A look at members of the All-Desert Sun football first team from the 2016 fall season on offense and defense and special teams:
All-Desert Sun First Team
Armando Deniz – Coachella Valley | Junior | Quarterback
In his first season of varsity football, Deniz quickly put up some of the top passing numbers for quarterbacks in the CIF Southern Section and the state of California. Deniz, the De Anza League co-Offensive MVP, passed for 3,508 yards on 241 for 415 passing (58.1 percent) with 29 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He added seven more scores on the ground. He had seven games without an interception and reached the 300-yard passing mark in all but three games while leading the Arabs to a Division 11 playoff berth.
Benji Cordova – La Quinta | Senior | Running back
Cordova, the 2016 offensive and defensive Desert Valley League MVP, was a punishing player whenever he was on the field, laying down hits while rushing the ball that looked just like the rough tackles he put on opponents while at linebacker and safety. The senior was the valley’s leading rusher with 1,878 yards and 29 touchdowns on 221 rushes, despite playing almost none in the team’s first game due to injury and missing several fourth quarters while his Blackhawks were blowing out DVL foes. His move from linebacker to safety was key in the La Quinta defense’s dominance in the second half of the season. He was also a member of the 2015 all-Desert Sun first team.
Kyle Whitefield – Rancho Mirage | Senior | Running back
Whitefield followed closely behind Cordova as one of the best backs in the valley. The Rancho Mirage senior wasn’t the fastest, biggest, or hardest-hitting back, but his ability to keep his balance and stay on his feet while getting hit or making spin moves, all while not losing speed, was his trademark. Whitefield, a first-team all-De Anza League selection, piled up 1,749 yards on 222 rushes with 29 scores, leading the Rattlers to the CIF SS Division 12 championship.
JJ Rodriguez – Coachella Valley | Junior | Wide receiver
Rodriguez, a first-team all-De Anza League pick, benefited from being on the valley’s top passing offense, but he easily separated himself from the rest of the valley as the only wideout to top 1,000 yards with 1,158 on 58 catches for 12 touchdowns. Rodriguez sure isn’t big, standing just 5-6 and 126 pounds, but he’s got great speed and solid hands. Expect him to put up even better numbers next year with his quarterback Deniz returning.
Chandler Barbato – Xavier Prep | Junior | Wide receiver
Barbato, a second-team all-DVL selection, was senior quarterback Michael Johnson’s favorite receiver in a passing offense that caught a lot of defenses off guard. The junior wideout caught 34 passes for 694 yards and 10 touchdowns, becoming the only receiver other than Rodriguez with double-digit scores. He also led the valley in yards per catch with those who had at least as many receptions as he did, averaging 20.4 yards.
Justin Anderson – La Quinta | Senior | Wide receiver
Anderson, a first-team all-DVL pick, started his season strong at receiver, picking up 386 yards, 24 catches and three scores in the air with Andrew Garcia under center. Later in the season, though, Anderson transitioned to a bigger role at quarterback, decreasing his wideout numbers before ending with 33 catches for 549 yards and four touchdowns. He also put up 582 rushing yards, a majority of which he put up out of the wildcat formation in the second half of the season. He was also a member of the 2015 all-Desert Sun first team.
Jordan Wallace – Cathedral City | Senior | Utility
Wallace, a first-team all-DVL selection, was the premier example of a dual-threat quarterback this season, filling in for Cameron Lee, who missed the entire season due to injury. The senior was more than serviceable throwing the ball, piling up 1,130 yards on 91 for 176 passing with seven scores and eight interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 1,226 yards and 14 touchdowns on 182 rushes. He also returned kicks and played defensive back, rarely taking plays off.
JD Lang – Shadow Hills | Junior | Utility
Like Welmas, Lang shined as a stellar two-way player during the Knights’ first season in the DVL. Lang pulled in three interceptions and was third on the team in tackles with 55. On the other side of the ball, he proved a great short-yardage rushing option around the goal line, scoring five times even though he totaled just over 100 yards. At receiver, he pulled in seven touchdowns with 37 catches for 557 yards as a first-team all-DVL pick.
Jonnathan Avila – Rancho Mirage | Senior | Offensive line
Avila helped to pave the way, with the rest of the Rancho Mirage offensive line, for one of the most dominant running games in the valley that piled up 3,362 yards in 14 games. With his help, the rushing attack was successful up the middle, around the end or on option plays while averaging more than 240 yards a game during the team’s trip to the CIF SS Division 12 championship game . The senior, a first-team all-De Anza League pick, finished his high school career as a three-year starter on the offensive line and is drawing attention from Division I football programs for a potential scholarship offer.
