SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BVM) – The California high school football season is upon us and there might not be a better collection of talent than what the Golden State has to offer. The two top-ranked teams in the country by MaxPreps – No. 1 St. John Bosco and reigning national champion No. 2 Mater Dei – hail from California and No. 9-ranked Centennial gives the state three teams in the nation’s top 10.
Aside from a superb collection of team talent, California boasts some of the country’s high school football superstars. From highly sought-after quarterbacks to elite pass catchers and fearsome defenders, the Class of 2023 in particular is star-studded on both sides of the ball.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the top senior football players in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF).
10. Walker Lyons – TE, Folsom
Lyons made Stanford fans very happy in late July when he announced his commitment to the Cardinal over Alabama, Ohio State, USC and others. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound playmaker can line up attached to the line of scrimmage as a true tight end or flex out and become a real problem for defensive backs with his large frame and leaping ability. Lyons caught 42 passes for 646 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior for Folsom and just barely edged out fellow four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan (De La Salle) for a spot on this list.
Folsom 4 ⭐️ 2023 TE Walker Lyons has committed to Stanford. Lyons picked Stanford over USC, BYU, Utah, Alabama and Ohio State. He caught nine touchdowns last season as a junior. @walkerly0ns @FolsomBulldogFB @Passing_Academy @slamdunk406 @StanfordRivals @CoachMTurner @maeubanks pic.twitter.com/P3GOgPE2M2
— Cameron Salerno (@cameronsalerno1) July 23, 2022
9. Daylen Austin – CB, Long Beach Poly
Austin is a true playmaker at the cornerback position with track speed to boot. He anchored Long Beach Poly’s top-ranked 4×100 team and chose to play football at LSU over Alabama, Georgia, Michigan State and others. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound defensive back tallied 44 total tackles, 11 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions during his junior campaign with the Jackrabbits. The speedster could also blossom into a special teams maven after accounting for 412 yards between kickoff and punt returns last season. It’s possible that Austin finds the field early for LSU similar to how his older brother, Austin, did at Oregon State last season as a redshirt freshman.
6'2 180lbs CB/ATH in the 2023 class from California. Likes to play physical at the line but he also has the skill & speed to hang with WRs anywhere on the field. Good tackler, he makes some impressive 1 on 1 tackles in space. Daylen Austin is also a fantastic KR/PR #PlayMaker https://t.co/sdfgGRSyiB pic.twitter.com/CsrvjCjT4x
— North Fresh (@NorthFreshCane) January 7, 2022
8. Rodrick Pleasant – CB, Junipero Serra
Another athletic cornerback with elite track speed is Rodrick Pleasant who has yet to make an official college decision. The four-star athlete set the California wind-legal record in the 100-meter dash in May with a time of 10.14, breaking the 37-year-old record of 10.25. Pleasant can contribute on either side of the ball, including special teams, and one of his top six – Boston College, Cal, Oregon, Penn State, UCLA and USC – will land a playmaker just beginning to scratch the surface of his ability on the gridiron.
4-star CB Rodrick Pleasant ran the fastest wind legal 100 meters in state history. 10.14.
— MaxPreps (@MaxPreps) May 21, 2022
7. DeAndre Moore Jr. – WR, St. John Bosco
A true two-way prospect with the ability to play wide receiver and safety at the next level, Moore Jr. will spend his senior year with a new team: No. 1-ranked St. John Bosco. After spending his first two years of high school at Desert Pines (Las Vegas), Moore Jr. transferred to Los Alamitos ahead of his junior season where he accounted for 631 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns while tallying 19 total tackles to go along with four passes defended. The former Oklahoma pledge committed to Louisville in May over Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and others. The rangy athlete has all the tools to contribute at the next level with the Cardinals.
— ᴅᴍᴏ. (@DeandreMooreJr) March 2, 2022
6. Jurrion Dickey – WR, Mater Dei
Dickey is reportedly transferring to defending high school national champion Mater Dei after leading the Central Coast Section with 78 catches for 1,304 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2021 for Valley Christian. The five-star wide receiver also intercepted four passes, including a pick-six, and scored three touchdowns on kick returns during his junior campaign. Dickey will join a Mater Dei powerhouse that won the Open Division championship last season and is 58-2 over the last five years. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound athlete will suit up for the Ducks at the next level after committing to Oregon in May over Arkansas, Miami, USC and others.
