Video — 2016 Starbucks/Black Hat Football Team of the Year: The First & Second Team Defense

Filed in Uncategorized by on December 25, 2016

We selected the 2016 Starbucks/Black Hat Football Team of the Year the weekend of the State Bowl series. We chose from 70 high schools in 10 leagues spread over 8 counties – making it one of the largest regional all-star football teams in California.

Each player receives a Starbucks gift card ($20 for our MVPS & 1st Team picks, $5 for 2nd Team picks) and a Starbucks/Black Hat Football Team of the Year patch for their  jacket – or mom’s scrap book.

After debuting the team last weekend, we’re repackaging it for easier viewing this Christmas Weekend. We started with our MVPs & Coach of the Year for The 209 (you can find those selections by clicking this link) and now we’ll package our defense:


ERIK MEJIA, CENTRAL VALLEY-CERES (Western Athletic Conference)

The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder was the WAC Player of the Year after leading the Hawks to their first-ever league championship, and the Hawks’ defense was among the stingiest in The 209 – giving up less than 12 points a game. Mejia was a first-team Starbucks/Black Hat Football selection as a junior, collecting four sacks and 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He even blocked a field goal.

DL JUAN LOPEZ, TURLOCK (Central California Conference)

The 5-foot-11, 260-pounder was the CCC’s top defensive linemen and his aggressiveness set the tone for a bruising defense that led the Bulldogs to their first outright title in two decades. He had 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage while helping the ‘Dogs to the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs.


The 5-foot-8, 215-pounder was the top defensive player on a team that is playing for the State Division 1-AA Bowl championship Friday night at Sacramento State, when the 14-1 Rams face 14-0 Cathedral Catholic-San Diego. Stinhilver dominated the Sac-Joaquin Section D1 final vs Folsom, terrorizing the Bulldogs’ backfield and posting four QB sacks. He had 12 sacks for the season.


The 6-foot, 215-pound junior was the centerpiece of a Buffalo defense that posted four shutouts and held seven teams to single digits while earning a share of the league title. Manuleleua led the Buffaloes with 107 tackles, including 17 behind the line of scrimmage. In the Section final win over Placer, he had 16 tackles – with 5 for lost yardage.

LB BRAD CANEPA, SONORA  (Mother Lode League)

The 5-foot-10, 235-pounder was a tackling machine with 140 in 11 games, with 13 of those behind the line of scrimmage. Canepa shared the MLL PLayer of the Year honor and  had 18 tackles in a season-opening win over rival Oakdale – a school that is playing for a State Bowl title Saturday. The linebacker also doubled on offense, running for 521 yards and 9 TDs.

LB JACE KRICK, OAKDALE (Valley Oak League)

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior was the VOL’s premier linebacker this fall, and he helped the Mustangs to a share of the league crown. The Mustangs are the only one of those three teams still

Tre Jenkins

playing, and they face Bishop’s of La Jolla in Saturday’s State Division 3-A Bowl. His Pick-6 in the third quarter of last week’s NorCal Bowl win over Sutter gave Oakdale a third-quarter lead it would never relinquish. Oakdale Coach Trent Merzon called the 27-10 win one of the greatest defensive performances he had ever seen at The Corral.

LB AARIC HOLT, DOWNEY-MODESTO (Modesto Metro Conference)

The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder went wild for the Knights, getting in on 149 tackles and making 12 of those behind the line. He finishes his two-year at Downey by being in on 299 tackles — 28 of those behind the line – for an average of 13 per game. Holt also was the MMC Defensive Player of the Year.


The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was a first-team performer on the 2015 Starbucks/Black Hat Football Team, and he was once again one of The 209’s premier LBs this season. A four-year starter who helped the Raiders to three State Small School titles, Bland was in on 60 tackles this season while also doubling up as a runner. Bland ran for 774 yards and 14 TDs, and here are his career stats for the Raiders: 1,924 yards and 34 TDs rushing … 13 catches for 186 yards and 2 TDs … He was in on 271 tackles … He had 18.5 sacks … He also has 3 state championship rings, and his performance as a freshman RB keyed the Raiders’ State Bowl win in 2013.


The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder was the VOL Defensive Player of the Year after helping the Raiders to a

Nick Quinday

share of the league title. Bland was the league’s top DB, and was in on 44 tackles while making 2 interceptions. One of those was a Pick-6 he returned 104 yards for a TD in a win over Manteca. An offensive threat, as well, Bland also averaged 24 yards on his 24 catches, and scored 3 TDs.

