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OCVarsity Hot 150: Orange County’s top impact football players for 2022

Orange County Register logo Orange County Register 8/5/2022 Dan Albano, The Orange County Register

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The 2022 high school football season is almost upon us. But before the stadium lights flip on for Friday night games, it’s time for the annual OCVarsity Hot 150, a list that projects the top impact players to watch this fall.

The list is based on coaches’ input, video analysis, college recruiting interest, statistics, honors and observations.

The talent pool in Orange County runs deep, so it’s a challenging but fun selection process. Some deserving players might have been overlooked and will prove they deserved to be on the Hot 150. But that’s all part of the excitement that helps bring Friday nights alive.


1. MALACHI NELSON, Los Alamitos, QB

The USC commit has all the tools to make his fourth and final season with the Griffins memorable. From his dynamic throwing angles to his ability to move outside of the pocket, Nelson is the most gifted offensive player in the county. And best of all, Los Alamitos’ schedule, and the Griffins potentially being in the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs, will present him plenty of chances to prove himself against top competition.

2. ELIJAH BROWN, Mater Dei, QB

The junior keeps getting better as he conquers one hurdle after another with his clutch play and accurate passing. He’s undefeated as a starter for a reason.

3. MAKAI LEMON, Los Alamitos, WR/CB

The speedy USC commit is not only the No. 1 target for QB Malachi Nelson, he’s also an excellent cornerback when the Griffins need him.

4. KADIN SEMONZA, Mission Viejo, QB

The Ball State-committed senior soars up the rankings thanks to his progression and a cast of talented wide receivers that includes Mikey Matthews, Jackson Holman, KJ Reed, Edward Schultz and Andrez Lewis.

5. MIKEY MATTHEWS, Mission Viejo, WR/ATH.

The versatile senior will not only challenge Makai Lemon for bragging rights as the county’s top receiver, he also could emerge as the county’s top kick returner and on-field leader.

6. T.A. CUNNINGHAM, Los Alamitos, DE

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound transfer from Georgia is eager to show why he’s the nation’s No. 1-rated junior defensive lineman in his class.

7. LEVITICUS SU’A, Mater Dei, LB

The sound-tackling senior has worked his way to being the undisputed leader of the Monarchs defense.


The 6-foot-5, 335-pound junior left tackle might be the best player along the Monarchs’ offensive line, which says a lot.

9. JAXON POTTER, Santa Margarita, QB

The Eagles are eager to take the next step, and the senior’s progression is a big reason it could happen. His recent commitment to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) should boost his confidence.

10. EMMETT MOSLEY, Santa Margarita, WR/S

The Servite transfer plays with a different burst than most in Orange County, and if the junior starts to realize his potential and stay healthy, watch out.

11. DAVID RASOR, Corona del Mar, QB

The UC Davis-committed senior showed during summer passing tournaments that he’s primed for a huge season.

12. TREY KUKUK, Capistrano Valley, QB

The dual-threat senior led the county in total yards last season, and also set the county passing record with 615 yards in a game against Trabuco Hills. Those are impact numbers.

13. WESTON PORT, San Juan Hills, LB

Physical and fast, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Port burst onto the scene in 2021 as a freshman with nearly 100 tackles and 12 sacks. He is ready for a major encore.

14. KOBE BOYKIN, Orange, RB

The Utah-committed junior is a game-changing talent who is primed to take his production to the next level.

15. PARKER AWAD, Edison, QB

Steady and smart, the senior isn’t flashy but succeeds by making good decisions and delivering accurate passes.

16. REYN BEAL, Yorba Linda, QB

The senior is intelligent on and off the field. The potential two-time league MVP carries a 4.4 grade-point average.


The sophomore nicknamed “Butter” is ready to lead the Stallions’ offense, which faces another challenging nonleague schedule before touching down in the Sea View League.

18. BRANDON BAKER, Mater Dei, OL

The fast-rising junior is 6-foot-5, 285 pounds and holds offers from USC and UCLA among others.