Nick Hernandez – Coachella Valley | Senior | Offensive line
Hernandez stood out as the top offensive lineman on the valley’s most electric offense with the Arabs, who had a quarterback throw for more than 3,500 yards in 11 games and a running back rush for more than 1,000. Hernandez’s stellar run and pass blocking helped give junior Armando Deniz plenty of time to throw and scramble while opening up large holes for Romeo Martinez to run through. The senior was also a first-team all-De Anza League pick.
Robert Cruz – La Quinta | Senior | Offensive line
Cruz was a first-team all-DVL pick and played a massive part in La Quinta’s once-again dominating rushing attack. As a senior, he provided experience on a squad with juniors and sophomores filling roles of graduating seniors, and the team didn’t miss a beat. Cordova rushed for 500 more yards in two fewer games this season large-in-part to the holes Cruz and the rest of the offensive line helped to provide their star rusher with.
T.J. Lew – Shadow Hills | Senior | Offensive line
Lew, a two-way lineman for the Knights, was a first-team all-DVL pick for his prowess on offense, where his 275-pound frame helped paved the way for the team’s multiple rushers to reach nearly 2,000 yards together. On defense, the senior was fourth on the team with 53 tackles and also forced one fumble.
Matthew Rodriguez – La Quinta | Sophomore | Offensive line
Of the 11 non-seniors on the all-Desert Sun first team, Rodriguez stands out as the youngest as the only sophomore on the list. He made the cut as a first-team all-DVL selection and was an obvious pick in several coaches’ minds. On a team that thrives on rushing the ball, Rodriguez helped pave the way for Cordova and company this year and will be back to help Derrick Kennedy take over.
Daniel Whelan – Rancho Mirage | Senior | Kicker/punter
Not only the best in the valley, but one of the best in the country, Whelan wowed people with his incredibly impressive length on field goals, making kicks from more than 50 yards look routine while making one from longer than 70 in practice, wind-aided. He was 67 for 69 on PATs and 8 for 16 on field goals, a number low because the Rattlers tried multiple 60-plus yarders he barely missed. Whelan, the De Anza League Special Teams MVP, was also a game-changing punter, landing 21 of his 36 tries inside the 20 with a long of 68. He was also a member of the 2015 all-Desert Sun first team.
Marques Prior – Rancho Mirage | Junior | Returner
Prior was all over the field each game this season, playing offense, defense and special teams. As a return man, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown on the first play of the season, along with a crucial punt in the team’s CIF semifinal game against St. Genevieve. On defense, he recorded two interceptions, one fumble (which he returned for a score) and 42 tackles, while on offense, where he played running back, wide receiver and occasionally quarterback, Prior racked up 934 yards and 15 scores on the ground and 367 yards and two scores receiving on 27 catches. He was named De Anza League co-Offensive MVP.
Josh Ramirez – Rancho Mirage | Senior | Defensive line
He’s listed as a linebacker, but we think Ramirez looked and played like a solid defensive end this season, piling up 15 sacks, while forcing two fumbles and recovering five more and finishing third on the team with 53 tackles. Most impressively, Ramirez, a first-team all-De Anza League selection, had possibly his best game of the season in the biggest one, recording two sacks and a blocked punt that turned into a touchdown in the Rattlers’ CIF title game against Arroyo.
Gordon Haskell – La Quinta | Junior | Defensive line
Haskell, a first-time all-DVL pick, is one of the leading members of the new young wave of Blackhawk linemen. The junior was a punishing force at defensive end for the Blackhawks, who only improved as a defensive unit as the season progressed. Haskell was also a great blocking tight end on offense, paving the way for Cordova to nearly reach 2,000 yards.
Andrew Clark – Palm Springs | Senior | Defensive line
Clark, a first-team all-DVL selection, finished fourth on the Indians’ stout defense with 67 tackles, while leading the team with five sacks. The senior, who played a key role for Palm Springs in holding La Quinta’s high-octane rushing offense to just 14 points, also recovered two fumbles this season and blocked a field goal.
Michael Ramos – Rancho Mirage | Senior | Linebacker
Much like Ramirez, his teammate on defense, Ramos did a little bit of everything this season, finishing with 59 tackles for second on the team and one sack. Ramos, a first-team all-De Anza League pick, led the Rattlers with five interceptions and returned three for scores, while forcing three fumbles, recovering another and blocking one punt as a key part of Rancho Mirage’s stout defense.
Donovan Russell – Palm Springs | Senior | Linebacker
Russell, a first-team all-DVL pick, headlined the dominant Indian defense that held Xavier Prep and La Quinta, the DVL’s top offenses, to a combined 38 points. He led Palm Springs with 114 tackles, while picking up two sacks, one interception and one recovered fumble as a hulking linebacker at 240 pounds.
