Valencia coach Larry Muir had to pause a recent phone conversation about senior quarterback Aaron Thomas. Someone was at the door.
As it turns out, it was Thomas, delivering homemade cookies and a card.
The 6-foot-3 gunslinger, though, delivered more than holiday sweets in 2016.
He backed up the hype that ensued after he replaced injured starter Cole Parkinson during the 2015 CIF playoffs and nearly led Valencia to a quarterfinal win over Chino Hills.
Thomas threw for 347 yards that night in a 16-14 loss. He then passed for 3,136 yards, 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions this year as a senior, leading Valencia to an eighth straight Foothill League title and the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 semifinals.
He earned Foothill League Player of the Year honors and now All-Santa Clarita Valley Football Player of the Year honors, putting him beside Parkinson, Michael Herrick and Sean Murphy as the only Valencia quarterbacks to earn The Signal’s top football honor.
“He was making plays and doing very subtle things that I thought were terrific,” Muir says of Thomas. “Moving around the pocket, making sure we were in the right play, going through his reads.”
In other words: everything, and more, that a coach expects from a senior signal caller.
For Thomas, it was the culmination of years of preparation.
He first played quarterback in sixth grade. Each year he developed. Each year he grew in stature and knowledge. By the time he was a junior, Muir felt Thomas could step into the starting role at a moment’s notice.
Then Parkinson broke his leg, and Thomas picked apart the Chino Hills defense.
“A lot of people over the offseason told me they were so excited to see me play because they saw me in the Chino Hills game,” Thomas says.
The solution to dealing with the pressure?
“When you have those kinds of expectations, you can’t really focus on them only because those are going to distract you from the goal you want to achieve,” says Thomas, who rushed for 222 yards and six touchdowns this year. “So I was just focusing on every single week, the next game, going 1-0 and preparing every week — not paying attention to the people and drama outside of football until football was over.”
Before this season, Muir called Thomas the best unknown quarterback in Southern California.
That may still be the case (Thomas has received interest primarily from NCAA Division 3 schools), but not because Thomas didn’t have a prolific season.
He improved as the year progressed.
Thomas threw for 386 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 48-9 win over Bakersfield on Sept. 23. He threw four touchdowns in a win over Golden Valley on Oct. 14. And then he passed for seven touchdowns against one interception in Valencia’s first two CIF playoff games, victories over Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and Arroyo Grande.
He registered 285 yards and four passing touchdowns against San Clemente in the D2 semifinals. But a late interception in the end zone ended a crucial Valencia drive in the 41-35 loss.
“It’s not that we lost (that bothers me most). It’s just that we had it, that we thought we had it,” Thomas says.
That may be true. But Thomas’ season was hardly characterized by missed opportunities.
Brendan Adam, Valencia, Senior, WR
Adam led the Vikings in receptions (42) and was second in yards (645). His best game of the year came in Valencia’s season opener against Palmdale. Adam caught seven passes for 157 yards in a 52-7 win. He caught a touchdown against Bakersfield, Saugus and Canyon.
Gabriel Coronado, Golden Valley, Senior, K
Also named All-Foothill League first-team offense, Coronado kicked for 66 points this season. He went 45-for-47 on PATs and seven-for-10 on field goals, with a season-long kick of 37 yards. Coronado gave the Grizzlies the extra boost it needed to make the most of their first playoff run, which ended in the CIF-SS Division 7 semifinals.
Tristan Georgio, West Ranch, Senior, OL
Georgio returned as one of the most experienced players on the team and played on both the offensive and defensive line. As a guard, he was named first-team all-league and overall gave the Wildcats’ O-line a little bit more confidence as West Ranch continued rebuilding. Georgio was the type of player to bowl opponents over, then keep on moving.
Daniel Gilmartin, Saugus, Senior, TE
At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Gilmartin was a challenge to bring to the ground. The All-Foothill League first-teamer’s ability to fight for catches gained him 517 yards and 10 touchdowns on 38 receptions. Gilmartin embodied what the Saugus offense was about — tactical positioning, on-point execution and getting yardage by any means.
Chasen Hardy, Saugus, Senior, OL
Hardy completed the offensive line trifecta by playing center, guard and tackle this season. Coach Jason Bornn called him the team’s “most valuable lineman.” He excelled at keeping defenders planted, allowing quarterback Nathan Eldridge to find open receivers.
Moises Haynes, Valencia, Junior, RB
Haynes entered the year as one of several backs likely to get work in the Valencia backfield. After an injury to Effie Davalos, Haynes established himself as the guy not only at Valencia but in the Foothill League. Haynes carried the ball 252 times for a league-best 1,682 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. It was the sixth-best single-season rushing total ever for a Valencia back.