19. AJON BRYANT, Mater Dei, RB/ATH

The junior contrasts the physical prowess of backfield co-star Jordon Davison with his quickness and ability to catch the ball. But be warned, Bryant also has plenty of power, too.


The heavily-recruited sophomore didn’t get many opportunities last season but now that Raleek Brown plays for USC, he should get his shot to show that his power is for real.

21. JACKSON HOLMAN, Mission Viejo, WR

The 6-foot-3 Arizona commit is a matchup nightmare because of his size and physicality.

22. NIKO LOPEZ, Santa Margarita, WR

The physical 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior thrived as the No. 1 target for Jaxon Potter last season. Look for that role to continue this fall.

23. BJ TOLO, Mater Dei, C

No Mater Dei lineman is more experienced than the 6-foot-2, 310-pound senior who is poised to become a four-year starter.

24. ZABIEN BROWN, Mater Dei, CB

The experienced junior is the county’s top cornerback and a key player for a young defense.

25. COOPER HOCH, Corona del Mar, WR

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior is the Sea Kings’ next dominant receiver with his combination of size and toughness.


The athletic 6-foot-4 senior is progressing well after an offseason injury and has aimed his return for fall camp. He caught 11 TDs last season and also played QB.

27. WYATT MOSIER, Yorba Linda, LB

Keep an eye on the first-team All-County selection from last fall. He’s one of the hardest hitters in the county.

28. AYDIN BRELAND, Mater Dei, DL

Don’t forget about this improving junior in the wake of the arrival of T.A. Cunningham, the Class of 2024 recruiting leader. Breland has been offered by Alabama among others.

29. ETHAN O’CONNOR, Los Alamtios, WR/CB

The senior made his mark on defense last season but look for an expanded role on offense, a trend that started late in 2021.


Remember this senior as one of the best two-way players in the county. His brother Joshua is a talented junior.


The improving senior was the best two-way player in the Battle at the Bay passing tournament this summer with a dazzling display of athleticism and playmaking. Be sure to watch him at safety, which could be his college position.

32. KASHTON HENJUM, Newport Harbor, WR

The polished and athletic senior returns after a monstrous fall in which he emerged as one of the county’s best.

33. JACK RESSLER, Mater Dei, WR

The junior finished second on the team with 33 receptions last season but now looks like Elijah Brown’s No. 1 target. Boise State recently offered.

34. DANE BENEDIX, Capistrano Valley, WR/DB

An offseason knee injury will delay the senior’s return a few games but he’s an explosive playmaker when healthy.

35. DONOVAN COMESTRO, Santa Margarita, CB

Give the senior credit for developing into a top cornerback by making plays against tough competition. The old-school route still works.

36. COLTON JOSEPH, Newport Harbor, QB

The dual-threat QB from San Juan Hills showed his improvement by helping the Sailors win their passing tournament in July. His running ability and receiver targets will boost his performance.


The 6-foot-4 senior looks to build upon his breakout 2021 season that included nearly 2,700 yards passing and 27 TDs.

38. WILL BURNS, Trabuco Hills, QB

The athletic senior showed his promise last season by not only posting 2,614 total yards but playing smart. He tossed 17 TDs against only four INTs.

39. DAMIAN HENDERSON, Los Alamitos, ATH.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound transfer from Long Beach Jordan projects as the Griffins’ No. 1 running back. He recently committed to Colorado State.

40. BLAKE ALLEN, San Clemente, RB

The Tritons’ versatile back should produce at a higher clip thanks to a stronger supporting cast.

41. JUSTIN GIL, La Habra, QB

If the senior applies his experiences of the past few season, expect a big finish. He showed improvement during the summer.


The Washington commit will make an impact with his athleticism and his 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame.

43. GABE MORIN, Orange Lutheran, LB/RB

The senior again anchors the Lancers defense after racking up 140 tackles last season. But in a twist, look for him to play some running back, too.

44. JALANI LIVA, Santa Margarita, OL

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Liva is a rare four-year starter in the Trinity League who can play several positions along the line.