James Green – Cathedral City | Junior | Defensive back
With Wallace having to take over as the team’s quarterback, Green made a solid traditional rushing option for the Lions, straying from where he planned to play most of the year at receiver. The junior compiled 691 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground on 137 carries. On defense, Green, a first team all-DVL selection, became one of the valley’s top cornerback options, with tons of speed and the ability to stick on and limit teams’ top receivers.
Kaleb Welmas – Shadow Hills | Junior | Defensive back
Welmas broke onto the scene this year by leading the valley in interceptions with six, returning two for touchdowns, while averaging 28.3 yards per return. He also recovered two fumbles while causing another in the secondary. On offense, the junior stood out among the team’s litany of running backs looking to fill Tony Williams’ shoes, rushing for 587 yards on 70 rushes for six touchdowns.
Brooks Stephenson – Palm Desert | Junior | Defensive back
As the lone returning starter on a young and struggling Aztec squad, Stephenson continued to build upon his sophomore season, finishing second on the team in tackles with 67 to go with five interceptions – returning one for a score. At receiver, despite facing a lot of tough coverages from teams trying to stop Palm Desert’s best threat, Stephenson still caught 42 balls for 594 yards and four scores and was first-team all-DVL as a receiver, punter and defensive back.
Mason Sarna – Xavier Prep | Senior | Defensive back
Sarna led the Saints with 120 tackles in the secondary, including 84 solo, to go along with three interceptions and one recovered fumble on defense. He brought his hard-hitting style on defense to the offensive side of the ball, too, as a running back that was tough to bring down, gaining 571 yards on 116 rushes for four scores to go along with two more as a receiver.
Nick Reyes-Foster – Palm Springs | Junior | Defensive back
Reyes-Foster took on a much bigger role this season, filling in for graduated Franklin Miller, who did everything for the Indians during his career. On defense, the junior finished second on the team with 85 tackles and had three interceptions, returning one for a score as a first-team all-DVL selection. On offense, Reyes-Foster added three more scores – one in the air and two on the ground – to go with his 266 rushing yards and 275 receiving yards.
Ricky Vargas – La Quinta | Senior | Defensive back
Vargas, a multi-year starter and star in the La Quinta secondary, recorded another solid season this fall on defense while taking the occasional carry at running back. As a defensive back, he was the Blackhawks’ top defender at the second level for much of the season until Blackhawk coach Dan Armstrong moved Cordova and Anderson back to join him, making the most potent secondary trio in the valley. He was a first-team all-DVL pick, receiving the second-most votes among defensive backs behind Cordova, and will be tough for the Blackhawks to replace next fall.
All-Desert Sun Second Team
QB: Michael Johnson, sr., Xavier Prep
RB: Romeo Martinez, sr., Coachella Valley
RB: Manny Sepulveda, jr., Palm Desert
RB: Josh Barlow, sr., Palm Springs
WR: Jacob Salazar, sr., Coachella Valley
WR: Braxton Wehrli, jr., Xavier Prep
OL: Spencer Lane, sr., La Quinta
OL: Aurek Boutte, soph., Palm Springs
OL: Raymond Herrera, jr., Xavier Prep
OL: Matt Ontiveros, sr., Rancho Mirage
OL: Mark Grenier, sr., Rancho Mirage
Utility: Baylee Carter, sr., Desert Hot Springs
K/P: Logan Prescott, jr., La Quinta
DL: Nathan Ongalibang, sr., Desert Hot Springs
DL: Jesus Corona, jr., La Quinta
DL: Jeffrey Menning, jr., Palm Desert
LB: Mario Montalvo, so., Rancho Mirage
LB: David Alvarado, jr., Indio
LB: Brian Morales, sr., Palm Springs
LB: Isaiah Archuleta, sr., Rancho Mirage
DB: Lee Hawkins, soph., Shadow Hills
DB: Fabrice Voyne, soph., Xavier Prep
DB: Derrick Kennedy, soph., La Quinta
DB: Damion Lee, sr., Palm Springs
Cathedral City: Isaiah Ross (TE), Timothy Miller (WR)
Coachella Valley: Jose Cuevas (OL), Jovan Ramos (WR)
Desert Hot Springs: Jordon Walker (DL), Sirvon Campbell (QB)
Desert Mirage: Frolian Rodriguez (DL), Omar Bautista (OL)
Indio: Carlos Nuno (OL), Jose Pelayo (DL)
La Quinta: Gary Robles (LB), Christian Mesa (OL)
Palm Desert: Jackson Emmett (LB), TyJuan Jackson (DB)
Palm Springs: Kris Ross (OL), Jeremy Dotson (QB)
Rancho Mirage: David Talley (QB), Jesus Valenzuela (OL)
Shadow Hills: Seth Morales (QB), Sammy Venegas (LB)
Xavier Prep: Cesar Lopez (DL), Spencer Conley (WR)