By Ray Hamill — With the local prep football season kicking off this weekend, many fans will be wondering which players are going to step up in the coming months, who will and won’t live up to expectations, and what sleepers out there will suddenly raise the level of their game and catch us all by surprise.
All of which got me thinking, which H-DNL players would make the best fantasy football picks.
Food for thought, no doubt, and there are several options across the board, but if you had to choose, who would you want on your team?
Here’s a breakdown of some of the many quality options available.
We’ll start with some second-round steals, the sort of players who might get over-looked as top picks but are well capable of putting up some top-pick numbers.
Jasper Hostler (Hoopa) — Hostler’s stock rose late last season as a receiver and he looks poised to continue that into his senior campaign. From a fantasy perspective, he would no doubt benefit from playing opposite Carlos Aguilar, as well as having stability at quarterback this fall.
Tristin Campbell (Hoopa) — Could be the Warriors’ most versatile offensive weapon and will see a lot of the ball behind an experienced offensive line.
Branson Gans (Fortuna) — Head coach Mike Benbow expects him to be one of the top receivers in the area. Enough said. The only downside from a fantasy perspective is how often Gans will see the ball on a young Huskies offense.
Everett Halikas (Arcata) — One half of Arcata’s dynamic duo in the offensive backfield, expect Halikas to put up big numbers all season behind a physical offensive line.
Chase “Biscuit” Steubing (Eureka) — Better known for his defensive prowess as Eureka’s only starting sophomore a year ago, Steubing has impressed at tight end in training camp and should see plenty of the ball, especially in the red zone.
Talimaivao Fonoti (St. Bernard’s) — Fonoti will definitely see plenty of the ball. The bruising full back offers a nice change of pace for a dynamic Crusaders backfield. Another stellar red zone weapon.
Graham McConnell (South Fork) — One of the best all-around athletes in the southern part of the county, McConnell appears ready for a breakout season in the Cubs backfield.
Kyler Carr (McKinleyville) — Likewise with Carr, another defensive specialist who came on strong in the offensive backfield at the end of last season and will see a lot more carries this fall.
OJ Calleja (Del Norte) — The Warriors quarterback will have plenty of opportunities to make plays behind what looks like a strong Del Norte offensive line. Enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2018.
John Smith (Hoopa) — After winning the starting QB job midway through last season, Smith should put up consistent numbers in his senior campaign with plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Del Norte, Eureka and Arcata
Expect all three defenses to lead the way physically this year. Based on schedules, Arcata would be the best fantasy option.
St. Bernard’s should be a pretty reliable option as well, but will have a tougher time of it in league play than Arcata will, and that makes the Tigers a better fantasy pick.
Carlos Aguilar (Hoopa) — Arguably the best receiver in the H-DNL who should also have a big senior campaign. Aguilar’s only downside from a fantasy perspective is that he attracts a lot of attention from opposing defenses. But with a more settled situation at the quarterback position this season, look for Aguilar to flourish.
Kien Mazzotti (Arcata) — The other half of the Tigers’ dynamic duo, expect big things from Mazzotti in his senior season. He’s capable of taking it to the end zone every time he touches the ball and benefits from playing behind a physical line.
Caleb Martinez (McKinleyville) — Martinez put up decent numbers in 2018. This year, the senior will be the featured back on a Panthers team that should sustain drives better than a year ago.
Lamarie Dunn (Eureka) — Dunn improved substantially as a big playmaking junior a year ago and should see plenty of the ball as the only returning starter in the Loggers offensive backfield. A good receiver too. The only downside from a fantasy perspective is he’ll have to share the carries with several other backs.
Levi Nyberg (Fortuna) — If a young Huskies offensive line comes together, Nyberg should enjoy an explosive junior campaign after a breakout season a year ago. One of the most exciting players in the H-DNL.
Sleepers with first-round potential
About the only guarantee heading into a new season is that somewhere out there some player is about to make a name for himself and surprise us all.
The question is who?
Sam Jones (Hoopa) — Jones really stepped up late in the season as a sophomore and looks ready to carry an even bigger load as a junior in 2019.
Look for him to have a breakout season.
Josiah Graham (Eureka) — Graham made a name for himself a year ago as a back-up on a legendary Loggers team, and now appears ready to step out of the shadow of some of his former teammates.
Look for Graham to make some spectacular catches in 2019 and be a top receiver for the Loggers, and perhaps even the top receiver in the H-DNL.
Lane Thrap (St. Bernard’s) — An outstanding athlete at receiver, Thrap is capable of taking it to the end zone every time he touches the ball. Expect an MVP type season from one of the best offensive weapons in the H-DNL in his final campaign.
Trevor Bell (Eureka) — It might be a lot to expect from a first-year starting quarterback to suggest he could be one of the top fantasy players in the entire league, but Bell is capable of putting up big numbers behind a physical line, and has plenty of offensive weapons.
He throws the ball well, makes smart decisions, and can run better than his legendary predecessor.
The only downside is a tough schedule with some tough defenses waiting.
Landon Gomes (Ferndale) — We’ve seen what the versatile Gomes can do on a struggling Wildcats team, imagine what he could do on what looks like a much-improved Ferndale squad. He could be in for a huge senior campaign.
Levi Cox Cooley (Del Norte) — The junior RB appears ready to step into the No. 1 role for the Warriors and should put up big numbers behind a strong and physical offensive line.
Top overall pick
So who would you take with the top overall pick for your H-DNL fantasy team?
There are a few pretty good options, but for my money one stands out above all others.
Will Omey (St. Bernard’s) — No local player puts up fantasy numbers better than Omey, who led the NCS in total offensive yards in the regular season a year ago, finishing with more than 3,700 in 12 games total.
It’s only half the story for someone who is a football player through and through, and one of the sharpest defensive minds on the team.
Expect Omey to have a monstrous senior campaign, and if you happen to be in a keeper league you might want to draft his younger brother (freshman Grant Omey) with an eye to the future. I have a feeling he might be putting up some big numbers a year or two from now.