45. COLLINS ACHEAMPONG, Santa Margarita, DE

The Michigan commit has much to prove after not playing football the past two seasons at Fairmont Prep. But at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and loaded with athleticism, he seems more than capable.

46. EDWARD SCHULTZ, Mission Viejo, WR/KR

The speedy transfer from JSerra is a key part of the Diablos’ loaded receiver corps and one of the best kick returners in the county. He’s committed to Colorado.

47. DYLAN MILLS, San Clemente, QB

The Tritons haven’t announced their starter but there’s no denying the junior’s ability. The JSerra transfer has a strong arm, Trinity League experience and mobility.


Expect the recent arrival from St. John Bosco, via Alemany last season, to make his presence felt quickly in the Monarchs’ secondary.

49. CARSON DE AVILA, Newport Harbor, S

Orange County’s top tackler last season with 163 also could become a three-year captain this season.

50. JJ CONRAD, Yorba Linda, WR

After hauling in 54 receptions for nearly 900 yards last season, the senior forms one of the best returning QB-WR duos with Reyn Beal.

51. KJ REED, Mission Viejo, WR

The senior showed in the Battle at the Beach passing tournament that he can make the most of his opportunities.


Based on his play in the Battle at the Bay passing tournament, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the senior emerge as the Titans’ starter and play well. Fellow senior QB Evan Pierce is a capable QB but he’s also playing other positions.

53. COLE ROBERTSON, San Clemente, LB

Look for the senior to again record triple-digits in tackles after collecting 105 last season.


The junior impressed with big plays during a breakout sophomore season.

55. BLAKE WILSON, Santa Margarita, S/K

The Eagles are counting on the athletic senior to help anchor their defense after recording a team-high 76 tackles last season. He also is an outstanding kicker. Also watch out for his fellow senior safety Ben Durham.

56. EVAN SANDERS, Corona del Mar, RB

Count the senior as a breakout candidate because his ability to carry and catch the ball.

57. OWEN SMITH, El Modena, RB

The 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior helps power the Vanguards with his blend of elusiveness and versatility.

58. JACKSON SIEVERS, Capistrano Valley, LB

The junior racked up 139 tackles last season for the Cougars and should continue his ascent.

59. FOX HAUGEN, Canyon, WR

The 6-foot-3 senior opened plenty of eyes last season with 87 receptions for 1,002 yards and 18 TDs in 10 games.

60. JUSTIN TAUANUU, Huntington Beach, OT

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound offensive tackle is rising as one of the county’s top juniors.

61. SINN BRENNAN, Los Alamitos, DE

The all-league selection should flourish as a key part of arguably the best defensive line in the county. Look for him to play opposite of T.A. Cunningham.

62. LEVAR TALLEY, Santa Margarita, DE/OLB

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior is on the rise as a perimeter defender. Be sure to check if he’s playing outside linebacker or defensive end.

63. JACK MATRANGA, Mission Viejo, LB

The Diablos can’t wait to see more from the junior who racked up 8.5 sacks last season.

64. MASON KUBICHEK, Corona del Mar, LB

The three-year starter is the Sea Kings’ top defensive returner and one of the county’s best at his position.


The senior has the credentials to be the Knights’ defensive anchor after collecting 135 total tackles last season.


The Friars are excited about the return of the active senior who steps into a larger role this fall.


The senior returns faster and stronger after bolting for 1,209 yards and 16 TDs last season.

68. TJ LATEEF, Orange Lutheran, QB

The Lancers haven’t announced a starter at QB but the sophomore’s training and Pac-12 offers suggest he’ll be in the mix. The announcement is key because the reigning Division 2 champions have weapons and offensive coordinator Aaron Corp. Sophomore John Gazzaniga is another strong contender at QB.

69. MICHAEL D’AMATO, Mission Viejo, DB/LB

The Tesoro transfer showed during the summer that he’s a big addition to an already active defense.


