The following is a midseason watch list for the 2008 California Player of the Year. This isn't an announcement of finalists, and there's still plenty of games left to play, but here's who looks strong right now.
Players are listed in alphabetical order. Results as of Oct. 31.
Matt Barkley (Mater Dei, Santa Ana)
The state junior player of the year and Gatorade national choice in 2007, Barkley doesn't have as much offensive talent and a weaker line protecting him and it shows in the amount of interceptions he's thrown (11 so far). Don't look now, but Mater Dei is currently in first place in the tough Trinity League and Barkley is still a viable candidate. He sometimes tries to do too much, which leads to poor throws, but Barkley can still put up points on any defense when he's on. On Friday, he passed for 228 yards and two touchdowns in a 57-28 victory over Santa Margarita. For the season, he now has passed for 2,149 yards and 20 TDs and for his career has gone over the 8,700-yard mark (8,712).
Vontaze Burfict (Centennial, Corona)
One of nation¹s top linebackers, some say Burfict is the best but Centennial's offense is so good it could hurt Burfict's chances. His team has played some quality competition, but they're usually so far ahead that Burfict hasn't had that signature game or play to get people talking about how great a high school player he is. We know how great of a college prospect he is, but the last true defensive player to win our Mr. Football award was DT Travis Kirschke of Anaheim Esperanza in 1992 and he did have that signature game in the Southern Section playoffs when the Aztecs shut down 2,000-yard rusher and electrifying talent Saladin McCullough of Pasadena Muir to the tune of -1 yard.
Tyler Gaffney (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego)
He could actually be a leading contender for this honor right now. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder is deciding between Stanford, Notre Dame and USC, where he will be a running back. He has led Cathedral Catholic to an 8-0 record and there's a good chance the Dons will finish unbeaten partly because they are in a playoff division in which they won't play Oceanside. After running for 210 yards on just 12 carries Friday night in an easy 62-6 win over Patrick Henry of San Diego, Gaffney already has 1,507 yards rushing plus 20 catches for 275 more yards and he has scored 30 touchdowns. Gaffney could be in line for final totals of 2,500 yards rushing and 45 TDs.
Jamie Jensen (Gilroy)
The 6-3, 215-pound senior broke through last year with more than 4,000 yards passing for a squad that played in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division final. Jensen's totals so far this year have been down from last year, but on Friday night he had a huge game to lead the Mustangs past Palma of Salinas, 34-28. It was a game the locals in Monterey County had been waiting for all season and in it Jensen shined by completing 28 of 38 passes for 415 yards and three TDs. He pushed his season totals to 2,203 yards and 23 TDs and Gilroy improved to 8-0. The Mustangs aren't considered a favorite for the CCS open crown with the likes of Oak Grove (defending champ) and others, but if they do win it and Jensen is the one leading the way, then he'll be a major contender for the highest postseason honors. An unbeaten Gilroy team on the board at the CIF state bowl game selection meeting also might be enough to get Jensen a final game at the Home Depot Center.
Malcolm Jones (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village)
Jones was the state sophomore and freshman player of the year and is in good shape to be state junior of the year this season. A few things are going to have to go his way, however, in order for him to win the state's most prestigious individual honor. Oaks Christian doesn't play the toughest of schedules and Jones rarely plays in the second half of games. Another factor that hurts him is a junior hasn't won Mr. Football honors since 1967, when Calvin Jones of San Francisco Balboa took home top honors before moving on to UCLA. On Halloween, Jones scored five first half touchdowns as the Lions routed Oak Park of Agoura Hills, 54-0. For the season Jones how has 19 TDs and is averaging over 10 yards per carry (1,096 yards/109 carries). This upcoming week his candidacy could take a huge step when Oaks Christian takes on Santa Clara of Oxnard in a regionally televised game where he'll be matched up against Cierre Wood, a Notre Dame recruit that also could catapult himself into the Mr. Football conversation with a big game.
Ryan Kasdorf (Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks)
No player has emerged more since the beginning of the season than this junior signal-caller. Veteran coach Kevin Rooney has always executed a run-first offense but he's smartly adjusted to take a advantage of his personnel on hand. His candidacy got a major boost on Friday night in a showdown against Serra League rival Crespi of Encino as he completed 22 0f 28 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-17 victory over the Celts. Both teams are CIFSS Pac-Five title contenders, but Notre Dame is now 8-0 and Kasdorf has already passed for 2,406 yards and tied the school record of 26 touchdowns. The yardage mark broke the school record of Elite 11 QB Dayne Crist, now at the University of Notre Dame and Kasdorf will probably play in at least four more games, depending on how well the Golden Knights perform in the postseason.
Cameron Loeffler (Exeter)
You have to put Loeffler into the mix just from a statistical standpoint alone. On Friday night, he tallied five touchdowns in a 42-14 win by Exeter over Coalinga and upped his reported state-leading total to 34 for the season. Loeffler also is among the state leaders in rushing with 1,947 yards, including the 202 he had against the Horned Toads. A 6-1, 195-pounder, Loeffler also plays linebacker on defense. He had an interception vs. Coalinga and tends to make plays on both sides of the ball.
Keith Price (St. John Bosco, Bellflower)
He might just be the most electrifying talent of this group and there is no doubt his team needs him to perform at a high-level each game in order to compete against the teams they face on a weekly basis. Against tough competition he has passed for 1,856 yards and 21 TDs, including 290 yards and three touchdowns on Halloween in a 33-6 victory over JSerra of San Juan Capistrano. Like Reggie Jackson when he hit a home run or struck out, Price can excite a crowd whether he's passing 50 yards downfield on a broken play or dodging defenders just to get back to the line of scrimmage. Two big Trinity League games against Servite of Anaheim and Mater Dei to close out the regular season will be key to his candidacy.
Cierre Wood (Santa Clara, Oxnard)
The 6-1, 210-pounder with sprinter speed was the state sophomore player of the year two years ago (picked ahead of Matt Barkley) and was a strong contender behind Barkley for top junior honors a year ago. Wood has committed to Notre Dame and is ranked by many as one of the top running back prospects in the nation. As a junior, he had 2,612 yards rushing and scored 34 TDs. So far this year, he has 122 carries for 1,522 yards and 20 scores. This Friday, Wood's unbeaten team plays Malcolm Jones and unbeaten Oaks Christian. Keep in mind that Jones has a lot more talent around him.
Jordan Wynn (Oceanside)
Wynn doesn't have the passing stats of the others, but he is certainly on the watch list because he potentially could end his career with back-to-back CIF Div. II state titles. The Colorado-bound Wynn has passed for 2,051 yards and 18 TDs so far this season. In limited action in Friday's easy 62-6 win over Orange Glen of Escondido, Wynn completed 9 of 10 passes for 170 yards and three TDs.
Others to watch: Usua Amanam (Bellarmine, San Jose) RB-DB; Richard Brehaut (Los Osos, Rancho Cucamonga) QB; Patrick Hall (St. Bonaventure, Ventura) RB-DB; Cameron Marshall RB-LB (Valley Christian, San Jose).
Mark Tennis covers high school sports for ESPN RISE. The CalHiSports.com Mr. Football Player of the Year honor has selections that date back to 1890, thanks to research by our founder, the late Nelson Tennis.