Joey Jaramillo, Hart, Senior, OL
Jaramillo played both right and left guard for the Indians, who finished second place in the Foothill League before falling to Cathedral High of Los Angeles in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. Jaramillo made the All-SCV second-team offense as a junior and this season helped protect Foothill League Offensive Player of the Year and Hart QB Nick Moore.
Jalin Lewis, Golden Valley, Junior, WR
Lewis led the GV receiving corps with 1,122 yards (a program single-season record) and broke Isa Bey’s 2010 record for single-season touchdowns at GV with 11. With 67 receptions, Lewis had great chemistry with quarterback Josh Valano, whom he has been working with since the seventh grade. Lewis’ best weapon might be his speed, although you can’t underestimate his vertical or route-running, either.
Eric Lieberman, Valencia, Senior, OL
A three-year varsity player, Lieberman anchored a Vikings offensive line that opened holes for its 1,600-yard rusher Moises Haynes. The senior center was loved by his coaches for his toughness. As the quarterback of the offensive line, he made sure everyone was in the right spot and ready to keep signal caller Aaron Thomas off his back.
KJ Maduike, Golden Valley, Senior, RB
Arguably the Grizzlies’ strongest offensive weapon, Maduike rushed for 1,412 yards and 13 touchdowns on 220 carries. In GV’s semifinal loss against San Gorgonio, he bypassed Earl Johnson’s 2011 single-season GV rushing yardage record. If Maduike found a clear lane, or even if it was littered with a few defenders, there was no stopping him once he got going.
Nick Moore, Hart, Senior, QB
Moore’s arm and legs carried him into heavy All-SCV Player of the Year consideration. There might not have been a player in the valley the last two seasons who could single-handedly impact the game on Moore’s level. In 2016, he threw for 2,154 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He ran for 709 yards and 15 more scores. He answered any questions about his ability to come back from a 2015 ACL tear.
Darius Anthony, Golden Valley, Senior, LB
After the graduation of Bryan Barerra and Trevor McKnight, Golden Valley’s defense needed a new leader. That player was Anthony. He was a true student of the game, he watched film every day and developed the ability to quickly pick up on defensive schemes and line up the Grizzlies defense. Anthony finished the season with 150 total tackles, which included 91 solo tackles. On top of that, he had nine sacks.
Tai Brown, Golden Valley, Senior, LB
Brown made some moves as a running back when he filled in for an injured KJ Maduike, but where he really shined was at the linebacker position. He had a team-high 11 sacks. In 13 games, he tallied 56 total tackles, with 38 of the solo variety.
Ryan Camacho, West Ranch, Sophomore, DB
Camacho brought a fresh, new spark to a West Ranch team that was looking for a new image. He tied the single-season program record for interceptions with six picks. As a sophomore on his first varsity team, that’s a pretty good look. Camacho is a scrappy guy who is capable of the unexpected, which makes him very fun to watch.
Josh DeNeal, Valencia, Junior, DL
DeNeal made his presence most acutely felt in Valencia’s rivalry game against Hart on Oct. 7. He recorded 2.5 sacks, a season high, in a 35-14 win in which Indians quarterback Nick Moore was under constant pressure. DeNeal had two sacks in the Vikings’ regular-season finale against Canyon. On the season, he made a team-high nine sacks (tied with Ben Seymour) and 19 tackles for loss.
Vincent Gonzalez, Hart, Senior, DE
Gonzalez led the Indians in sacks (11) and was second in total tackles (83). He was a player opposing offensive coordinators had to keep in mind as they developed their game plans. Gonzalez was a crucial part of a Hart defense that only allowed 17 points per game, the lowest average of any Foothill League team.
Charles Ike, Hart, Senior, LB
Ike has been a consistently dominant force on the Indians defense the last two years. He made a team-best 102 tackles this season (he made 131 stops in 2015). In 2016, he also recorded an interception, forced a fumble, recovered two fumbles and posted four sacks. He leaves a giant hole in the middle of Hart’s front seven heading into next season.
Jaelin Kinney, Saugus, Senior, DE
Kinney has twice been named All-Foothill League first-team defense — and for good reason. With 21.5 sacks in his varsity career, he is the all-time Centurion sack leader. The defensive end is smart, but a better word to describe him might be intuitive. Kinney never seems to lose sight of the quarterback, rushing toward him despite any obstacle. The Cent also had 61 tackles this season.
Ben Seymour, Valencia, Sophomore, DL
Valencia’s coaches agree Seymour has the potential to be one of the best defensive players the school has ever produced. At 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, Seymour imposed his will on Foothill League offensive lines. He made 20 tackles for loss and made a team-best nine sacks (tied with Josh DeNeal). He forced one fumble and was named co-Foothill Defensive Player of the Year.