The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior offers the Vanguards a defensive anchor for their North Hills League run.


The speedy senior continues to improve and remains the top target for QB Justin Gil.

72. GAVIN PORCH, Los Alamitos, ATH.

The senior always finds ways to help the Griffins on offense and defense. He projects as a key wide receiver for Malachi Nelson.

73. GAGE BURNETT, Santa Margarita, LB

The experienced junior from Servite is another junior linebacker to watch.

74. JUN RAMOS, Pacifica, RB

Expect the senior to be the Mariners’ featured option on offense after several high-profile players chose to transfer.

75. ADAM HARPER, Northwood, RB/DB

It will be challenging for the reigning Pacific Valley League MVP to surpass what he did last season while leading the Timberwolves to their first CIF title, but he’s talented enough to pull it off.

76. MALACHI BEY, Garden Grove, ATH.

The versatile senior impressed in the spring and summer after rushing for 1,249 yards and 19 TDs last season.

77. ARRON WHITE, Orange, CB/WR

The sophomore is already committed to USC and ready to show his progress this fall.

78. JOSIAH LAMARQUE, Newport Harbor, WR

The junior displayed plenty of production last season with 78 catches for 972 yards for the CIF-SS Division 6 champion.

79. JAKE FOYE, Santa Margarita, RB

The senior flashed his combination of power and quickness last season en route almost 650 yards. If he stays healthy, he could post some big numbers and soar past several backs.


The speedy junior transfer from St. Pius X-St. Matthias gives Elijah Brown yet one more playmaker to utilize, but don’t be surprised to see him on defense, too.

81. TOMMY REESE, Mission Viejo, MLB

The senior is the Diablos’ leading returning tackler and coming off a strong summer. His recent offer from Drake should bolster his confidence.


The senior forms a dynamic backfield duo with Fischer Huss after earning co-offensive player of the year honors in the Freeway League last season.


The senior broke TD runs of 76 and 85 yards last season en route to averaging 9.1 yards per carry.


The versatile and physical lineman will help the Lions on both sides of the trenches.

85. NATHAN GATES, Edison, LT

The senior with offers from Fresno State and San Jose State looks like the best of the Chargers’ linemen.

86. NATHAN HALE, Orange Lutheran, OL

The 6-foot-5, 275-pound senior is a returning starter for the reigning CIF Division 2 champion. Look for him at left tackle.


The Monarchs love to rotate their defensive linemen, and this 6-foot-4, 330-pound junior is one to watch this season. He ranks fourth in returning tackles for the unit and keys Mater Dei’s 3-4 front.

88. TREYVON TOLMAIRE, Mission Viejo, CB

If Corona del Mar’s Cooper Hoch was the breakout receiver of the summer, Tolmaire, a junior, was the breakout cornerback.

89. ISAIAH DORSEY, Los Alamitos, DB

The reigning Sunset League defensive back of the year plays much bigger than his 5-foot-8, 180-pound frame. He’s physical and fundamentally sound.

90. BRADY NORTON, Mission Viejo, LT

The 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior could be the Diablos’ best overall lineman.


The senior impressed at Villa Park last season and gives the Highlanders another playmaker on both sides of the ball.

92. JONATHAN BECERRA, Mission Viejo, DE

The versatile senior is another active member of the Diablos’ defensive line.


The 5-foot-11, 250-pound senior collected nine sacks last season to help push the Vanguards to the Division 5 semifinals. He’s also an All-CIF selection.

94. NASIR WYATT, Mater Dei, LB

Dubbed the 2.0 version of 2021 Orange County defensive player of the year David Bailey, the sophomore is on the rise and has a USC offer.

95. TROY LEIGBER, Laguna Hills, RB/S

Injury slowed the senior last season but expect him to bounce back in a big way. His recent offer from Army should give him added momentum.

96. DANIEL GOODRICH, Woodbridge, WR/DB

The senior delivered big play after big play, on both sides of the ball, for the Warriors.


The 6-foot-2 senior has the size and separation skills to be the go-to target for freshman QB Oscar Rios.