DB DAVID FORD, ST. MARY’S-STOCKTON (Tri-City Athletic League)

The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder was a second-team pick on the 2015 Starbucks/Black Hat Football Team, and rose to the top level after getting in on 107 tackles and intercepting two passes for St. Mary’s. The Rams are 14-1 and face 14-0 Cathedral Catholic-San Diego in Friday’s State Division 1-AA Bowl at Sacramento State. Ford was in on 111 tackles as a junior.

DB ULONZO GILLIAM, MERCED (Central California Conference)

The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder could have made this as a first-teamer on offense and defense, but we love the impact he has in the secondary. He got it on 103 tackles, including 15 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 playoff win over Beyer and 14 in a semifinal loss to Oakdale. He also had 2 scoop-and-scores, collecting  fumble and returning it for a touchdown, and return two punts for TDs. The 3-year starter also was the heart of the Bears’ offense: He ran for 1,597 yards and 22 TDs and caught 30 passes for 363 yards and 3 TDs. He finishes with 3,670 career yards from scrimmage and 40 TDs.



The 6-foot-4, 270-pound junior is expected to be one of The 209’s hot recruits in 2017 after getting in on 50 tackles, 10 for losses. He also had 11 sacks.

DL BOLAJI AKINYEMI, TRACY (Tri-City Athletic League)

The 6-foot-210-pound junior was the TCAL Defensive Player of the Year and dropped 10 ballcarriers

Tre Jenkins

for losses, in addition to getting in on 41 tackles and causing 3 fumbles.


He was an underrated performer in Oakdale’s aggressive and agile defense, running down quarterbacks and running backs alike. His pressure destroyed the usualy prolific passing games of Christian Brothers and others, and his Mustangs capped an historic season Saturday night by routing Bishop’s of La Jolla 47-0 for the D3-A State Bowl title – Oakdale’s first State Bowl win.


The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder was in on 55 tackles, and terrorized QBs with his 17.5 sacks. As a tight end, he caught 50 passes for 710 yards and 10 TDs.

LB BRYCE KINSEY, RIPON (Trans-Valley League)

The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder set school tackling records, using his mobility to cover the field. He had 152 tackles, with 3.5 sacks, He finishes his two-year career with a hand in 289 tackles, including 7.5 sacks.

LB JALEND DINWIDDIE, STAGG-STOCKTON (San Joaquin Athletic Association)

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder had 8 sacks and had a hand in 163 tackles for the SJAA champion,  while also blocking 4 punts. In his 3 seasons with the Delta Kings, Dinwiddie was in on 387 tackles and 18.5 sacks.


The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder was a beast on defense, using his size to overrun opposing offensive

John Becerra

linemen and take down ball carriers. He challenged Sonora’s Brad Canepa – a Starbucks/Black Hat Football First Team pick – as the top linebacker in the foothills.

LB JOHN BECERRA, MERCED (Central California Conference)

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder was in on 94 tackles, and 17 of those were behind the line of scrimmage for the Bears – who reached the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 playoffs. He also had 12 sacks and forced 5 fumbles.


The 6-foot, 165-pounder led the Trojans with 75 tackles, and also came up with 4 interceptions. He usually delivered his biggest teams against the Trojans’ biggest foes, with 15 tackles vs. Pitman and a dozen against Antioch and Elk Grove.


The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder plucked six interceptions and also was in on 93 tackles and recovered 4 fumbles. If that wasn’t, he contributed on offense with 113 yards and 2 TDs on the ground and catching 13 passes for 281 yards and 3 TDs.

DB CODY RENTFRO, HILMAR (Trans-Valley League)

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder was a physical player in the secondary – course, he was a physical player while handling the ball on offense, as well. He got in on 87 tackles, including a season-high 17 in a 37-27 loss to small-school power Sonora, and had an interception. On the offensive side, Rentfro had 1,769 yards and 16 TDs and was the TVL Offensive Player of the Year.


The junior was a playaker on both sides of the ball for the Mustangs, but it was his plays in the secondary that helped the Mustangs win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 title and then the D3-A State Bowl title with a 47-0 rout of unbeaten Bishop’s Saturday night.


About the Author ()

Richard T. Estrada has been covering high school football in The 209 area code for more than 30 years and is the voice of authority on the game in California's Central Valley. He oversaw The Modesto Bee's high school sports coverage for a couple of decades, and also was a national award-winning business and agriculture writer. Black Hat Football not only covers the game, but emphasizes education and the need for The 209's student-athletes to prepare for college.

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