AJ Stanley, Hart, Senior, DB/WR
Stanley, one of the Foothill League’s most aggressive safeties, wrote his name in the Hart record books by recording his 15th career interception in a win over Saugus. He picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown, in a 35-13 win over Golden Valley. He intercepted six passes on the year and made 32 tackles.
Coleman Vanderhorst, Saugus, Senior, DB
Looking at Vanderhorst’s stats, the most noticeable thing is the “interception” column. He had eight picks in 12 games, which included a pick against Wilson High of Long Beach in the CIF-SS Division 6 quarterfinals. Vanderhorst was a ball magnet for the Centurions in the defensive backfield, setting a single-season program record for interceptions. Additionally, he had 45 tackles and five pass breakups.
Josh Washington, Valencia, Junior, DL
The Foothill League Lineman of the Year made running on the Vikings a nightmare. The nose guard plugged the middle and made plays in the backfield, taking down 19 ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage and recording four sacks. One of three juniors on Valencia’s defensive line, Washington helped make the unit one of the league’s best on defense or offense.
Camden Apsay, Canyon, Senior, WR/DB
Apsay’s best game came against Oxnard on Sept. 9. He caught six passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. He also intercepted two passes in a 28-21 win. On the season, he had 50 catches for 801 yards and six touchdowns. He intercepted four passes and made 23 tackles.
Jayvaun Wilson, Valencia, Sophomore, RB/DB
Wilson was a game breaker on offense and defense. As a running back, he averaged 9.7 yards per carry. He rushed for 378 yards and eight touchdowns in all. He intercepted one pass and recovered a fumble on defense. But his presence was greatly missed in Valencia’s secondary after he suffered an injury and missed the final three games of the season. The Vikings gave up five passing TDs to San Clemente’s Jack Sears in a CIF-SS semifinal loss.
Mykael Wright, Valencia, Sophomore, WR/DB
Wright missed the first two games of the season after transferring from Antelope Valley High. He then became one of the Vikings’ most impactful players, providing big plays in the passing game and lockdown defense in the secondary. Wright caught 31 passes for team highs of 669 yards and eight touchdowns. He intercepted seven passes on defense.
Colton Costanza, Canyon, Senior, OL
Costanza started both ways for the Cowboys in his senior campaign. He played tackle on offense and nose guard on defense, where he displayed what coach Rich Gutierrez calls “catlike reflexes.”
Zion Dunson, Valencia, Junior, WR
Dunson proved clutch in the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs. He caught three passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the first round and five passes for 93 yards and two more touchdowns in the quarterfinals. He caught 38 passes for 596 yards and seven TDs on the year.
Cole Edwards, Valencia, Junior, OL
The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder played guard and tackle for a Valencia team that showed balance offensively throughout the year. Edwards impressed his coaches with his consistency and will be one of four returners on the Valencia offensive line next year.
Nathan Eldridge, Saugus, Junior, QB
Eldridge had to fill the shoes of graduated quarterback Louis Eusebi, a tall task that he proved he was ready for. In 12 games with the Cents, Eldridge completed 143-of-280 passes for 2,010 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The junior finished his season in the CIF-SS D6 playoffs with a loss to Wilson, throwing for 204 yards in the effort.
Michael Hawley, Golden Valley, Senior, OL
Hawley played both sides of the ball but was named All-Foothill League for offense. Now he’s earned his first All-SCV honor. Playing at tackle, his 6-foot, 195-pound frame was both sturdy and quick, which helped guys like KJ Maduike rack up yardage.
Matt Larkins, Hart, Senior, OL
The Indians’ left tackle helped the offense average 30 points per game. Quarterback Nick Moore passed for 2,154 yards and 21 touchdowns with Larkins protecting his blind side.
Daniel Madison, Hart, Senior, WR
The Indians’ receiving corps was a big question mark entering the season, and Madison was a big part of answering the bell. He led the Indians with 44 receptions. His catches went for a total of 472 yards and three touchdowns.
Jared Pane, Saugus, Senior, WR
In his final season with the Centurions, Pane totaled 504 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 34 catches. One of those touchdowns came in the CIF-SS Division 6 playoff game against Crescenta Valley, which helped Saugus to a win.
Nate Racina, West Ranch, Senior, OL
Racina lined up next to All-SCV first-teamer Tristan Georgio to create a sturdy offensive line. The center was one of 30 seniors on a squad eager to make a change for the better. His blocking was essential in opening holes and allowing running back Jake Rice to have a breakout season.
Jake Rice, West Ranch, Senior, RB
In the first week of league, it was apparent that big things were going to come from this first-year running back. Rice broke the Wildcats’ record for single-game rushing yards and number of touchdowns in a game in the Wildcats’ league opener against Canyon with 314 yards and four touchdowns. By the end of the season, West Ranch’s go-to offensive weapon had 966 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Anton Xerez-Burgos, Valencia, Senior, K
When Valencia scored touchdowns this season, it almost undoubtedly got the extra point. And in high school football, that can’t be undervalued. Xerez-Burgos made 49 of 50 PAT attempts this year and was 3-of-5 on field goals. His long came from 43 yards.