The ultra-quick 5-foot-9 senior is the Friars’ best wide receiver and also starts at corner.

99. CRISTIAN VIOLA, Crean Lutheran, LT/DE

The 6-foot-7, 260-pound senior is a small-school giant and UC Davis commit.

100. AJ VANDERMADE, Huntington Beach, WR/DB

The Oilers’ top playmaker looks to stay healthy after injury slowed his promising junior season.

101. JACK STUPIN, Tustin, QB

The transfer from Millikan has to fill the large shoes of Tobey Schmidt, but the junior brings talent to the challenge.

102. BEN FALETOI, Tustin, OL/DL

The 6-foot-1, 306-pound senior, along with Nijah Faletoi, carry on the tradition of top Tustin linemen.

103. JACOB BOWER, Santa Margarita, LB

The aggressive senior isn’t the biggest name on the Eagles’ defense but he’s a consistent playmaker. He also plays rugby.

104. RYDER INSLEY, San Clemente, CB

The senior leads an experienced secondary and gives the Tritons a top corner for the tough South Coast League receivers.

105. DARYUS DIXSON, Mater Dei, DB

Another sophomore to watch on the Monarchs’ young defense. He is a versatile defender who could play corner or safety.

106. DIJON LEE JR., Mission Viejo, CB

The 6-foot-3 sophomore from Servite used the summer passing tournaments to show his budding skills as a tall corner with cover skills.

107. MASON WOLFE, Tesoro, WR

The Titans’ top returning receiver impressed in the Battle at the Bay passing tournament. He appears headed toward a big senior season.

108. TUCKER TRIPP, Edison, WR

The senior helps lead the Chargers’ new-look receiving corps after hauling in 39 receptions as a junior.


The junior showed poise and a strong arm while helping the Lions make a surprising run to the semifinals in the Battle at the Beach passing tournament.


The senior is the Lions’ top returning receiver after the transfer of Edward Schultz.

111. JAKE BENTO, El Dorado, S/WR

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior is bigger and faster after posting 98 total tackles in his breakout 2021 season.

112. THOMAS HARTANOV, San Clemente, WR

The Tritons’ leading returning receiver has stepped up at the slot position and leads an improved playmaking cast that includes junior Drew Shanley and Reid Kotiranta.


The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Texas commit is known for his physical blocking but figures to be more involved in the passing game.

114. RYNER SWANSON, Laguna Beach, TE/DE

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior moves and catches the ball well, as his 45 catches for 586 yards last season proved.

115. KALEB MARSHALL, Orange Lutheran, WR

The senior appears headed toward a larger role in the Lancers’ offense after a productive junior season.

116. SIONE TOHI, Mater Dei, OL

The under-the-radar prospect started as a freshman and looks to keep it going as a sophomore. Look for him at left guard.


Friars coach Troy Thomas calls Madrigal the “next great two-way lineman” at Servite.


Don’t forget about the athletic 6-foot-2 senior as one of the best corners in the county. He nabbed six interceptions last season.


The transfer from Huntington Beach looks a major addition for the Tillers. Florida State has offered.

120. JIREH MOE, Orange Lutheran, DL

The 5-foot-11, 270-pound sophomore from Nevada plays with a big-time motor so keep an eye on him.


The senior showed his athleticism with a great one-handed TD catch in the Battle at the Beach, and he also plays a tough corner.

122. CONNOR BACHHUBER, San Clemente, OT/DT

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior appears headed toward a breakout season. Colorado recently offered.


The junior left tackle continues to improve and will also rotate as an interior defensive lineman.

124. JAKE FLORES, JSerra, RT

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound right tackle is picking up Pac-12 recruiting interest, including an offer from Washington.

125. CODY GOING, Mission Viejo, OL

The senior guard is another solid offensive lineman who has excelled training with Allegiance and Coach Chris Ward.

