Where would Lompoc have been without Sheldon Canley Jr. last season?
Well, according to his coach Andrew Jones, it wouldn't have been pretty for the Braves in 2021.
Canley had a marvelous senior season with Big Blue, doing just about all he could as the Braves finished 5-6 and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
"If you take him off our team we're probably 1-9," Jones said of Canley.
That is, perhaps, an exaggeration, but Canley's value to Lompoc is hard to overstate.
The San Diego State signee rushed for 1,549 yards in 11 games, scoring 22 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 306 yards and five more scores. Lompoc was so undermanned and beset by injuries that Canley even played some defensive back and did well there too, returning an interception for a touchdown. That gave him 28 scores on the season.
For his masterful final stanza at Lompoc, Canley has been voted the Santa Maria Times' All-Area MVP, selected by the sports staff at the Times.
Canley is the first Lompoc player to be selected as the Times' All-Area MVP since running back Toa Taua took the honor in 2016. Four straight Lompoc players earned the award from 2010 to 2013. Running back Marcell Blow was named the All-Area MVP in 2010 and running back Lavon Coleman followed in 2011, as Lompoc won back-to-back CIF titles. They were followed by do-everything-standout Rafael Arellano in 2012 and defensive lineman Ainuu Taua in 2013.
"It feels great, I think it's well deserved," Canley said of being named the All-Area MVP. "I put a lot of hard work into this so I'm glad to see that my work is finally paying off."
Canley had plenty of competition for the award this year, even from one of his teammates.
Fellow senior Deville "Joker" Dickerson had 61 catches for 1,100 yards with nine receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and eight kick return scores all the while playing lockdown defense at cornerback. Arroyo Grande's Kaden Tynes had nearly 1,300 yards of total offense and scored 21 touchdowns while adding 92 tackles and four sacks on defense. Fellow Eagle Makai Puga had just under 1,200 yards of offense with 17 touchdowns and 60 tackles on defense. Puga was named the Mountain League MVP after totalling 1,909 all-purpose yards.
"I would put Sheldon up there with some of the best players I've ever coached," Jones said. "If you put him on some of the other teams I've coached, where Lavon (Coleman) was the running back or Toa (Taua) was the running back, those were some of the best offensive lines I've ever had.
"As everybody knows, we struggled up front this year with a younger group of guys and Shel's ability to make guys miss, run people over or, obviously, out-run people… he just carried us through some tough games."
Canley was also named the Channel League's MVP, a rare feat for a player on a team that finished in fourth place in the league.
"I can put it to you like this: We finished fourth in a very tough league and Sheldon was unanimously decided as the best player in the league by the other coaches," Jones said. "I think that speaks volumes about the type of player he is."
Canley was certainly spectacular to watch on his own this season, whether it was him racing past an entire defense, making multiple defenders miss with a single move, or overpowering a helpless defensive back. However, Canley is hesitant to take too much credit.
"I feel like the team played their part," the soft-spoken Canley said. "Obviously there were things we could've worked on to put together a quality season, but I'm still proud of this team and still proud of what we did. We had a lot of younger guys playing all over the field."
Canley will next suit up for San Diego State in the fall after signing with the Aztecs in December. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster had offers from other Mountain West Conference schools Colorado State, San Jose State and Nevada. Washington State, a Pac-12 program, also offered him a scholarship.
Canley rushed for 2,893 yards in 26 games in a Lompoc uniform, scoring 43 rushing touchdowns and 50 total touchdowns.
"You had to gameplan around him and he still had very successful games against everybody," Jones said of Canley. "A lot of people will base the All-Area MVP off of the best player on the best team in the area, other people will maybe base it on the actual best player in the area and he's the best prospect in the area. He's the top recruit."
Canley's father Sheldon Canley Sr. was named to the Times' All-Area team in 1985 while starring at Lompoc High. Canley Sr. went on to play a season at Hancock and starring at San Jose State, where he set numerous school records for a running back. He was then drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1991.
Stay tuned to see the rest of the Times' All-Area Team, including the All-Area offensive and defensive players of the year and the first and second teams. The All-Area teams feature players from the Times' coverage area, from Santa Ynez to the Lompoc Valley to Santa Maria, Nipomo and Arroyo Grande.