had nine carries for 79 yards and a TD in the 44-7 win over Mission Prep. 

Riquelme also had two tackles for loss and a sack on the season. 

He also had another touchdown, coming on a fumble recovery return. Oh, and he also handled a large chunk of Nipomo's punting duties, blasting 17 for 537 yards, good enough for a 31.6-yard average. 

So, yeah, the outlook is pretty good for this guy.

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Cabrillo's De'andre Sauceda attempts to tackle Santa Ynez's Cash Transeth (32) during a game last October. Transeth comes in at No. 55 in the Central Coast 60.

55. Cash Transeth, Santa Ynez, Jr., RB-DB (6-0, 180)

As a sophomore last season, Transeth was third on the team in rushing, with 57 carries for 262 yards and a score. He also caught a few passes (7 for 74 yards) and was the Pirates' top kick returner with 224 return yards, good enough for 560 all-purpose yards.

A very, very good campaign for a sophomore on a talented Santa Ynez team that went 8-2.

He didn't make too much of an impact on defense with just four total tackles, but Santa Ynez coach Josh McClurg does like to use players in multiple positions so I wouldn't be surprised to see him see more time at DB this year and make a bigger impact there, though he may turn into Santa Ynez's top ball-carrier.

Whatever the case, I'm sure Cash will be money for Santa Ynez this year.

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Santa Ynez's Ben Schaeffer, No. 43 on this list, defends as Pioneer Valley tight end Jonathan Salazar catches a pass during a game last October. Salazar is No. 54 on the Central Coast 60.

54. Jonathan Salazar, Pioneer Valley, Sr., TE-DT (6-0, 185)

I don't have any stats for Salazar, but I saw him play a handful of times last year and he always seemed to make a play when the Panthers needed it.

He's a bigger guy who plays mostly tight end for the Panthers and was a bit of a safety valve for quarterback Mathew Garcia last year, getting open and making a catch when the Panthers needed it. 

Salazar's physicality also stood out and after another year in the weight room and partaking in other conditioning activities he should be able to dominate physically even more this year. 

Garcia is also expected to return at QB for the Panthers, though he is now competing with Nipomo transfer Nicholas Robledo for the starting job. With what Salazar showcased last year is any indication, Salazar's production should be on the rise in the passing game with whoever is throwing to him.

With Michael Pompa gone from the defensive line at PV, Salazar also may be asked to contribute more in the trenches on defense as well and I'm sure he'll be able to provide that for the Panthers this year.

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Lompoc's Lamberto Guerrero gets double teamed by Pioneer Valley last year. Guerrero should expect more double teams this year as he comes in at No. 53 on the Central Coast 60.

53. Lamberto Guerrero, Lompoc, Sr., OL-LB (6-0, 250)

Last year Guerrero was a 6-foot, 250-pound sophomore. He made a bit of an impact for Lompoc's offensive and defensive lines, though he did struggle with injuries.

This year, I'm hearing that Guerrero could blossom into the next road-paver on the offensive line if he stays healthy throughout the season.

Lompoc always seems to find these types of players. Linemen who aren't very tall or quick or physically impressive. But Lompoc's offensive line coach Matt Sims may be the best in the area and always has the Braves linemen ready to go.

The Lompoc offensive line is a sight to be hold.

It's choreography.

The guard pulls, the center dives straight ahead and the tackles create a solid edge on the perimeter, or in some other combination. And they're always moving in unison.  

So Guerrero may not lead that unit this year, but I expect to him to become a linchpin on the offensive line early on this season and may be the Braves best lineman next year.

Nipomo High School at Pioneer Valley

Pioneer Valley junior running back Emmanuel Alcantar scampers into the end zone for Pioneer Valley's second score of the first half during the Panthers' 35-21 win over the Titans. Alcantar had 186 yards on 29 carries and two touchdown runs. He was never quite able to match that production last year, though he will be expected to carry the ball for the Panthers in 2017. He comes in at No. 52.

52. Emmanuel Alcantar, Pioneer Valley, Sr., RB-DB (5-10, 155)

Alcantar had an interesting season for the Panthers last year. 

He started the 2016 season, his junior year, with a bang, carrying the ball 29 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-21 win over Nipomo.

Alcantar got the start for the Panthers after presumed starter Michael Bourbon was inactive. It looked like the Panthers had their bell-cow back.

But Alcantar was never quite able to match that production throughout the rest of the season. 

His main strength is speed. He's not very big, but did show an ability to break a tackle or two. The Panthers used a bit of a jet sweep offense, though it looked like Alcantar was better suited running out of the I-formation.

I expect him to provide some solid running for the Panthers this year and should rack up at least 500 yards rushing. I think he was right around that mark last year.

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Santa Ynez's A.J. Reynoso runs against Cabrillo during a game last season. Reynoso is No. 51 on the Central Coast 60.

51. AJ Reynoso, Santa Ynez, Sr., RB-LB (5-11, 200)

This kid did a bit of everything as Santa Ynez went 8-2 last year. He carried the ball some (14 carries, 57 yards), made a ton of tackles (81 total) and got after the quarterback (4.5 sacks).

Now as a senior, I expect Reynoso to have an even greater impact on the continually rising Santa Ynez program. 

Again, I'm not sure if McClurg will try to focus Reynoso's talents on offense or defense, but I'm sure Reynoso will excel at either of those.

Last year Reynoso was all about defense.

He had 36 solo tackles and 45 assists with 9.5 TFLs. Reynoso had 2.5 sacks against San Marcos alone, then added one more in the game against Templeton and another against Cabrillo. He also had a clutch field goal block against Santa Maria, blocked a punt against Templeton, caused two fumbles and recovered another in the 52-0 shellacking of San Marcos.


Sports Editor

Alumni Fresno State