126. MARCUS WORKS, La Habra, S

The senior spent time with Los Alamitos over the summer but returned to the Highlanders. He was an All-CIF selection and had five INTs on his 2021 resume.

127. TY BENEFIELD, Crean Lutheran, WR/DB

The transfer from Santa Margarita, who has multiple offers, projects as a big-time addition for the Saints.


The fast-rising sophomore flashed his ability in the Battle at the Beach passing tournament.

129. BRAYDEN BOCKLER, San Juan Hills, TE

Stallions coach Robert Frith finds creative ways to use tight ends, and the 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior offers intriguing possibilities.

130. ERZA FUNA, Mater Dei, DL

The senior finished the 2021 season strong and has emerged as an important member of the Monarchs’ rotation.

131. CONNOR PANAPA, Servite, DL

The transfer from Culver City brings a motor that will help the retooling Friars’ front.

132. NEHEMIAH SAGIAO, Los Alamitos, OLB

Look for the 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior transfer from St. John Bosco to make the most of his opportunity to showcase his skills with the Griffins.

133. SAMUEL DUNNELL, St. Margaret’s, CB/WR

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior is on the rise after landing an offer from San Diego State.

134. JAKOB COLEMAN, Orange, S/ATH.

The sophomore, who committed to Tennessee State, is a slot receiver/safety to watch. Teammate Jaelen Lightfoot also is a talented slot/safety.

135. JACOB CARLON, Newport Harbor, OLB

The Sailors are expecting a breakout season from the 6-foot-3, 180-pound junior.

136. ANTHONY LUNA, Western, QB

The junior looks to build off his strong sophomore season in which he passed for over 2,700 yards and 34 TDs.

137. SERGIO TORRES, Santa Ana, QB

The junior returns after passing for nearly 1,800 yards and 28 TDs in a breakout sophomore campaign. He was intercepted only twice and rushed for 340 yards.

138. JOJO EDWARDS, Orange Lutheran, LB

The sophomore displayed plenty of playmaking as the Lancers’ lone starting freshman last season.

139. JEILANI DAVIS, Mater Dei, S

The junior previewed things to come with an interception in the CIF Division 1 final last season.

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140. AARON MITCHELL, Foothill, RB

Knights coach Doug Case knows running backs and calls the 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior “the real deal.” Look for Mitchell to be a featured weapon for the new-look Knights.

141. DATHAN LUI, La Habra, RB

The shifty senior could emerge as the Highlander’ primary ball carrier. He rushed for 662 yards and 10 TDs last season.


The junior projects as a two-way standout for the revamped Spartans.

143. GAVIN ROGERS, Crean Lutheran, QB

The senior flashed promise last season and received a major weapon with the arrival of wide receiver Ty Benefield from Santa Margarita.

144. QUIAD CARR, Servite, RB

Friars coach Troy Thomas has a knack for developing running backs and he believes the sophomore is going to be special.

145. TYLER PARKER, Santa Margarita, DL

A video of Parker shirtless went viral during the summer but there’s more to the sophomore than his muscles. He moves well for his 6-foot, 300-pound frame and projects to start for the Eagles.

146. TALANOA ILI, Orange Lutheran, LB

Don’t be surprised if the 6-foot-3, 215-pound freshman starts with the Lancers’ strong group of linebackers. Cal has offered Ili. His brother Tala, a junior transfer from Servite, is a defensive end/linebacker to watch.


The All-CIF safety not only plays excellent defense but helps the Warriors at wide receiver and kicker.

148. ARJAE ALLEN, Anaheim, ATH.

The All-CIF selection from last season is a playmaker as a wide receiver, running back and returning kicks. He might even play some QB.

149. DEREK SMITH, St. Margaret’s, WR/DB/KR

The All-CIF player last season is now a senior and one of the fastest players in the county. He scored 13 TDs in 2021.

150. JACOB TERRY, Valencia, RB

The Tigers expect to be much-improved with the senior running back and the emergence of linemen Dib Sawaya and Vince and Mike McGlenn. Terry rushed for 10 TDs last season.

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