5. Jaden Rashada – QB, Pittsburg
The first quarterback to appear on this list is another athlete who has spent time at multiple high schools. Rashada spent his freshman year at Brentwood Liberty before transferring to IMG Academy (FL) and then Pittsburg where he’s turned into one of the country’s most sought-after signal callers. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound QB threw for 2,220 yards and 27 touchdowns to just five interceptions for the 2021 North Coast Section Division I champions. Rashada is believed to be the first high school football player to profit from endorsements when he inked a four-figure endorsement deal with the recruiting app AIR (Athletes in Recruitment). The talented passer and playmaker committed to Miami in June over the likes of Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and others.
— Overtime (@overtime) June 26, 2022
4. Makai Lemon – WR, Los Alamitos
Lemon and Moore Jr. formed a lethal pass-catching duo last season for Los Alamitos, but the USC pledge stood out above the rest. The 6-foot, 180-pound athlete caught a team-high 65 passes for 1,062 yards and 15 touchdowns while contributing 28 total tackles, eight pass breakups and four interceptions on defense. A polished route runner with elite explosiveness, Lemon is arguably one of the best wide receivers in the state and country. He’ll join a familiar face at the next level in Los Angeles with a quarterback to be named later.
USC WR commit Makai Lemon was a tough cover at Future 50 last weekend.
— Rivals (@Rivals) July 24, 2022
3. Matayo Uiagalelei – DL, St. John Bosco
The first defensive lineman on this list also happens to be one of the most sought-after uncommitted prospects in the country. Hometown USC brought Trojan legend and Super Bowl champion Willie McGinest out for Uiagalelei’s visit to campus in June and the consensus top-three player in the state profiles as a similar kind of dominant edge rusher. USC could certainly use Uiagalelei’s services but so too could the handful of Power 5 programs – Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and others – that offered the five-star recruit. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Uiagelelei lines up at tight end, too.
Good luck covering 5️⃣🌟TE/DL Matayo Uiagalelei!
No. 3 Bosco up 21-0 on No. 33 Oscar Smith (VA) in 2Q. 🔥 @young_concrete @_pierceclarkson
— MaxPreps (@MaxPreps) September 17, 2021
2. Nico Iamaleava – QB, Warren
Iamaleava is one of the country’s most talked about high school quarterbacks and for good reason. Always rocking a new pair of colorful pajama pants that attracts additional attention on the 7-on-7 circuit, the five-star quarterback was back in the news cycle recently after news broke that he’ll be returning to Warren (where he spent his sophomore and junior seasons) for his senior campaign after transferring to Long Beach Poly in the spring. Iamaleava returns to Warren where he threw for 2,224 yards and 33 touchdowns to just one interception as a junior. A consensus top-five QB in the country, some believe he should be ranked even higher than Texas commit Arch Manning. Nonetheless, the Tennessee commit is the third highest-rated recruit in the history of the Volunteers’ football program behind only Bryce Brown and Eric Berry.
Nico Iamaleava – @nico_iamaleava8
Noticeable Attributes: Nico plays with no fear, he has absurd natural arm talent, and he has FUN.
Pro Comparison: Justin Herbert and Josh Allen
Tennessee Comparison: Tony Robinson pic.twitter.com/zbiPDVRgee
— Tennessee Vols Insider (@GBOinsider) April 1, 2022
1. Malachi Nelson – QB, Los Alamitos
Manning was the No. 1 player in the country according to all four major recruiting evaluators — 247Sports, On3, Rivals and ESPN – until July 25. ESPN gave the crown to Nelson, a consensus five-star prospect who has all the physical and mental tools to become an NFL franchise QB in the near future. Throwing to Moore Jr. and Lemon last season, Nelson accounted for 2,690 passing yards and 39 touchdowns as a junior. The former Oklahoma pledge committed to Lincoln Riley and USC in November and is the third No. 1 overall commit to the Trojans, joining running back Joe McKnight (2007) and quarterback Matt Barkley (2009). Nelson is the best talent the star-studded state of California has to offer and football fans will likely watch his ascension to stardom over the next few years.
Blessed 🙌🏾 to compete in the toughest playoff bracket/division in the Nation 😤. It was an honor battling the #2 team in the nation! Here are a few throws @LosAlFootball @CoachDanny10 @GregBiggins @adamgorney @ocvarsityguy @chrisflores0321 @Stumpf_Brian @MaxPreps @Zack_Poff_MP pic.twitter.com/f5TrQvWqyp
— malachi nelson (@Malachi) November 18, 2021