Ray Ibrahim, Golden Valley, Senior, LB
Ibrahim’s most memorable moment may have been his 75-yard touchdown reception in the first round of the D7 playoffs, but that’s not why he’s on this list. Ibrahim had 62 total tackles, four sacks, three fumble recoveries and two deflected passes — and a blocked punt against San Gorgonio in the semis.
Tahjeem Johnson-Rahmaan, Saugus, Senior, LB
Johnson-Rahmaan was part of a calculated defense that had great execution overall. He had 37 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. His most recent pick was against Crescenta Valley in the CIF-SS Division 6 playoffs.
DJ McIntyre, Golden Valley, Senior, DB
While defense didn’t win the Grizzlies a championship, as the adage goes, it got them pretty far in the playoffs. McIntyre, who finished the season with five interceptions and 69 tackles, went above and beyond in the defensive backfield with his ability to navigate and fly to ball-carriers.
CJ McMullen, Hart, Junior, DE
McMullen provided pressure off the edge for an Indians team that finished second in the Foothill League after taking down Saugus in the regular-season finale. McMullen recorded nine sacks on the year.
Clay Pokorny, Valencia, Senior, LB
Pokorny made 11 tackles for loss. He recorded three sacks, three interceptions and forced two fumbles. In a 45-19 win over Golden Valley on Oct. 14, Pokorny intercepted two passes. He rushed for a touchdown in Valencia’s regular-season finale against Canyon.
Aaron Rodriguez, Hart, Sophomore, P
Rodriguez posted a 37.6 yards per punt average for the season, helping the Indians win the field-position battle. He made 38-of-43 extra point attempts and 4-of-6 field goals.
Reilly Royce, Valencia, Junior, LB
Royce ended the year with the most tackles for loss of anyone on Valencia’s hyper-aggressive defense. That says something. He recorded eight sacks, 2.5 of which came in the Vikings’ CIF-Southern Section Division 2 semifinal loss to San Clemente. A Valencia coach said afterward Royce had been the best defender in the game.
Nick Soto, Hart, Senior, LB
Soto was a big part of a deep linebacking unit at Hart. He was the team’s third-leading tackler with 64 total tackles, 20 of those stops being of the solo variety.
Tariq Speights, Valencia, Senior, LB
After suffering a season-ending knee injury midway through the 2015 season, Speights re-earned a starting position in the Vikings’ linebacking corps this year and made the most of it. He made 13 tackles for loss and recorded 5.5 sacks. He returned an interception for a touchdown against Hart.
CJ Stokes, Hart, Senior, DB
Stokes recorded five interceptions, broke up nine passes and made 45 total tackles this season to cap a strong varsity career for the Indians. He made the All-SCV first team as a junior.
Blake Walkowiak, Saugus, Senior, DE
Walkowiak started the season late due to concussion protocol. But once Foothill League play came around, he hit the ground running and with no hesitation. In six games, Walkowiak tallied four sacks and 29 tackles. He was an expert at getting to opposing quarterbacks as fast and as directly as possible.
Gary Bojorquez, Saugus, Senior, SB/DB
Bojorquez was an equal contributor in rushing, receiving and defense. He notched 53 carries for 251 yards and five touchdowns as well as 25 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Defensively, he had 34 tackles and one sack. Whenever the Cents seemed out of options, there was always Bojorquez.
Jacob Moss, Senior, SCCS, WR/RB/CB
It was expected that Moss would have a standout senior season as a receiver, and maybe even defensively, but his rushing statistics were a surprise. When the injury bug hit the Cardinals, Moss filled in at running back, a position he hadn’t played since middle school. He ended up with 429 rushing yards with six touchdowns. He also earned 1,601 receiving yards, 48 tackles and six interceptions.
Tim Wiggins, Valencia, Senior, WR/DB
Wiggins was a consistent contributor on both sides of the ball. He caught 21 passes for 485 yards and four touchdowns for the Foothill League’s best passing attack. He intercepted three passes on defense, returning the first one for a touchdown in Valencia’s season opener.
Canyon: Henry Arellano, Senior, RB
Golden Valley: Josh Valano, Senior, QB
Hart: Steven Hansen, Senior, LB
Saugus: Quinn Sheaffer, Junior, RB
Valencia: Jordan Trujillo, Senior, LB
West Ranch: Jovan Camacho, Sophomore, WR
SCCS: Tyler Kalinske, Senior, WR/DB
Trinity: Tyler Lee, Junior, QB/TE